May 02 2012

The Activist Beat on May Day

Activist BeatThe Activist Beat with Rose Aguilar, host of Your Call on KALW in San Francisco is a weekly roundup of progressive activism that the mainstream media ignores, undercovers, or misrepresents.

Thanks to the Occupy movement, yesterday’s May Day actions in more than 115 cities across the country got widespread coverage in the corporate media.

The angle that deserves far more attention is this: labor groups, city workers, and immigrant rights groups are protesting alongside Occupiers for the first time. These are the people who keep things going; they produce everything we use; and they make it possible for corporate profits to continue breaking records.

According to a Wall Street Journal analysis, 500 of the largest publicly held companies generated an average of $378,000 in revenue for every employee on their payrolls in 2007. Last year, that figure rose to $420,000 and yet, workers are seeing none of those gains. In fact, they’re seeing their wages drop.

According to a recent Washington Post op-ed by Harold Myerson, the standard wage at Midwestern auto factories has declined from $28 an hour to $15 an hour. New hires have their hourly wages contractually capped at around $19, no matter how long they work for the company.

At a new high-tech plant in Muncie, Indiana, Caterpillar is hiring workers at just $12 an hour. That’s only $24,000 a year. Yesterday, in Joliet, Illinois, at least 50 union machinists walked off the job over a new contract that keeps wages flat for six years and raises healthcare premiums. Meantime, Caterpillar’s CEO saw his pay package increase by 42 percent to almost $15 million last year. The company’s revenue grew 41 percent to a whopping $60 billion last year.

According to a former manager who is now suing Caterpillar, the company avoided paying more than $2 billion in federal income taxes from 2000-2009.

One of the main messages of yesterday’s actions was that we do not have a budget deficit. We have a revenue deficit. Corporations like Caterpillar must pay their taxes.

Librarians, nurses, social workers, and janitors gathered in front of Bank of America in San Francisco yesterday to raise awareness about multinationals based here that do not pay local business taxes. These 52 companies include Bechtel, the Gap, Charles Schwab, and Neiman Marcus.

Also yesterday, Golden Gate ferry workers went on strike shutting down ferry services until 2:00. Workers haven’t had a contract for 10 months. Their main grievance is over healthcare premiums. I interviewed a ferry terminal assistant who makes $22 an hour after 20 years on the job. A bus strike is expected on May 10.

Over 4,500 nurses went on strike and protested in front of nine Sutter hospitals throughout the Bay Area. Nurses say they’re being asked to take a 30 percent pay cut.

Immigrant rights groups also took to the streets. They then marched downtown to show solidarity with Westfield Mall janitors and retail workers who are also fighting for fair contracts.

Something exciting is happening. We’re seeing a convergence of different groups with similar messaging. And that is: we don’t’ have a budget deficit; we have a revenue deficit. Corporations are making record profits, our wages are flat, we’re losing our homes, and our schools are underfunded. This is not sustainable.

Rank and file workers are discovering their power and the benefits of creating alliances with the Occupy movements.

They know that we will not see short-term changes. They know that if they’re going to be involved in this movement, they have to be in it for the long haul.

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