Progressive Christianity, Worker’s Rights and Social Justice
(excerpt from, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, by Rev. Paul J. Bern)
The lack of employment and economic opportunities, the lack of access to health care and higher education, plus extreme economic inequality due to a very high concentration of American wealth being in the hands of far too few people has turned the majority of the American populace into a powder-keg. Like the Middle East and parts of Europe, America too has become a ticking time bomb of inequality and lack of opportunity. The rights of US workers have been trampled underfoot by the rich multinational corporations and the top 1% elite who are outsourcing all our jobs overseas as they leave us high and dry in minimum wage jobs with no future. The least common denominator of middle class loss of income due to mass layoffs, the loss of housing due to foreclosure and eviction and the excess of economic inequality due to a disproportional concentration of wealth, is that all three of these comprise the human rights of workers throughout the world, beginning here in America since our country is supposed to be the standard-bearer of the world for freedom and opportunity. If the American worker does not get what he or she is legally and rightfully entitled to, there will be strikes, protests, sit-ins, “occupying” and other peaceful forms of civil disobedience until we get what we want, up to and including the complete shutdown of the entire US economy for at least one day. And we will do all of this without firing a single shot, just as the protesters and public demonstrations overseas did before us, and just as the Rev. MLK, Jr. did during the civil rights movement. And then we do it again – and again.
There are also a growing number of employed people who, despite having a job, are still living in poverty. There are at least 15 million US workers who now fall into this rapidly growing category. The median US income of $33,000.00 a year is not going to get you far in today’s economy, and half of the country is making less than that. The reason we struggle with these things is because the Economic Elite have robbed us all through the systematic confiscation of middle class wealth, security and prosperity. This has caused tremendous suffering among workers throughout the world, it is no less than a criminal act, and it is the result of the largest single transfer of wealth in all of human history from the world’s middle class to the rich. And so I came up with what I call in my book “The 8 Fundamental Rights of Mankind”. But for now I will only focus on the first one because there is so much to be said on just the first one.
The first and foremost right is that of all workers and independent contractors. The basic rights of all workers can be broken down into six parts; the right to a livelihood and a living wage, rights of unemployed persons, right to free vocational re-training for life, right to organize, right to a flexible work week and right to health-related, family and maternity leave. The first thing on the list of worker’s rights is also the highest priority, that of a fair and realistic minimum wage, and more fundamentally, the basic human right to a livelihood. Unemployment as we have previously known it must now come to an end forever. This does not mean unemployment will be eliminated, but periods of unemployment can and should be converted to times of retraining to acquire new skills or even completely change careers. What gives any wealthy corporate 1%’er CEO the right to tell any given man or woman, “Sorry, you are not needed around here anymore. Your skills, experience, and your work ethic no longer matter here. Our company’s bottom line and the interests of our shareholders are far more important than that of our workers.” Who do these jerks think they are? They outsourced many of our jobs overseas so that corporate America could enrich themselves at the expense of their former employees, leaving middle and working class Americans with no way to earn a respectable living and be self-sufficient. The jobs that could not be outsourced were downsized out of existence. Then this same bunch of corporate “leaders” turned around and, with the cooperation of American academia, raised costs for higher education so high that many who wished to go back to school and train for a new career were unable to afford the expenses. In the end, numerous persons who urgently wish to improve themselves through education or vocational retraining have been and are continuing to be held back from doing so, and that is a social injustice and a civil rights violation worthy of the loudest protests in numerous public places throughout our country.
There is entirely too much imbalance and inequity in the distribution of wealth in the US today. Over 90% of all available liquid cash and assets are in the hands of less than 10% of the US population. And so every day it’s steak for them and beans for the rest of us. How much longer are we, the middle and working classes, going to allow this to go on? You know, it looks to me like our country is in dire need of some peaceful and orderly wealth redistribution, and I don’t mean collectivized economies such as Socialism or Communism either. One very good way to accomplish this would be to send everybody back to school who wants to go free of charge. Who would pick up the tab for the tuition for all those millions of people? Would it be the government? Absolutely not! The bill should instead be presented to corporate America, since it is corporate America who outsourced or downsized all of our jobs in the first place. Congress did just that at the end of World War 2 when they passed the G.I. Bill. If it could be done in the 1940’s, then it can be done today. Simply make the GI Bill available for everybody! Besides, if we can’t work for these companies anymore then they owe it to us to train us to work somewhere else instead of discarding us like so much trash. Any solution amounting to anything less is a social injustice and a civil rights issue worthy of a national chorus of protests, demonstrations and “occupations”.
This brings me to the point that I wish to make. In today’s world, if the net take-home pay of any given individual does not meet, or just barely meets, that same individuals daily cost of living, then that is tantamount to economic slavery. Let me say that again because this point simply cannot be overemphasized. If your take-home pay won’t even take you home, you are a slave. Oh, you are free to move around and to come and go as you choose and take care of business, that is true. But if after you go to the grocery store, pay the light bill (assuming you are fortunate enough to be able to do that), put gas in your tank (assuming you are lucky enough to still own a car) and set some money aside for next month’s rent or mortgage (if you’re not already on the street or living with relatives) – and then after all that you peek into your wallet and realize that you have $7.00 left to live on for the whole stinkin’ week, that’s when you know you are a slave. What happens to the people whose incomes are at or below minimum wage? They go hungry and are often homeless. Many of these newly homeless, formerly middle class people also have kids who have fallen into poverty along with their parents. And this is happening in the United States of America, supposedly the richest country in the world. This is a moral outrage, a social injustice, and it is economic discrimination of the worst kind. Since it is an issue of discrimination, by extension it also becomes a 21st century civil rights issue generating a demand for fundamental change in the way our economy works and the way our government works.
This too, then, is cause for protests, demonstrations, boycotts, occupations, general strikes and other forms of peaceful civil disobedience. On this point alone, there are enough issues on the collective dinner plate of the American people to foster open revolt throughout the land. Never mind everything else that I have written about. Think about it for a minute. How does it feel to be a slave? Makes you feel kind of angry, doesn’t it? Maybe even violated on a certain level, like we’ve been robbed. The time to rise up and say, “No more!” has arrived. It’s time for all of us to get out from in front of out TV’s and our computers and to get our backsides out in the street and start protesting. And that’s just for this issue alone. Now allow me to go over the rest of these rights.
The second basic issue under worker’s rights is the right to better and more comprehensive unemployment insurance, and to also allow some independent contractors to draw unemployment provided certain conditions are met (subject to future legislation or referendum). Any worker who has lost his or her job through no fault of their own will be entitled to up to 50 weeks of unemployment compensation instead of the current maximum of 26 weeks due to a continued over saturation in the job markets of most developed countries, starting with the US. Besides their job search, at any time during the worker’s period of unemployment he or she will have two other options available to them to assist in the development of their careers. The first will be the ability to sign up for a public works project to obtain immediate employment. (The worker’s second option will be reeducation, and I will touch on that one next so please bear with me). Workers will be required to choose one of the above to qualify for benefits. We have been needing a massive public works project to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure for decades. I would conservatively estimate that anywhere from 1-3 million people could be employed this way as contract laborers, salaried employees or subcontractors, depending on the need. The fact of the matter is that we need jobs, we need lots of them, and we need them right now! Since our government has failed to act in this regard in spite of an obvious critical need, we will have to do this ourselves. Let’s get this on the ballot for the next general election, and let’s also strike and protest for action on this matter until then. We might as well, because things are going to continue to get worse until we do.
The third human right listed is the right to free vocational retraining for life. Anybody can go back to school and get retrained at will, up to and including a 2 year degree (with a 4-year available for some additional cost). Large, wealthy corporations with robust cash flows, as well as millionaires and the super-rich, will supply the necessary funding through what I call in my book “the excess wealth tax” (you can buy the book on this site or on Amazon) to find out the details which include repealing the federal income tax). Since corporate America made the decision to send their factories and all the jobs those factories provided overseas to lower their labor costs, and since this action has caused the obliteration of millions of American careers, it will be corporate America who will shoulder the expense of retraining these people whose careers evaporated through no fault of their own. If they take your job away, or if they export or downsize your career out of existence like I experienced myself, then it is those same corporate henchmen who must pay for your reeducation. Higher education is a basic, fundamental human right. The day has come when higher education is no longer only for those who can “afford” the tuition. As of today, higher education, and the fundamental right to improve and enrich ourselves, is a fundamental human right that must be had by all without qualification.
Before I go on, let me add one more tasty ingredient into this mix. Students enrolled in reeducation or public works project workers who have children, will be given taxpayer-funded day care free of charge so they can get their education or go to work without having to worry about watching their kids. Now I know what at least some of you are thinking right now – “who’s gonna pay for that?” Let me put all this into perspective for you. If your US government took all the money that was spent in a single day on the twin occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan plus the clandestine and illegal wars and “black ops” in Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere and set it aside in an enormous savings account, there would be enough money to send every American school age kid from the first grade through high school and upwards to any college, public or private, or any state university or vocational or technical school to earn their degree of choice with the tuition fully paid for, plus the cost of all their books and supplies, their meals, Internet access, new computers, and with access to public transportation covered as well. So, for those who say we can’t afford to send everyone to college with their expenses fully paid, or that the money to accomplish this just isn’t there, either doesn’t know what they are talking about, or they are elitists and bigots who can’t stand to see middle and working class and minority students getting ahead. Access to higher education, and looking after the children of those who are retraining, is an American civil right that should be equally available to all without qualification, not just to those who can afford it. Would you like to see test scores improve in our nation’s schools? Tell all those kids that they are all going to college, and watch their grades improve noticeably. Give them an incentive to do better and our kids will rise to the challenge every time.
The fourth worker’s right I’m writing about is simply the right to organize anytime, anywhere. Any American worker who wants to join a union must be allowed to do so, and any group of workers who decide to organize themselves for the purposes of collective bargaining and solidarity must be allowed to do so without interference or fear of retribution. This should include a provision making it illegal for companies to squash labor unions and from preventing unionization. If our country’s leadership is unwilling or unable to pass this and other basic rights of all workers that I have mentioned, then we as united American citizens must unite to get this issue on the next ballot by way of popular referendum, strikes and demonstrations, and other acts of civil disobedience. It’s already an established fact that American workers will get worse working conditions and pay, not better, if they do not organize. In the meantime, the short-term solution is to take this matter and all others like it into the streets as the Occupy and 99% Movements have done. You know, if you haven’t joined us yet you really should, it’s for your own good and for the future of your country.
The fifth human right is the right to a fair and reasonable workweek. All workers who work more than 40 hours in a week, and all salaried employees who work more than 50 hours per week, will be entitled to compensation at time and a half. Unlike certain companies today, it must become illegal for any given company to skirt around America’s labor laws. All companies with more than 1000 employees will be required to offer either a four day workweek with a ten hour workday, or a five day workweek with an eight hour workday to all its workers. This will save a lot of energy, lessen traffic volume at rush hour, and provide workers with more leisure time.
The right to family and sick leave, which must include maternity leave for women, is the final right I have listed for all workers and independent contractors. Every other country in the developed world from Europe to Canada to Japan has paid family and sick leave for its workers – all except for the US. It’s way past time for Congress and the President to bring our country up to speed with the rest of the world in this regard. Furthermore, medical, family and maternity leave should be allowed for up to 3 months per calendar year, and it must be made illegal to fire someone from his or her job because that employee needed to take family leave. The right of all individuals to have medical, family or maternity leave must be had by all, without interference or fear of retribution, for the strengthening of our families and the nurturing of our children.
The fundamental rights of workers must be honored and acknowledged by rule of law, and by a culture change that puts people before profits. The days of funneling any given company’s profits to its shareholders instead of its employees must come to an end forever as corporations gradually become replaced with employee-owned cooperatives, a proliferation of nonprofits, or sole proprietorship web-based “micro enterprises”. The workers who are the ones who keep things running for the rest of us, it is they who are the new business model for the 21st century. In the best of cases, it will be the workers, and not stockholders, who will be the new company owners and investors as the old ways of greed-based capitalism continue to die of old age. This is the new reality we must all embrace if we are to thrive in the 21st century.