This follows my post of the Ralph Nader video. I have read much lately about the growing unfairness of income distribution in North America and the organized efforts of our richest citizens to accelerate the trend. Super-rich like David and Charles Koch are not content with the concentration already achieved, they aim to make it worse by passing laws to destroy unions and collective bargaining and remove workers’ rights. Another objective is to defund government and privatize public sector services and enterprises.
An American survey completed in 2010 (Norton & Ariely) determined that most citizens have no idea just how concentrated wealth has actually become. The inequality is striking and has become worse in the last decade. This is a dangerous trend because a peaceful democratic society can not survive with this imbalance. Inequities have been the engines of revolution throughout history.
In British Columbia, we have seen a 10-year freeze in the minimum wage, reductions in labor standards, limitation of workers’ rights to bargain contracts and unilateral agreements imposed by law. There has been a steady decline in union membership as the province de-industrializes and focuses instead on service businesses and bulk commodity exports of minimally processed goods.
If current trends continue, we will be building houses with imported lumber milled in China from exported raw BC logs. The houses will be plumbed with pipes manufactured in the USA from Canadian petroleum and the houses wired with electrical cable made in China with copper refined there from Canadian ore.
In a Labour Day piece, I wrote about my own experience growing up in a BC coastal mill town, the economic basis of which was typical then. Sadly, these towns survive in far different forms today, if at all. This is an excerpt:
In modern times, the Canadian union movement has lost power and influence so it’s easy to forget that unions enabled a broad middle class. Workers in unionized company towns in BC’s 20th century resource economy set the bar for others. They showed how positive full employment with good wages enables high quality life for the entire community.
I experienced that because I was schooled in Powell River and what was then the world’s largest pulp and paper mill provided good jobs and reasonable supports to almost any local family with a member who chose to work there. High school graduates – well, males anyway – were almost guaranteed summer employment if they went on to university. Countless people who became lawyers, engineers, accountants and other professionals had their higher educations enabled. Not just in Powell River either. Other single industry towns, with workers benefiting from healthy union wages, were similar.
These communities had comparatively few social problems, little poverty and excellent facilities, from schools to recreation centres. My wife and I recently attended our 45-year high school reunion in Powell River. People returned from all over to join with those still resident in the coastal town. Interestingly, over 90% of our class survive and hold happy memories of our youth. Sadly, the great employment opportunities we had are mostly gone, with the paper mill now a shadow of its former self. It offers fewer than 15% of the jobs that it provided in 1964 and none of those are secure.
- Who Rules America? Website of G. William Domhoff, University of California
- New Internationalist, interview with G. William Domhoff
- The United States of Inequality, by Timothy Noah
- Koch Brothers War Against Obama, Jane Mayer, New Yorker
- Money in Politics, Mother Jones
- The Guardian, Reel in the Non-Doms, Tax Cheating
Categories: Income Inequality