The Hightower Report

The Bush administration tries to roll back union gains; and Wal-Mart wants to dominate the banking world.


Dismantling the Middle Class

Unions: The people who brought us weekends.

The schools don't teach it, the establishment media avoids mentioning it, and most Americans haven't questioned it until recently -- but middle-class life in America is not a given.

The 40-hour workweek, the wage floor, collective bargaining, some retirement security for everyone, Medicare, job-safety protections, and so much more that sustains the middle-class possibility for a majority of our people were not provided by the founders in 1776 -- and they certainly were not given to us by generous corporate chieftans. Rather, the middle-class framework was built by us -- We the People.

At the very start of our country, there was very little in the way of a middle class. But in the intervening years, ordinary working-stiffs agitated, organized, and literally battled the bosses, politicians, and media, until, piece by piece, over the generations, we put into law the provisions that have given us a modicum of control over our own labor and lives.

But now, piece by piece, the bosses and politicians are rapidly dismantling our middle-class framework. From global trade scams to almost daily administrative rulings by the Bush White House, not only are unions and workers generally under assault, but the very opportunity to achieve a middle-class life is being shut off for millions of Americans.

The latest dismantling is a ruling on overtime pay by Bush's Anti-Labor Department. It lets corporations arbitrarily designate millions of wage workers as "managerial" employees, exempt from overtime pay. Such workers as nurses, firefighters, and computer programmers will be forced to work more hours for no pay -- taking money out of their pockets, stealing their weekends ... and stealing their right to a life beyond the job.

To fight this theft of middle-class power, call the Communications Workers of America: 202/434-1168.


Does Wal-Mart Need More Power?

An awfully ugly little bill is quietly squirming its way through the congressional machinery -- a bill that would be devastating for small business, consumers, and our communities. It's the "National Bank of Wal-Mart" bill.

Actually, that's not the official title, but that is its impact. Wal-Mart, Citigroup, General Electric, and a handful of other giants have been pushing Congress to set up a new, parallel system of banking that would operate outside the regulatory oversight of the Federal Reserve Board and would have the power to bully local, independent banks out of business.

Lobbyists for Wal-Mart and the rest want Congress to let them buy little-known entities called industrial loan companies, expand these small outfits into full-fledged commercial banks, open up branches nationwide without state approval, and escape Fed rules to make the banks operate in a sound manner. It's a way for the Wal-Marts to bypass the current prohibition against commercial firms owning banks, giving them the banking power to take control of our local economies.

Wal-Mart, the smiley-faced beast that already uses its predatory pricing power to crush small businesses wherever it locates, now could use this national banking clout to muscle out local banks. Then it would own the town -- a local business trying to compete with Wal-Mart, for example, would have to go to the beast for credit, even having to reveal its business plan to the giant. Naturally, Wal-Mart will not be terribly interested in financing local competitors, instead using its banks to siphon our local capital out of our communities and into its own expansion elsewhere.

Of course, Wal-Mart and its political puppets claim that this is simply how the competitive system works. But that's like saying that you should "compete" with Mike Tyson in a street brawl. Unleashing Wal-Mart on our communities is not a competition -- it's a mugging. This giant already exercises brutish power, and it ought not get more.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit www.jimhightower.com. You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

unions, middle class, George W. Bush, managerial employees, overtime, Communications Workers of America, WAL-MART, Citigroup, Federal Reserve Board, bank, General Electric, industrial loan companies

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