A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

You want justice? Demand it

Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., June 29, 20 or July 1

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

That often-repeated quote from 19th century African-American abolitionist and journalist Frederick Douglass still resonates – especially given attacks on working people in general and the nation’s income inequality in particular. What’s usually omitted is the rest of Douglass’ comment: “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue ’til they are resisted with either words or blows or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Isn’t it time for everyday Americans to make demands?

Do we tolerate a minimum wage that isn’t enough to lift a full-time worker out of poverty?

Some places are deciding they cannot endure that inequity.

Chicago, Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose are some of the places that recently raised the minimum wage – as has tiny Emeryville, Calif., and even red-state Kentucky, where Democratic Gov. Steven Beshear did it through executive action. Elsewhere, Connecticut, Kansas City, New York City, the state of Washington and Washington, D.C., all are considering it.

This is somewhat tied to the Fight For 15 movement that’s targeted fast-food companies and chronic low-wage employers, but there’s more. Despite the private sector adding 280,000 jobs in May, the overall economy still has a long way to go, says Robert Borosage of Campaign for America’s Future.

“The long-term unemployed remains 28.6 percent of the unemployed, near the highest pre-recession levels on record,” Borosage said. “Average hourly wages have risen only 2.3 percent over the last year. Workers are still struggling to share in the rewards of growth. Officially, the economy is in recovery but working families are not.”

Isn’t it time for everyday Americans to make demands?

Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average as this is written is 18,143.74, compared to 16,937.26 exactly a year earlier – a healthy 7.1 percent increase. Likewise, the S&P 500 today finished at 2,124.60, compared to 365 days before (1,962.61) – an 8.2 percent jump. So Wall Street prospers while the people who actually produce the goods and services that corporations sell endure a 2.3 percent wage increase.

The reasons range from the influence Big Money has on policymakers to the financial gimmicks corporate America uses to disguise its riches.

For example, the global human-resource film of Aon Hewitt has found a change in how corporate executives are paid.

“There is a quiet revolution in compensation,” said Ken Abosch, a partner at Aon Hewitt, which conducts annual surveys of more than 1,000 companies’ salaried employees’ pay.

Speaking to the New York Times, Abosch said, “There are not many things in the world of compensation that are all that radical, but this is a drastic shift.”

What’s happened, he shows, is that the share of payroll budgets going to salary increases last year was 2.9 percent while short-term rewards and bonuses (“variable compensation” ) was 12.7 percent – a record.

Again, that’s while regular working people got by with a 2.3 percent pay increase.

Isn’t it time for everyday Americans to make demands?

After all, fast-food workers and other low-wage employees did, taking a chance to demand compensation and recognition.

What are the options?

The Rev. Martin Luther King said there are a few ways to respond to oppression: surrender, violence, or nonviolent resistance.

“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor,” King said. “It must be demanded by the oppressed.”

King aide Jesse Jackson sees hope at the grassroots, exemplified by fast-food workers, but gains won’t be realized without effort.

“Change will come,” the Rev. Jackson said, “but only when people demand it.”

Isn’t it time for everyday Americans to make demands?

We’ve done it before.

Attributed to anthropologist and women’s rights activist Margaret Mead, this inspiring statement applies to struggle, period: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

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