Posted October 29, 2008
(There will be a post-election interview with Howie Hawkins on Solidarity Webzine. Hawkins is a longtime third party activist who is running as a “Green Populist Candidate” for the 25th District of New York in the 2008 Congressional election)
Howie Hawkins for Congress
25th District, New York
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, October 29
For More Information: Howie Hawkins, 315-425-1019, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hawkins Says It’s Time to Spread the Wealth in America – From the Bottom Up
Calls for Hike in Minimum Wage to At Least $10 an Hour
and Mandatory Paid Vacations for All Workers
Howie Hawkins, the Green Populist candidate for Congress in the 25th District, showed he is willing to go where Senator Obama and the Democrats fear to tread today when he called for Congress to support a redistribution of wealth in America in order to provide a decent standard of living for all Americans.
“Workers need a raise and a vacation,” Hawkins said, in calling for amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that would raise the minimum wage to a living wage and mandate four weeks paid vacation for all American workers.
“The federal government has taken the side of corporate elites since the early 1970s to make the rich richer at the expense of the rest of us. The Orwellian doublespeak by the two major parties – but especially Sen. McCain – in denying what they have done is breath taking considering the real facts of 35 years of upward redistribution of income and wealth. Their solution for everything, even after the recent financial shenanigans, is more tax cuts and subsidies for the rich. Whether it’s McCain’s extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich or Obama’s $3000 a year wage subsidy to business for new jobs, it’s always corporate welfare. The truth is that since 1973, wages have been stagnant for middle income workers and declined for bottom 40% of workers, while wealth and income has concentrated at the top,” Hawkins noted.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the share of national after-tax income going to the top 1 percent of households more than doubled between 1979 (when it stood at 7.5 percent) and 2005 (when it reached 15.6 percent). If wages had kept pace with productivity gains since 1973, as they did between after World War II until 1972, the average wage today would be $26 an hour, instead of $16, which is the same as it was in 1973 in real terms. 45 million workers make less than $10 an hour, which is below the poverty level for a family of three working full time
“The federal minimum wage should be raised it immediately to $10 an hour, to what it was in real terms in 1968, and then to $15 an hour within 5 years,” Hawkins added. Hawkins would also index the minimum wage to the cost of living.
Hawkins noted that the progressive income tax was intended to help reduce the inequalities of income by having the rich paying a higher percentage of their income to fund government. But in recent decades, the progressivity of the income tax has been reduced, while regressive payroll taxes have increased.
Numbers released by the CBO in 2005 showed the gap between the wealthiest Americans and everybody else had grown to its widest point since at least 1979. The top 1 percent of households received 70 times as much in average after-tax income as the bottom one-fifth of households in 2005 — the widest such income gap on record, with data available back to 1979. In 1979, by comparison, the richest households made 23 times as much as the poorest households. The average income of the top 1 percent of households was more than 21 times that of the middle one-fifth of households. This, too, was the widest such ratio on record.
Labor’s share of national income had declined from 59.3 percent in 1970 to 51.6 percent in 2006, the lowest share since records began in 1929. Profits in 2006 were 13.8% of national income in 2006, the also highest share since 1929. In a $14 trillion dollar economy, that represents about a $1 trillion a year shift of income from workers’ wages to owners’ profits.
Inequality of income and wealth is now the most unequal since good records began with the institution of the income tax in 1913, with the single exception of 1928, the year before the Great Depression began. The top one percent now receives more income than the bottom 50 percent and owns more wealth than the bottom 96 percent.
“It should be the express goal of government to achieve a fairer distribution of wealth and income and power. The ridicule of wealth redistribution by the McCain and the Republicans and the denial by Obama and the Democrats that they intend to redistribute wealth demonstrates that differences between the economic policies offered by the corporate-sponsored parties are negligible. In fact, both supported wealth redistribution from working people to the richest financial elites when they supported the Wall Street bailouts,” Hawkins said.
“Wage-led, demand side, bottom-up economic development is what we need now for economic recovery. But the emphasis from the major party candidates is on more tax cuts for business for the supply side, trickle-down approach that has sent us into the present economic tailspin. Obama’s rhetoric against trickle-down economics is not matched by his proposals, or his actions with respect to the bailouts of financial speculators, or the economic advisors he has chosen like Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. And we have heard nothing from the major party candidates in this congressional race that distinguishes their approach from the economic policies of their own parties’ presidential standard bearers,” Hawkins said
In addressing the argument of business lobbies that they need incentives in order to take risks on expansion and new products, Hawkins said, “Today’s business leaders are the laziest cohort of business leadership in our history. They constantly whine that they can’t make new investments without corporate welfare to guarantee returns. They won’t do business without special tax breaks, subsidies, and loan guarantees from the government. Meanwhile, the top executives take home outrageous compensation packages even when their companies lose money. Corporate CEO compensation today amounts to over 400 times the wage incomes of their average employees, up from 40 times in 1980 and 8 times in 1946. European and Japanese CEO’s do business with salaries in the range of 10 to 12 times of their average employees wages.”
Hawkins said the alternative to state-guaranteed profits for timid business leaders was to democratize economic enterprises. “If business leaders won’t take the risks on the business opportunities that higher wages and more consumer demand will open up, then it’s time to socialize the risks through public banking where the public shares in the risks and rewards, the losses and the gains, from business investments, and to target public bank investments to worker-owned cooperatives where income is shared among all the firm’s workers in proportion to their labor contribution.”
“Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis was right when he said, ‘We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.’ I would add that we need economic democracy to fully realize political democracy,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins noted that October 24th was the 70th anniversary of 1938 adoption of the FLSA, also known as Wages and Hours Bill, which set federal minimum wage, abolished child labor, set the 40 hour work week and time and a half for overtime.
Hawkins said that making the minimum wage a living wage is not only the right thing to do ethically, so no working families are in poverty, it would also help stimulate the economy far more than throwing trillions at big bankers to buy their bad loans and securities, finance their acquisition of other financial firms, and pay themselves billions in salaries and bonuses.
“Wage-led, bottom-up economic recovery will work better than the failed trickle-down policies of tax breaks for the rich,” Hawkins asserted. “We should also mandate at least four weeks of paid vacation. Mandatory paid vacations was part of the original draft of the Fair Labor Standards Act. President Roosevelt brought it up again in his 1944 State of the Union address outlining his proposed Economic Bill of Rights, which included the right to recreation. Mandatory paid vacations for all workers is a long overdue reform which all of Europe already has. Americans put in more hours at work than any other industrial nation, including the notoriously workaholic Japanese, but it is seriously impairing out physical and civic health.”
Medical and poll-based evidence indicates that we seriously need relief. Work-related stress can lead to sudden heart attacks, obesity, anxiety, and depression. Americans average nine more weeks of labor per year than Western Europe, where workers in every county there get at least 20 paid days of vacation each year. Finland tops the list of vacation-supporting industrialized nations with 30 paid vacation days per year after the first year of work, plus 14 paid national holidays, according to a July 2007 report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Canada and Japan are near the bottom of that list, with a legal minimum of 10 vacation days. The US is the only industrialized nation that does not have a mandatory minimum of vacation time. Of the world’s 195 independent countries, 137 have some kind of vacation/annual leave legislation in place. 52 percent of working Americans received less than a week of paid vacation in the past year and more than half of those received none. 65 percent of American workers received less than two paid weeks off.
A survey by Take Back Your Time of more than 1,000 U.S. adults found that more than two-thirds (69 percent) of Americans support the passage of a paid vacation law. Most enthusiastic about vacation-time-legislation were people under 35 (83 percent); African Americans (89 percent); Latinos (82 percent); people earning low incomes (82 percent); women (75 percent, versus 63 percent for men); and families with children (74 percent).
In addition, Hawkins said FSLA should be amended to also provide for:
A 32-Hour, 4-day Work Week
A Double-Pay Minimum for All Overtime
An Hour Off with Pay for Every Two Hours of Overtime
One Year Paid Leave for Every Seven Years of Work
Twelve weeks paid family leave for each newborn or adopted child, and for taking care of ill family members.
“Taken together these proposals will create millions of new jobs and allow us the free time we need to care for our families and to participate in our communities. More family time and more community participation should be the fruit of the increased labor productivity we have achieved over the last 35 years,” Hawkins added.
Hawkins added that the FSLA must be amended to cover agricultural, domestic, and other excluded workers, which is a legacy of 1930s racism which wanted to keep black labor in the South and Chicano and Asian labor in Southwest and West cheap and segregated. FLSA must also be amended to ban the use of prison labor to produce goods and services for public markets, Hawkins said.
Hawkins noted that his proposals for amendments to the FSLA were adopted at Labor Party convention to which he was a delegate in June 1996 in Cleveland. The convention was composed delegates from labor unions representing some 6 million workers, including the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, United Electrical workers, International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union, American Federatation of Government Employees, United Mine Workers, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and California Nurses Association, as well as delegates from local chapters of the Labor Party.
“Unfortunately, most of the unions did not follow through on their declaration of political independence in Cleveland. Unions have contributed over $10 billion to the Democrats since 1980, yet demands such as these are nowhere to be seen in platforms of Democratic candidates. Labor support is taken for granted by the Democrats because labor never threatens to support its own party. On the other hand, independent labor parties in Western Europe achieved most of these demands decades ago. The lesson is clear. Workers need their own party, independent of the corporate-sponsored Democrats and Republicans,” Hawkins said.