The Austin Chronicle

The Hightower Lowdown

By Jim Hightower, August 31, 2001, News

Organize, Organize, Organize

There's a bumper sticker that sums up the meaning of Labor Day for me: "Unions: The people who brought you weekends."

From the 40-hour week to Social Security, every inch of the workplace progress we've made came not from generous corporate bosses and politicians, but from ordinary working stiffs who organized, fought, bled, and died to achieve it. Today, though, the Powers That Be want us to think of unions and workplace organizing as so much old history, no longer relevant to the new, global, laissez-faire, dot-com economy.

We wish. In fact, such organizing is essential today, for these same Powers That Be have been waging an ongoing war against the gains of the past and our middle-class potential in the future. Here are some reports from the front lines:

  • Real wages are lower today than when Richard Nixon was president.

  • Middle-class jobs are either being shipped offshore or being filled by bringing in low-wage workers to bust the U.S. pay scale.

  • Job cuts are now at record levels, with the better-paying, high tech sectors (which were supposed to be our economy's new pathway to the middle class) doing the most job whacking.

  • Twenty-five percent of American jobs pay below the official poverty rate, and at least 40% of our jobs pay so poorly they leave hardworking Americans in either real or borderline poverty.

  • Sixty-seven percent of the adults now in need of emergency food aid are working people.

    A middle-class future is not a given, and right now it's being taken from us piece-by-piece by the power elites. To take it back, America's working people must come together and get back to the basics of building our economic democracy: organize, organize, organize.

    The 'Rebate and Switch' Tax Scam

    Question: What kind of tax "cut" actually will leave you owing more money to the IRS next April? Answer: George W. Bush's widely-ballyhooed, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, $300 tax rebate.

    Bush spent several million of our tax dollars on prenotification letters mailed to eligible households, telling people what a big favor he had done for "America's working families," and that they should expect a check soon. Next he flew around the country at our expense to hold photo-op press conferences where he handed out blown-up mock checks of $300 to people, like he was some sort of big, pink, Easter Bunny delivering free candy to everyone. Then the actual checks were mailed, only the Treasury was short of cash due to the economic downturn we're experiencing under Bush, so George had to borrow $28 billion from the Social Security trust fund to cover his shameless political ploy.

    But the biggest surprise for many Americans will be their discovery that Bush's $300 checks are a classic case of what the Libertarian Party has dubbed "rebate and switch." The checks we're now getting from the IRS are not a rebate on taxes we've already paid, but an advance on any refund we expect to get from the IRS after we file our tax returns next April. Let's say, for simplicity's sake, that you're due to get a refund of $300 next year. Instead, though, you'll get zero, since IRS will deduct that $300 Smiling George mailed to you this summer from any refund you're due next year.

    This is because Bush's "rebates" are a bookkeeping gimmick. Despite the hoopla, he didn't lower anyone's tax rates this year, so we still owe the same, including the $300 he "advanced" us this summer.

    Bush giveth ... then he taketh away.

    Whose Stadium Is It, Anyway?

    As citizens of city after city have discovered, their publicly owned sports stadiums now bear nondescript corporate names that have no relation to their city and could be Anywheresville, USA -- names like BankOne Park, MCI Arena, and Fleet Center. This is occurring because money-grubbing owners of professional teams now routinely auction off the naming rights of these facilities. Never mind that it's not their stadium, owners are pocketing millions of dollars each by letting egocentric corporations slap their names onto the public buildings.

    Just because the corporate flag flies, however, doesn't mean we have to salute -- and the good people of Denver are taking the lead in this civic rebellion against the total corporatization of public spaces. The Denver Broncos pro football team plays in a new, publicly financed stadium that locals like to call Mile High Stadium, in recognition of their unique Rocky Mountain location. But the team owners sold the "naming rights" of the people's stadium for $60 million to something called Invesco Funds Group, a Dutch-British financial conglomerate. This global giant has no ties to Denver except money, yet the Bronco owners announced that the Denver stadium is now to be called Invesco Field.

    But folks revolted, including Mayor Wellington Webb, who says that Denver's identity is more important than a fistful of Invesco dollars. Likewise, The Denver Post has sided with the citizenry, declaring that its sports pages will refer to the field by its proper popular name, Mile High Stadium.

    Meanwhile, the corporate name-game might be something of a jinx for the corporations. In the past year, one-fourth of the corporations that paid to put their names on pro football stadiums have gone bankrupt. Who says the sports gods don't have a sense of humor?

    Jim Hightower's latest book, If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They Would Have Given Us Candidates, is available in a fully revised and updated paperback edition.
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