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When the American Dream Becomes a Nightmare

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Mary Shaw       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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As I write this on Labor Day 2005, I think of how this holiday was founded in 1882 to celebrate the American worker and the contributions that laborers have made to our society and our economy.

In my grandparents' day, America was seen as a land where all men were equal, and where honest, hard-working folks could achieve financial success. The rich could get richer, but the middle class could become rich as well, and the poor had a real chance to improve their lot and move into the middle class.

Immigrants arrived in this land of opportunity from all around the world to escape oppression and seek their fortunes through honest hard work. Through the contributions of many of the world's greatest minds and hardest workers who found their way to our shores, America led the industrial revolution.

Henry Ford knew that happy employees are more productive, and he provided his workers with competitive salaries and profit sharing. His dream of "a car in every garage" made it possible for even his low-level workers to buy Ford cars. His focus on high quality vehicles at an affordable price was a hit with the American public. This kind of success story, not only for Ford but for his workers and consumers as well, has come to symbolize the American dream.

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These are the things that made America great and strong.

But that was then, and this is now.

This is 2005, when the divide between rich and poor is growing, and the middle class is shrinking.

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This is 2005, when countless American jobs are being shipped overseas to places like India and China, where labor costs a fraction of what it costs here in the U.S.

This is 2005, when victims of corporate downsizing are finding that new jobs are paying less than what they were making before.

And this is 2005, when large corporations like Wal-Mart and Smithfield Foods routinely violate the rights of workers.

They exploit their workers through very low pay, meager benefits (if any), and forced unpaid overtime. When workers try to exercise their right to organize, they often endure threats, discrimination, intimidation, and firings.

A sizeable percentage of Wal-Mart workers are on Medicaid because they cannot afford the company's health plan.

And while the workers struggle to make ends meet, Wal-Mart rakes in $10 billion a year in profits.

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Henry Ford must be spinning in his grave.

America has seen this sort of problem in the past, and the people have risen up against corporate greed and exploitation of workers. In 1892, for example, the Populist Party (also called the "People's Party") ran on a platform that criticized government support of big business. The Populists argued that "the fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few." Their presidential candidate won four states and one million votes.

It is time again for Americans to take a stand against corporate greed and exploitation of workers.

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)

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