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<p>Activists rally in Indiana.  Photo SCOTT WEAVER / USW</p>

Activists rally in Indiana. Photo SCOTT WEAVER / USW

Rebuilding middle class is all about priorities

Recently, I’ve heard thoughtful people question whether the term “middle class” has any real meaning. I think it does. But I also think it’s good to be challenged, and important to be clear about what we mean when we sound the alarm about the attack on the middle class.

When I think of the middle class, what comes to mind isn’t so much a particular income group, but a vision for our society and our economy. A middle-class society isn’t polarized between a handful of the very rich and a mass of the desperately poor, and its politics aren’t driven by fear and selfishness. An economy that works for the middle class offers jobs for all who are able to work, with pay and benefits that support a decent standard of living now, a rising standard of living in the future and a secure retirement. An economy that works for the middle class takes care of those members of society who are unable to work. It provides quality public services for all – good schools for every child, access to parks and green spaces, clean air and water, affordable health care, and arts and culture for all – and makes smart investments in the future.

That’s our vision, and we should all be very proud of what our union has done to turn that vision into a reality. The American middle class was built by workers’ struggles. It was expanded – and made more inclusive – by the struggles of the civil rights movement. UAW members played an important role in both struggles.

Unfortunately, our positive vision of a strong, expanding and inclusive middle class is under attack. It’s under attack in state capitols across the country, and it’s under attack in Washington, where Republicans in the House of Representatives have passed a budget proposal that amounts to an all-out, full-frontal assault on working families, the elderly and the poor. Unbelievably, their proposal couples devastating cuts in Medicare for future retirees, food assistance for the poor and Pell grants for low-income college students (to list just a few examples) with new tax breaks limited to the very rich.

We can counter these distorted priorities with a straightforward message about tax fairness. For decades, corporate America has been using a variety of loopholes to avoid paying taxes. The list of profitable corporations that have managed to whittle their U.S. tax bills down to little or nothing is long and shameful. But as bad as these corporate tax dodgers are, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. In the 1950s, on average, corporate income taxes amounted to nearly 5 percent of our Gross Domestic Product. Last year, they came to just 1.3 percent. In an economy our size, that’s a difference of hundreds of billions of dollars. Why, then, are we attacking teachers’ pensions and cutting what we spend to educate our children? Why are cuts in the Head Start program even on the table?

In my mind, it’s immoral to treat income from buying and selling assets more favorably than income from working. And yet, that’s what our tax code does. The top rate on the wages and salaries of the highest earners is currently 35 percent (down from 39.6 percent in the 1990s). But, if you’re really, really rich, chances are you make far more from investments than from your biweekly paycheck. According to the Internal Revenue Service, in 2007 the 400 richest U.S. taxpayers (average income: $345 million) received just 6.5 percent of their income from wages and salaries. They got more than 10 times that amount from capital gains, which are taxed at a maximum rate of just 15 percent – the same marginal rate paid by a working couple with an income of $50,000.

If the capital gains on just those 400 tax returns had been taxed at the 35 percent rate that applies to wage and salary income, it would have brought in $18 billion in revenue. That’s enough to provide $5,550 Pell grants to more than three million students who would otherwise be unable to afford a college education.

Rebuilding the middle class in this country is all about priorities. We need to educate, organize and mobilize to make sure our priorities are reflected in the current budget debate.

Inside This Issue...

Features

    Union Front

      Departments

        May / June  2011

        May / June 2011

        Vol. 54, No. 5-6

        International Union, UAW

        President: Bob King

        Secretary-Treasurer: Dennis Williams

        Vice presidents:
        Joe Ashton, Cindy Estrada, General Holiefield, Jimmy Settles

        Regional directors:
        Chuck Hall, 1;
        Rory Gamble, 1A;
        Norwood Jewell, 1C;
        Gerald Kariem, 1D;
        Ken Lortz, 2B;
        Maurice Davison, 3;
        Ron McInroy, 4;
        Jim Wells, 5;
        Gary Casteel, 8;
        Scott Adams, 9;
        Julie Kushner, 9A

        Public Relations and Publications Department

        Director: Michele Martin
        International representatives:
        Gwynne Marie Cobb, Sandra Davis, Susan Kramer, Vince Piscopo, Joan Silvi and Solidarity editor Jennifer John, interns Herman Jenkins and Chris Skelly, members of CWA/The Newspaper Guild Local 34022. Clerical staff: Susan Fisher, Pauline Mitchell and Shelly Restivo, members of OPEIU Local 494.


        Fight is on against right-to-work in Granite State

        04/26/11

        New Hampshire Republicans try to fix what’s not broken with remedies that won’t work

        With the highest median income, fastest growing economy, and one of the lowest unemployment rates, New Hampshire is a good place to live – and do business.

        But apparently that’s not enough to satisfy greedy corporate CEOs and the Republicans state lawmakers who do their bidding. The state House and Senate have both now passed Right-to-Work legislation. There are some differences between the two versions that will need to be worked out in a conference committee, but with the Republicans’ solid majorities in both chambers a single bill is likely to emerge quickly.

        Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, has pledged to veto the anti-worker measure, but it will be an uphill battle to withstand a veto override. The non-partisan group New Hampshire Citizens Alliance, VoteVets and union members are working to convince legislators to oppose the anti-worker bill by voting to sustain the governor’s veto.

        This week the activists are fanning out across the state to let their representatives and senators know they were not elected to silence the voice of teachers, nurses and firefighters by having a state without unions – where nobody stands up for workers when Wall Street executives outsource jobs or cut workers’ benefits. Politicians should be working together to create quality jobs that lift the economy, not attacking the middle class to benefit their corporate donors.
         

        Executive Paywatch

        No food but plenty of thought

        04/12/11

        When most people hear about hunger strikes, they think of Mohandas Ghandi, who engaged in several to protest British rule of India. It was Ghandi’s nonviolent way of communicating his message against an unconscionable offense to achieve dramatic results.

        The way Tony Hall sees it, Congress’ proposed budget cuts are an offense to conscience.

         

        SEIU's mary Kay Henry
        SEIU President Mary Kay Henry has joined the hunger fast to support workers who can barely make ends meet. Photo by Rick Reinhard.

        Nearly two decades ago, the former Ohio congressman fasted for 22 days in response to budget cuts that would have had a devastating impact on poor people at home and around the world. That was 1993.

        Fast forward to 2011, and Hall is at it again – provoked by similar budget cuts under consideration by Congress.  Hall he was joined by other prominent religious leaders including Jim Wallis of Sojouners, Rev. David Beckmann of Bread for the World, and Ritu Sharma of Women Thrive Worldwide who are enduring open-ended fasts in protest of the proposed budget cuts. 

        SEIU President Mary Kay Henry, also joined the fast stating, "I am fasting for the nurses' aide who holds the hands of our elders by day, but does not have the means to care for herself by night. For the security officer who puts his life on the line for us, but whose own life is at risk because he can barely make ends meet. I'm fasting for the child care provider who nurtures the promise of the next generation, yet fears that her own children will not have a better life than she had."

        The Republicans’ proposed cuts (including a 30 percent cut to development assistance, 14 percent reductions to child survival programs, 8 percent cuts in HIV/AIDS treatments and 40 percent cuts to the Global Fund) put the lives of millions of children at risk, will harm seniors and those with disabilities, and unnecessarily plunge tens of millions around the world deeper into an already desperate struggle with severe malnutrition and hunger.

        According to his website, hungerfast.org, the former Democratic member of Ohio’s House of Representatives began this hunger strike on March 28 for three reasons:
         

        • To remind people about the status of vulnerable people in the United States and around the world.
        • To focus public attention on the devastating effects that Congress’ proposed cuts would have on vulnerable people.
        • To form a circle of protection around programs benefitting the most vulnerable people in America and around the world.

         

        According to feedamerica.org, more than 45 million Americans live in poverty, including 15 million children – the highest poverty rate since 1960. Meanwhile, Americans face high unemployment with skyrocketing food and energy prices. Globally, about 25,000 people die from hunger-related causes every day, 925 million people suffer from severe hunger and malnutrition, and 2.1 billion live on less than $2 a day. 

        There’s no doubt that Congress must address America’s long-term fiscal challenges. No nation can spend without limits. But in the name of deficit reduction, some in Congress have called for irresponsible cuts to vital domestic and international anti-poverty and hunger programs. As Americans, such cuts not only run counter to our sense of compassion and the common good, but they also distract us from the real problem.

        Suggesting that the budget can be balanced on the backs of poor people not only ignores the two largest slices of America’s budget — tax cuts for the wealthy and military spending — it betrays a fundamental lack of conscience. Poor people did not cause America’s financial problems, and hurting them is not the right solution. In fact, cutting programs for low-income people actually hurts the economy; every dollar spent on food stamps yields $1.73 in stimulus benefit.

        The first time Hall began a hunger strike, in 1993, Congress had eliminated the House Select Committee on Hunger, a bipartisan panel created to address the needs of poor and hungry people at home and around the world. Hall inspired thousands across the country to join his crusade. Through their efforts, the World Bank pledged increased support for hunger programs and the nonprofit Congressional Hunger Center trained future leaders in the hunger movement.

        Not everyone may be able to go on a hunger strike, but there are other ways to participate. For information and to sign a commitment form, visit hungerfast.org.

        Gwynne Marie Cobb

        Go union and get a great AT&T discount

        Go union, get AT&T and get a great discount, too

        04/07/11

        As UAW members, we know how important it is for consumers to buy quality, union-made products and services.

        Members of other unions support us. And we do the same when we look for union-made goods and services.  UAW members not only support their brothers and sisters from the Communications Workers of America when they sign up for AT&T service, but they also qualify for a sweet 15 percent discount on those services.

        It’s easy to sign up: Just fill out this form and go to your local AT&T store (not a kiosk or retailer) or go online. Active and retired members will need their union identification card to qualify. Some restrictions exist so carefully read your plan details.

        When you sign up for AT&T service, know that you are getting service from the nation’s only unionized wireless carrier, and you are helping support the jobs of 40,000 union-represented workers and their families.

        Do you think the poor are lazy?

        How we talk about income inequality has a lot to do with how the wealthy and the poor are viewed, says Anat Shenker-Osorio. The way we talk about wealth assigns moral superiority to the wealthy, she writes in this excellent opinion piece that ran in the Christian Science Monitor.

        Human Rights: Women Form

        Telephone Town Hall with UAW President Bob King and Region 1C Director Norwood Jewell

        04/05/11

        On March 17, UAW President Bob King and Region 1C Director Norwood Jewell hosted a tele-town hall with the region's leadership and activists.  The call covered ongoing legislative issues in Michigan and the UAW's plans to defend the middle class.  Participants posted questions to the hosts.  If you missed the call, here is the recording of it.