It’s not a coincidence that while most Americans are struggling, just three individuals—Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett—together own as much wealth as half of the country combined.
Most of the world recognizes May 1—May Day—as International Workers’ Day. Here in one of the few countries that doesn’t, it’s worth pausing to ask how U.S. workers are doing.
At an event last December, Fight for $15 organizer Terrence Wise recalled “going to bed at night, ignoring my own stomach’s rumbling, but having to hear my three little girls’ stomachs rumble. That’s something no parent should have to endure.”
Wise was marking the launch of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
Last month, the Institute for Policy Studies and the Poor People’s Campaign released The Souls of Poor Folk, a report on 50 years of change in the issues that affect working people, and particularly those at the bottom. We looked at systemic racism, poverty, militarism, and ecological devastation.
We found some startling and unhappy results. For the most part, workers like Wise are struggling hard to get by.
With the destruction of industries and the cities that housed them, the nature of our economy has shifted. Although the official unemployment rate is low, employment today often means low-wage work that offers little job security.
Our society’s treatment of workers has changed, too. For example, 28 states have passed so-called “right to work” laws that undermine the ability of workers to organize.
That’s meant steadily declining union membership, which keeps workers from getting their fair share of the wealth produced by the U.S. economy over the past 50 years. Despite enormous growth in the overall economy, wages for the bottom 80 percent of workers have remained largely stagnant.
In 2016, there wasn’t a single county or state in which someone earning the federal minimum wage could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment at market rate. Yet today there are 64 million people working for less than $15 an hour.
Meanwhile, nearly one in five families have zero or negative net worth. That number rises to over a quarter of Latin American households and 30 percent of black households.
Of course, these changes haven’t happened in a vacuum. It’s not a coincidence that while most Americans are struggling, just three individuals—Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffett—together own as much wealth as half of the country combined.
It’s also probably no coincidence that the American politicians backed by billionaires don’t recognize May Day.
People in power made choices like passing “right to work” laws that have led to these outcomes. And it will have to be other people—people like Terrence Wise—that set things right. At that same press conference where he described his family’s plight, Wise talked about how the Fight for $15 had helped raise the wages of 20 million workers and promoted their fight for a union.
Starting the day after Mother’s Day, the Poor People’s Campaign plans to engage in 40 days of civil disobedience in at least 30 state capitals and Washington, D.C. It aims to show how systemic racism, poverty, militarism, and ecological devastation are all interconnected, and all undermine workers today.
Among numerous demands, they’re calling for federal and state living wage laws, a guaranteed annual income for all people, full employment, and the right to unionize.
These steps would restore a sense of well-being and economic security to America’s workers and give them what the hollow promises of politicians cannot: dignity. Join them this May Day at www.poorpeoplescampaign.org and make it one to remember for U.S. workers too.
Poor People’s Campaign May Day Week of Events
Monday, April 30
Little Rock, Ark.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 6-8pm RSVP
Anchorage, Alaska—Anchorage Organizing Meeting / 5:30-7:30pm RSVP
Austin, Texas—Political and Moral Education / 7-8pm RSVP
Accokeek, Md.—Townhall & Direct Action Training / 6:30-8:30pm RSVP
Tuesday, May 1
Waukesha, Wis.—Day Without Latinxs & Immigrants / 10am-12pm RSVP
Detroit, Mich.—May Day Detroit 2018 Rally and March / 3:30-6:30pm RSVP
Topeka, Kan.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 5:15-9pm RSVP
Albany, N.Y.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 6-9pm RSVP
Washington, D.C.—Poor People’s Campaign Call 4 Artists / 6:30-8:30pm RSVP
Washington, D.C.—Interfaith Community Outreach Meeting / 7-8:30pm RSVP
Paterson, N.J.—Mass Meeting / 7-8:30pm RSVP
Fayetteville, Ark.—Education Potluck / 6-7pm RSVP
Wednesday, May 2
New York, N.Y.—Multifaith Strategies for Nonviolent Direct Action / 9am-5pm RSVP
Collingswood, N.J.—Mass Meeting / 7-8:30pm RSVP
Jersey City, N.J.—Mass Meeting / 7-8:30pm RSVP
Austin, Texas— Political and Moral Education – mini sessions / 8:30-9:30pm RSVP
Baltimore, Md.—Song Training and Art Build / 6:30-7:30pm RSVP
Anchorage, Alaska—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 6-9pm RSVP
Thursday, May 3
Washington, D.C.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 5:30-9:30pm RSVP
Kansas City, Mo.—Civil Disobedience Training / 6-9pm RSVP
Greensboro, N.C.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 6:30-9:30pm RSVP
Sylva, N.C.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 6-9:30pm RSVP
New York, N.Y.—NYC Poor People’s Campaign Fundraiser / 7-9pm RSVP
Trenton, N.J.—Mass Meeting / 7-8:30pm RSVP
Fayetteville, Ark.—Movement Music Workshop / 6:30-8pm RSVP
Austin, Texas—Political and Moral Education – mini sessions / 4-5pm RSVP
Friday, May 4
Ypsilanti, Mich.—Weekly Coffee and Catch Up / 2:30-4pm RSVP
Austin, Texas—Political and Moral Education – mini sessions / 6-7pm RSVP
Plainfield, Vt.—The Make: Radical Arts Intensive 3-day event / RSVP
Atlantic City, N.J.—Mass Meeting / 7-8:30pm RSVP
Saturday, May 5
Lanham, Md.—MD Poor People’s Campaign Town Hall at ELC / 9am-12pm RSVP
Dearborn, Mich.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 10am-2pm RSVP
Anchorage, Alaska—Nonviolent Direct Action Training / 9am-12:30pm RSVP
Ontario, Calif.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 10am-1pm RSVP
Ithaca, N.Y.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 10am-3pm RSVP
Charleston, S.C.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 10am-1:30pm RSVP
Syracuse, N.Y.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 10am-5pm RSVP
Madison, Wisc.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 12pm-3pm RSVP
Detroit, Mich.—Solidarity Saturdays: Stop The Water Shut Offs! / 12pm-2pm RSVP
Bangor, Maine—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 1-5pm RSVP
Chapel Hill, N.C.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 1-5pm RSVP
Chattanooga, Tenn.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 1-5pm RSVP
Highland Park, N.J.—Coffee House: Discussion on the PPC / 7:30-10:30pm RSVP
Sunday, May 6
New York, N.Y.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 2-6pm RSVP
Trenton, N.J.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 2-5pm RSVP
Nashville, Tenn.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 1-5pm RSVP
Cincinnati, Ohio—Song Leader Training led by Rev. Dr. Susan Smith / 2:30-4pm RSVP
Philadelphia, Pa.—Nonviolent Moral Fusion Direct Action Training / 3-6pm RSVP
Austin, Texas—Civil Disobedience Training / 2-5:30pm RSVP
Columbia, S.C.—Regional Seminars: Political Education / 1-5pm RSVP
Washington, D.C.—Reverend Barber: Sermon on War and Militarism / 7-8pm RSVP
Fort Smith, Ark.—Fort Smith Teach In / 7-8pm RSVP
Portland, Ore.—Portland Phone Banking / 6-8pm RSVP
Top Photo | Protesters march on Wall Street in front of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Workers and activists marked May Day with rallies around the world to demand their government address labor issues. (AP/Mark Lennihan)
Saurav Sarkar is the research coordinator for the Poor Peoples Campaign at the Institute for Policy Studies.
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