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Archive for the ‘Inequality’ Category

By Lizzy Brady

Earlier this month on Thursday, September 5th, Rev. CJ Hawking, Fr. Larry Dowling, and Rev. Tim Yaeger linked arms in an act of civil disobedience, and raised their voices in solidarity with Walmart workers at a demonstration outside the Walmart in the River North neighborhood. The Arise Chicago team stood alongside Walmart workers as part of a larger demonstration across the United States. On the heels of the fast-food workers’ staged walkouts to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour, Walmart workers’ nationwide demanded better pay, improved working conditions, and reinforcement of the right for workers to organize without retaliation.

walmart action

With 1.3 million employers, Walmart is the largest employer in 25 states, and has raked in more than $30 billion just in the second quarter of this year. 2.2 million people worldwide are employed by Walmart, totaling 11,000 stores in 27 countries. The demonstrations are pushing for a commitment to a $25,000 salary, as well as demanding a reinstatement of Walmart employees recently fired after filing a complaint — a clear violation of US labor law protecting workers from retaliation.

I went to the Walmart Worker strike on my second day of interning with Arise, which turned out to be a beautifully accurate introduction to the work that we do. Although it’s been a few weeks since the Walmart Workers strike, the picture of Rev. CJ Hawking, Fr. Larry Dowling, and Tim Yaeger standing in solidarity with the Walmart workers is still so clear in my mind. These days, I’m often reminded of 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” What a challenging reminder not to treat the suffering of the exploited as an independent entity detached from ourselves, nor ignore the cries of the oppressed with ignorant explanations for the cause of poverty. May faith communities continue to shake the dust off our dry bones, and “loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free and break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6). I’m inspired by the men and women I have met that are pursuing justice for the oppressed in this city, and I pray that our God will continue to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Lizzy Brady is an intern at Arise Chicago and a student at Wheaton College.

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By Mark Engler

This article was first published in the New Internationalist magazine (www.newint.org) and appears with permission of the author.

Should our societies have a “maximum wage”? Would the world be better off if the United States had one?
 
Currently, Americans are debating raising the national minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10 per hour over the next two years. While conservatives will oppose it, such a boost shouldn’t be contentious. 
 
Back in 1967, the U.S. minimum wage was $1.40 per hour. That’s not as measly as it sounds. Your grandparents’ tales about when ten pennies could actually buy something are not mere nostalgia. In fact, the 1967 wage had twenty percent more purchasing power than the current minimum.
 
Economic productivity is an even bigger part of the story. Our labor is producing more value today, but working people aren’t seeing any of the gains. Had the U.S. minimum wage kept pace with productivity increases since 1960, it would now be $22 per hour. 
 
Who has walked away with the proceeds from all that productivity? It’s a fair question, but it leads back to discussion of a maximum wage. And that’s where things get controversial.
 
A January report from Oxfam noted, “The richest one percent has increased its income by 60 percent in the last 20 years.” It further argued that the 2012 net income of the world’s top 100 billionaires—a haul of $240 billion–would be four times the amount needed to eliminate extreme poverty internationally.
 
While regions such as Latin America have made strides in reducing the gap between the rich and poor in the past decade, the United States has led the way in manufacturing excess at the expense of equity.
 
To remedy this, U.S. transit workers union leader Larry Hanley recently proposed a “maximum wage” law that would limit an employer’s income to being no more than 100 times the salary of his or her lowest-paid employee. If an entry-level worker gets $30,000 per year, the CEO would make no more than $3 million. 
 
Other countries provide precedents for such a policy. In Spain, the manufacturing and retail enterprises that belong to the Mondragon cooperative network limit top pay to three to nine times worker compensation,” explains author and policy analyst Sam Pizzigati, perhaps the most outspoken U.S. proponent of a maximum wage. Since 2011, Egypt and France have each pursued fixed pay ratios for leaders of state-owned enterprises. Even Switzerland, a country not known for being inhospitable to bankers, has passed restrictions on pay for bank executives and banned “golden parachute” severance packages. 
 
Some advocates contend that a maximum wage should apply only to businesses receiving taxpayer support—in the form of bailouts, government contracts, tax abatements, or other public subsidies. Since American industry has been notoriously hungry for corporate welfare, this would cover a very large portion of the U.S. economy.
 
Free marketeers will no doubt blast the idea of a maximum wage as the type of insane socialistic tyranny that chains everyone into the same, lowly state of mediocrity. Yet a ceiling based on a ratio between the executives at the top of a business and the grunts at the bottom doesn’t set a hard cap on earnings. It merely puts to the test one of their most cherished claims: that the profits of a successful enterprise trickle down to benefit everyone.
 
Economists love to talk about incentives. In this case, such limits would motivate CEOs to augment the pay of their janitors, secretaries, and cashiers for a simple reason: Their own raises would depend on it. 
 
Besides, a 100-to-1 discrepancy is hardly government-enforced equality. 
 
It would be a considerable departure from the status quo, however. A typical American CEO now makes 380 times what the average worker in the country earns (never mind the lowest-paid). 
 
That’s not an example the world needs. And it’s something that will take more than just a small boost in the minimum to fix.
 
–Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books). He can be reached via the website http://www.DemocracyUprising.com.  

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by Rev. John H Thomasjohn_thomas CTU photo

Two articles in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune provided a revealing, if unintended reminder of the injustices lying at the heart of America’s public schools.  At New Trier High School in one of the wealthier suburbs of Chicago, all students will have iPads for their course work by the Fall of 2014.  The district will pay about 40% of the costs, leaving families to come up with the remaining $350 in purchase or leasing options.  School officials justify this by touting the educational benefits and by pointing out that this will allow the school to phase out some of its 1200 laptops.  One page away is an article about the school board of the City of Chicago which voted yesterday afternoon to close 50 public elementary schools.  In thousands of districts like New Trier, students are getting iPads; in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and many other places, students are getting moving orders and teachers are losing jobs.

Later on in the same paper The Tribune revealed its editorial bias, offering Mayor Rahm Emmanuel space to justify the closings, while devoting its editorial to a cynical and shameful attack on Chicago teachers.  Praising the “heroic” teachers who saved lives in Moore, Oklahoma, The Tribune called on teachers in Chicago to abandon their protest against the massive school closings and become “heroes” by obediently implementing the policies of the Chicago Public School Board and its leader, the Mayor.  Excuse me!  Chicago Public School teachers are already heroes.  They don’t need the condescension of The Tribune.  And they don’t need to be unjustly demeaned as less worthy than teachers in Moore.  Today they need our gratitude for speaking the truth about the nature and impact of these school closings.

Unlike the teachers in Moore, Chicago teachers’ schools are not gone because of some capricious act of nature.  They are gone because of decades of very deliberate decisions by public officials, corporate interests and ordinary citizens that have eviscerated the neighborhoods of Chicago, displacing people with the demolition of public housing, gutting communities with foreclosures and the elimination of jobs.  The schools are gone because they have been replaced by charter schools, the darlings of politically well-connected school reformers making a profit on tax money while public officials eliminate the inconvenience of teachers unions.  The schools are gone because poor African Americans and Hispanics in Chicago are disenfranchised by school governance that is appointed by the mayor with limited accountability to the communities.  The schools are gone because public funding in this country remains tied to real estate taxes that benefit wealthy suburbs at the expense of the urban core.  The schools are gone because years of school reforms imposed from the latest outside savior have left front line teachers abused and demoralized and their students underachieving.  And the schools are gone because white flight that began decades ago has left the cities brown and black and poor.

Who makes decisions about public schools today?  The President who attended the prestigious Punahou private school in Hawaii and who sends his daughters to the University of Chicago Laboratory School and the Sidwell Friends School in Washington.  The Secretary of Education who attended the same Lab School in Chicago.  An appointed school board whose membership until recently included billionaire Penny Pritzker, now the appointee to be Secretary of Commerce.  She attended the Castilleja School in Palo Alto where 415 girls in grades six to twelve enjoy the attention of 70 full and part time faculty members.  In Chicago that school would be deemed “underutilized.”  And where do the Mayor’s kids go to school?  No threats from school closings for them.  They, too, are at the University of Chicago Lab School.  These powerful gurus of public school reform didn’t go to public schools and don’t send their children to public schools.  They benefited from the growing educational apartheid in this country and they participate in it today.

I don’t suggest that these policy makers sat down and said, “Let’s close the schools of poor Black and Hispanic kids in Chicago and make sure that New Trier kids have iPads.”  But here are the facts:  The schools closed today in Chicago are 88% black, 10 % Hispanic, and 94% low income.  And next year the kids in New Trier will all have new iPads.  Almost 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education our schools are more and more separate, and more and more unequal.

Please don’t tell me that this is a complex issue, that there are no good solutions, that anguished appointed school board members merely did what they had to do given the economic circumstances.  I’ve read the reports.  I’ve seen the studies.  I’ve talked to experts.  I can tell you what the real story is about charter school performance.  I think I have made a pretty good effort to understand what’s going on.  Whatever the specifics, this is about race and poverty and antipathy to unions and political influence and public indifference (how telling that for a time yesterday morning while the Board was deliberating on its closure vote, the lead online story for The Tribune was Bear’s football hero Brian Urlacher’s retirement announcement).

I have no doubt that the Chicago school teachers will do as much to protect their children this September navigating new routes to schools across dangerous gang lines as the teachers in Moore did for their students when the tornado came earlier this week. They don’t need editorial writers to tell them to do that.  But when their students ask them why their school is gone, just as students in Moore are no doubt asking right now, Chicago teachers won’t have a changing and dangerous climate or the proverbial “act of God” to point to.  Their answers will be equally sad, but far more sinister.

John Thomas is a Board member of Arise Chicago

Originally posted on the John Thomas blog on the Chicago Theological Seminary website.

Re-posted with permission.

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