Some people celebrate May Day today with a pagan celebration of flowers and Maypoles; others recognize it as a day of protest and worker solidarity. That history goes back to 1886 when 200,000 U.S. workers struck for an eight-hour day. On the third day, a Chicago strike at the McCormick Reaper plant became violent as police killed and injured the strikers. The next day’s peaceful meeting at Haymarket Square protesting police action turned even more brutal. As the meeting started to break up, a bomb near the speaker’s wagon wounded 60 policemen and killed another seven. The police wounded 200 civilians and killed several more. Although no one was sure who had committed the crime, four people were executed. No one in the U.S. had an eight-hour day until the United Mine Workers in 1898; a federal law mandating the eight-hour day wasn’t passed until 1938.
The international holiday for labor, created in 1889 in honor of the Haymarket Tragedy, continued to be commemorated for over a century although conservatives tried to change the meaning in 1958 to “Loyalty Day” through a resolution signed by President Eisenhower. The declaration of May Day as “a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States of America and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom” remains in the 21st century. To this day, 27 years later, my town still celebrates the “Loyalty Day.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) declaration as a presidential candidate in the Democratic Party on April 30 was a great lead-in to this year’s May Day. For decades, Sanders has been advocating for the rights of workers, the middle class, and the poor. His platform lists the need for “new economic models to increase job creation and productivity instead of giving huge tax breaks to corporations which ship our jobs to China and other low-wage countries.” His proposal is worker-owned cooperatives, which studies show increase productivity and employee satisfaction while shrinking absenteeism.
An example is the Mondragon corporation in Spain that “has over 70,000 employees and brings in annual revenues of over $12 billion Euros.” In most of its operations, “the ratio of compensation between top executives and the lowest-paid members is between three to one and six to one.” In comparison, U.S. CEOs made 295.9 times the amount of worker salaries in 2013, up from 20 to one in 1965. No one in the U.S. even dreams of a six to one ratio: Massachusetts Nurses Association tried—and failed—for a ballot initiative fining hospitals paying CEO’s more than 100 times the earnings of the lowest-paid employee.
The salary of chief executives climbed 937 percent between 1978 and 2013 compared to the 10-percent increase for the average worker’s compensation. Bringing back workers’ rights to organize also helps ensure that workers share in the profits and productivity that they help to generate.
Another way to protect workers is Sanders’ push to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Since 2001, trade agreements have closed down almost 60,000 factories in the U.S. causing the loss of millions of jobs. In one TPP country, Vietnam, “the minimum wage is equivalent to 56 cents an hour, independent labor unions are banned and people are thrown in jail for expressing their political beliefs or trying to improve labor conditions. In Malaysia, migrant workers who manufacture electronics products are working as modern-day slave laborers who have had their passports and wages confiscated and are unable to return to their own countries,” Sanders wrote. As he pointed out, U.S. workers would compete with people in Vietnam and Malaysia in “a race to the bottom.” The increased profits for corporations and Wall Street come from “offshoring jobs, undercutting worker rights, and dismantling labor, environmental, health, food safety and financial laws.” The U.S. would also lose its sovereignty as foreign corporations can defeat domestic policies and laws in international tribunals.
Sanders has already released a 12-point Economic Agenda for America. As a leader in a growing consensus agenda for Democrats, Sanders 12-point Economic Agenda for America includes increase in the minimum wage, paid sick days, paid vacation, pay equity, and affordable child care. Equally important is his addressing the systematically rigging of rules producing extreme income inequality. He wants an end to corporate-defined trade and tax policies resulting in destructive trade deficits and calls for breaking up the banks “too big to fail.” His proposal for expanding security programs includes lifting the cap on Social Security payroll taxes, moving to a health care plan of Medicare for all, and providing two years of debt-free college or other advance training for all students who prove themselves willing to earn it.
Like Libertarians, Sanders opposes the idea that the U.S. has the responsibility to police the globe. As many people recognize, endless wars waste lives and take resources from the U.S. At this time, $0.27 of every tax dollar goes to the military.
Sanders plans a social and economic justice candidacy at a time when people want change. The publicity and protests surrounding the police killing black males has brought to the forefront debates about racism, economic inequality, political campaign funding, and criminal legal system injustices. Sanders’ devastating 8.5-hour-long filibuster against President Obama’s budget agreement with the Republicans has been published as a book: The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class. The budget agreement extended the George W. Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, lowered estate tax rates for the wealthy, and established a “payroll tax holiday” diverting revenue away from the Social Security Trust Fund and threatening the fund’s future.
In addition, Sanders pointed out the U.S. middle class collapsed through corporate greed and public policy favoring the wealthy for several decades while childhood poverty in the U.S. rose to the highest rate in the industrialized world. He finished with a call to the middle class, a call to action that would take on the powerful special interests that elect legislators and guide their votes.
Sanders may encourage Hillary Clinton to take more questions from the press. In a bit over two weeks on the campaign trail, Clinton took seven questions, according to National Journal’s Zach Cohen, with half of the answers ignoring the questions. During just one five-minute exchange with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell the night before his brief campaign kick-off, he answered seven questions and took another six at the next day’s launch event. As Sanders said, “I believe that in a democracy, what elections are about are serious debates over serious issues … facing the American people.”
What makes Bernie stand out, more than his progressive platform and his great understanding of the problems currently facing the country, is his honesty. As Matt Tabbi wrote:
“Sanders is a politician whose power base is derived almost entirely from the people of the state of Vermont, where he is personally known to a surprisingly enormous percentage of voters. His chief opponents in the race to the White House, meanwhile, derive their power primarily from corporate and financial interests. That doesn’t make them bad people or even bad candidates necessarily, but it’s a fact that the Beltway-media cognoscenti who decide these things make access to money the primary factor in determining whether or not a presidential aspirant is ‘viable’ or ‘credible.’”
The opposition to Sanders uses the word “socialist” as a pejorative term against him. He describes himself as a democratic socialist, with the meaning that elected government sometimes needs to slow down the nation’s progress toward a complete oligarchy. That means not giving tax breaks to companies who decimate the middle class by moving factories overseas.
As Sanders starts his run for president, manufacturing jobs are returning to the United States in record numbers, and foreign companies are also bringing their factories here. In 2012, 60,000 of these jobs were added in the U.S. compared to only 12,000 in 2003 during George W. Bush’s first term. Only 50,000 jobs were sent offshore last year, declining from 150,000 in 2003. That leaves 3 million to 4 million manufacturing jobs still offshore.
The bad news is the reason for these returns. With Chinese workers demanding higher wages and better working conditions, U.S. companies are coming back to the nation that has been stripped of union rights and a federal minimum wage of $7.25. U.S. workers’ wages have remained stagnant for years while China’s wages are going up by 8.3 percent per year. Chinese private-sector wages went up 14 percent in just 2012, and a year ago, 30,000 Nike workers struck for higher wages. Among companies with annual sales above $1 billion, 37 percent plan to reshore manufacturing jobs from China to the U.S. due to higher labor costs in China. Of companies above $10 billion, 48 percent are planning to return. A return of these low-paying jobs means that U.S. taxpayers can lose more money through subsidies to manufacturing companies while the taxpayers continue to pay welfare benefits because of the same companies’ low wages.
Most of the U.S. taxpayers would live better and pay less taxes if the government incorporated the ideas in Sanders’ platform.