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Why Occupy? Here's why.

By       Message Harold Hellickson     Permalink
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Why Occupy?   Here's why.  

The rift between master and slave is as old as human history. The rift has been continuous, just the names have changed. For centuries it was between the landed gentry and the peasants. Since the industrial revolution it has been between capital and labor. Always, between the two there was a small mercantile group as well as the traders and craftsmen that supplied that group. Previously this group fared better than labor but not so much better than labor today.

The history of labor vs. capital in the United States, of workers vs. owners, is well documented. The rich have almost always grown richer.  But the worker gained in income as well. Professor Richard D. Wolff, Capitalism Hits the Fan, documents that workers gained in income each decade from the 1800s through 1970s. When adjusted for inflation, wages peaked in 1973. Since 1973, essentially none of the gains in worker productivity have been shared with the workers; business has retained literally all of it. Since, according to the Economic Policy Institute, through 2007 the richest 10 percent of Americans received 98 percent of all growth in income leaving 2 percent for the remaining 90 percent of us. From 1988 through 2008, income for the bottom 90 percent of us actually declined. The portion gained by the top 1 percent in general and the top 0.1 percent in particular is obscene.  

The improved standards of living gained by labor unions, through higher wages and benefits for its members through 1973, were believed to be a burdensome cost to profits. Chicago's School of Economics' Milton Friedman had declared profits to be the only legitimate purpose of business. Something dramatic, something of epoch proportions, must have occurred in the 1970's that supported Friedman's contention.   What could have happened?  

We know what happened. Business, corporate interests, simply went to war against anything and everything that appeared to interfere with profits. Glen Greenwald, speaking on Link TV, has discussed the impact of radical corruption of our political and legal institutions. In his speech, Freedom and Liberty for Some, Greenberg suggests the seeds of that corruption were planted by the founding fathers. This article discusses the modern basis for that corruption from the 1970s through today.

By mid-1971, American consumers became increasingly aware of deleterious business practices. Rachael Carson's Silent Spring had spawned an environmental movement. Ralph Nader had taken on General Motors with his book Unsafe at Any Speed and strongly advocated for consumer safety and consumer protection. Richard Nixon had created the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act had been strengthened.   

Soon to be appointed Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. would write "there is an attack on the American free enterprise system". His confidential memo to the Chamber of Commerce would become known as the Powell Manifesto, a strategy for development of business dominance over government and the acquiescence of the public to its aims. In it he wrote, "Business must learn the lesson that political power is necessary...(and)...the scale of financing only through joint effort over an indefinite number of years...(and)...united action...(through)...national organizations" will be required.  

"The interrelationship of business to business is no longer as important as is the interrelationship of business with government" echoed the National Association of Manufacturers when, in 1974, it moved its offices from New York City to Washington, DC. Corporate Public Affairs Offices in Washington, DC grew from 100 in 1969 to more than 500 by 1978. Lobbying firms grew from 175 in 1971 to near 2,500 by the mid-1980s. In the decade from the late 1970's corporate Political Action Committees (PAC's) more than doubled that of union PAC's support in congressional races growing from less than parity to $3 of corporate support for every $1 of union support. Business outspent labor, again 3 to 1, and organized the largest letter writing campaign in history, some 8 million pieces of mail, to uphold, under a Democratic Congress, two of President Ford's vetoes of bills favorable to consumers and labor. The Office of Consumer Representation was rejected. Also rejected was the Common Situs Picketing Bill which would have repealed those parts of the Taft-Hartley Bill that made union organizing more difficult.    

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With the growing rift between organized labor and business management, President Carter formed a Labor-Management Group from which United Auto Worker's President Douglas Fraser frustratingly resigned in 1978. In his letter of resignation he stated, "I believe leaders of the business community, with few exceptions, have chosen to wage a one-sided class war today in this country--a war against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle class of our society." He added, "The new flexing of business muscle can be seen in many other areas. The rise of multinational corporations that know neither patriotism nor morality but only self-interest, has made accountability almost non-existent. At virtually every level, I discern a demand by business for docile government and unrestrained corporate individualism. Where industry once yearned for subservient unions, it now wants no unions at all. Our tax laws are a scandal, yet corporate America wants even wider inequities. The Republican Party remains controlled by and the Democratic Party heavily influenced by business interests. The reality is that both are weak and ineffective as parties, with no visible, clear-cut ideological differences between them. Because of business domination, I would rather sit with the rural poor, the desperate children of urban blight, the victims of racism, and working people seeking a better life than with those whose religion is the status quo, whose goal is profit and whose hearts are cold."  

Expanding on Fraser's class war observation, Paul Krugman has more  recently written it is " class warfare of the rich against the middle class." He points to four major elements to this: tax cuts for the rich; a decline in the inflation-adjusted minimum wage (which peaked in 1968 at $10.04 in 2010 dollars); union-busting; and the deregulation of financial markets.  

Between 1999 and 2009, the net jobs gain in the American workforce was zero. In the six previous decades, the number of jobs added rose by at least 20% per decade. Then there's income. In 2010, the average middle-class family took home $49,445, a drop of $3,719 or 7%, in yearly earnings from 10 years earlier. In other words, that family now earns the same amount as in 1996. In this lost decade, according economist Jared Bernstein, poor families watched their income shrivel by 12%, falling from $13,538 to $11,904. Even families in the 90th percentile of earners suffered a 1% percent hit, dropping on average from $141,032 to $138,923." 

Income inequality has never been greater in our country. The gap separating the extreme rich from the professional class, the middle class, the working poor and those in poverty is as wide today as it was in 1929 just before the advent of the Great Depression. Income inequality resulting from the policies of the business/corporate/wealthy-elite is a growing concern of many. Too, the political malfeasance, the political corruption, that lead to the housing bubble, financial weapons of mass destruction, the banking collapse and subsequent bailout is under increasing criticism,  

It is probable that none of this would have happened had not our judicial system embodied corporations with personhood. Two recent decisions have worsened an already bad situation. In the case of First National Bank v. Bellotti, the Supreme Court's 1978 decision ensured freedom of speech for corporations. Its 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission further ensured corporate spending for political purposes. In his dissent of the latter decision, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, "the Court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions..." as if it were not already undermined. The conservative jurist, the late Justice Byron White, dissenting in the earlier 1978 corporatist decision, was prescient in his recognition of what is reality today; failure of the State to prevent special interests from consuming the State itself.   

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Corporations, Justice White wrote, are "in a position to control vast amounts of economic power which may, if not regulated, dominate not only the economy but also the very heart of our democracy, the electoral process." The state, he continued, "has a compelling interest in preventing institutions which have been permitted to amass wealth as a result of special advantages extended by the State for certain economic purposes from using that wealth to acquire an unfair advantage in the political process. The state need not permit its own creation to consume it."  

The concern of Justice White is today's reality. Senator Dick Durbin said it best, "The Banks own the Senate". What he meant of course was special interests own the entire Congress to which I would add, the Administration as well and through them both, the Supreme Court too.  

Surprisingly, to counter today's reality of Justice White's concern, help has come to us from Canada through the thinking of Kalle Lasn, the provocative anti-corporatist founder of Adbuster. While tiny, this Canadian magazine, known for its skewering attacks on capitalism and corporate America, has a progressive following in many parts of the world. A close follower of the Arab Spring, last June, in an e-mail to subscribers, Lasn said "America need its own Tahrir". In recognition of the bankster's role in our economic collapse coupled with their being rewarded for their failures with taxpayer bailout funds, Lasn thought it timely to consider seizing control of the financial district in NYC. Micah White, activist and senior editor of Adbuster, living in Berkley, CA, suggested a name for the effort; thus Occupy Wall Street (OWS) was born. In a later e-mail, a call to occupy went out and September 17 was established as the date.  

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A retired MBA, I am a former corporate ideologue, former 3rd party advocate and current curmudgeon. While a continued supporter of a 3rd party, I have concluded their efficacy cannot be demonstrated until our form of Government is changed to (more...)

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