I read a lot of opinion pieces over Labor Day weekend about work, jobs and the economy, and I've been inspired by the fast food and retail workers who went on strike last week in more than 60 cities. It's gotten me thinking about how best to make every day Labor Day.
I know that for millions of Americans, the economy is horribly broken. To fix the economy so that it works for everyone, not just the richest 1%, I propose the following 3 policy solutions:
1. Raise the Minimum Wage.
This is a no-brainer. Passing the Harkin-Miller bill is the least we can do to make sure that people who work don't live in poverty. It would put more money in the hands of millions of working people, who will spend it and get the economy moving a bit more. I'd prefer an even higher minimum wage, closer to the $15 an hour that the fast food workers are asking for.
2. Fix our broken labor laws.
We don't have enough power at work--and that's because CEOs have rigged the rules in their favor. Only 6% of working people in the private sector are united in a union. The other 94% don't sit down with their employer to negotiate their wages and benefits. They have no contract, and are at-will employees. It's no wonder that wages are stagnant: it's up to the employers to give raises, and left to their own devices they simply won't share the wealth. The CEOs and other top executives make outrageous mulit-million dollar salaries, and the people who do most of the work struggle to get by.
Corporations can now easily squash any attempt by their employees to unite: firing the leaders who speak out, holding one-on-one meetings to intimidate workers, holding mandatory meetings with anti-union videos that try to brainwash people into believing that it's not in their interest to have a contract. There's no such thing as a fair union elections when the rules are set up to benefit the employer.
We need to change our labor laws to make it easier for people to join together and have a seat at the table where the decisions about pay and working conditions are made. This means big penalties, including jail time, for firing workers who are trying to form a union; majority sign-up that allows people to become members of a union by signing up instead of through an employer-dominated "election"; overturning Taft-Hartley; and even through incentives for companies that sit down and negotiate with their employees.
The fast food and retail workers just want to sit down with the CEOs of McDonald's and Wendy's and Walmart and negotiate a fair wage. We need new labor laws that will help them to do that.
3. Provide a basic income for all.
Tax the 1% and give everyone $12,000 a year ($1,000 a month) so that any income they receive from working would be in addition to that.
A basic income would provide people with a minimum amount of income to cover our most basic needs. While this mostly helps the very poor, it also changes the nature of work from an or-else, all-or-nothing enterprise where everyone is in competition for a limited amount of jobs, to a more open-ended situation where you can work as much or as little as you want without putting yourself and your family in poverty.
The biggest problem with work is that for the vast majority of the people on earth, it's the only way to get money to live. We need jobs so badly--but they don't need us. Or more precisely, the businesses and governments and non-profits that are the only ones that create jobs don't need us. They all have financial incentives to keep the number of jobs down and the amount they pay down and benefits down.
It sets up a horrible equation: we all need good jobs that pay a decent living, but there's never going to be enough good jobs because it's just not in the interest of business, gov't and non-profits to make enough of them.
We either need a rule where the government is required to create enough good jobs for everyone, or we change the rules so that jobs aren't the only way to get money. It would cost much more to create all of the jobs that are needed in this country than to simply give money directly to people. We should still have government create the good public sector jobs that are needed, but ultimately a basic income is less expensive than a full employment project.
If we tax the rich, big corporations, carbon pollution, Wall St. transactions, etc. and just give the money directly to the people, then we establish a source of income that's independent of jobs. We also stimulate the economy, which will lead to more jobs. Some people would be able to work less, which would also free up some jobs. Many people who work two or three jobs wouldn't have to anymore.
A basic income would provide people with poverty-level income while creating more jobs and more job-openings. While those paying the new taxes won't be happy about it, they would actually benefit because people would have more money to spend, which would make its way into their hands eventually. The money would Rise Up instead of Trickle Down.