From Our Future
If a picture's worth a thousand words, what's the value of a single word?
If you're a Democratic Party leader and the word is "compete," the answer may be: more than you can afford.
Much of the Democratic Party's rhetoric has been 'Uberized' by a creeping free-market ideology that treats workers as lone competitors in a survival-of-the-toughest economy.
The time has come to reject this language as well as the thinking behind it. The notion that people must compete with each for low-paying jobs undermines worker solidarity and weakens our sense of national community.
When the Democratic Party rolled out its "Better Deal" language in July, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi each wrote op-eds promoting an agenda whose subtitle is, "Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future."
An earlier version of that slogan -- "Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages" -- was roundly criticized when it was leaked to a reporter, and rightly so. That phrase first appeared in an op-ed by Sen. Tim Kaine, who wrote:
"Better skills in our people and communities ... will make us more competitive in a world where talent is now the most precious resource. We need to double down on retraining people whose jobs are destroyed by shifts in trade."
Those words offer nothing new to the American people. They could have been lifted from a speech Bill Clinton gave in 1993, when he declared that "workers in advanced countries must become ever more productive to deal with competition from low-wage countries on the one hand, and high-skilled, high-tech countries on the other."
Since those words were spoken more than a quarter-century ago, millions of American jobs have been lost to bad trade deals that shifted work overseas and wealth upward.
Misguided government policies and greedy business practices ended a 30-year period in which wages kept pace with productivity growth, resulting in soaring inequality and stagnating wages for American workers. Increasingly wealthy individuals in corporations have, in turn, used their money to hijack the political process.
No retraining program on Earth can prepare workers for jobs that don't exist. And, as long as inequality remains the highest it's been since the 1920s, "competitive" education strategies will do little to improve wages or social mobility. To beleaguered workers, the phrase "better skills" reinforces the perception that an out-of-touch elite would rather blame the victims of its policies than take responsibility for its actions.
Better jobs, better wages, better luck next time.Better Than That
The finished slogan was a notable improvement from the beta version. The phrase "better skills" was gone, replaced by the noncommittal "better future."
It was a welcome surprise to see Democrats taking on corporate monopolies and the rapaciousness of Big Pharma as they rolled out the "Better Deal" platform.
Those fights can energize voters if they're properly framed and presented -- as in,"these corporations are so big they think they can do what they want, but we're gonna stop 'em" -- especially if they're complemented by strong stands on labor, trade, Medicare and Social Security expansion, and other populist issues.
But it was disappointing to see both Sen. Schumer and Leader Pelosi echo Kaine's unsupportable claims for worker retraining in their respective op-eds. Schumer wrote that "millions of unemployed or underemployed people particularly those without a college degree, could be brought back into the labor force or retrained to secure full-time, higher-paying work."
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