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Your Christmas Gifts from the One Percent

December 24, 2011

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, the song says…for the top 1 percent of wealthy Americans, that is. For the rest of us, things are not looking so great.

The paid heavies of the 1 percent, also known as politicians, are as busy as elves in Santa’s workshop, issuing a series of coups against the poor, the unemployed, and the working class to wind up 2011. And some of their creations are real stunners.

In Congress, of course, there’s the payroll tax drama, which could force millions of working-class Americans to dish out more payroll tax in January; and will cost Americans on Medicare the care of those physicians who can’t afford to take another cut in payment for services. Happy New Year!

Here in Michigan, lapdog-to-the-rich Rick Snyder has delivered some great gifts to his wealthy handlers….but coals in your stocking and mine. We’ll be paying more taxes out of our dwindling paychecks in order to pay for Rick’s huge tax cuts to corporations. He’s put us in danger from Emergency Financial Managers who are pillaging our city and school assets, turning public parks into private playgrounds for Michigan’s wealthiest residents, and who are handing out fat privatization contracts for public services that we used to have some say in controlling.

Snyder also made heavy cuts and changes to workers’ compensation in the state, another enormous gift to employers. And of course his slashing of social services put our already vulnerable working poor and unemployed in even more daily jeopardy, but pours more money in the pot for the capitalists who are supposedly creating jobs for everyone.

Under Dick and Betsy DeVos’s tree, he’s placed a fabulous gift: anti-public-school legislation passed at the last minute before the legislature closed down for the holidays. This new law will lift the limit on how many charter schools Michigan can have. The DeVos family for years has dreamed of destroying public school education in the state, and here’s their Christmas wish come true.

For the workers of Michigan, Snyder has thoughtfully provided 2,000 jobs with living wageshis total full-time job creation for the state in his first year of office—for the half-million unemployed in Michigan to share equally between them. (It works out to a four-thousandth of a job per person who needs one.)

But maybe the most iconic Christmas surprise for workers is coming from the 1 percent via leading presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Gingrich has proposed re-instating child labor in the United States.

No, you didn’t read that wrong.

In a speech at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a series of follow-up press conferences this November and December, Gingrich called the laws that protect children against labor violations “stupid.” He subsequently explained why:

1. It deprives children of important life lessons. “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” he explained. This dovetails with the conservative talk radio hosts who are constantly complaining about the laziness of the poor and unemployed. Gingrich feels that if children, starting at the age of 10, are forced to work, they will grow up learning better values than their elders.

He’s never one to be held back by facts. The majority of poor children live in households with at least one working parent, and often with parents who have multiple jobs. In the poorest households, those of America’s 9.9 million single mothers with children, 65 percent of those women hold at least one job.

2. Our current protective laws for children are creating a criminal class, according to Gingrich. At a fundraiser in Iowa, he elaborated on that idea, stating that children from poor families have no “habit” of earning money “unless it’s illegal.” Apparently, forcing them to work at an early age will keep children from all of the criminal activity in which they currently engage.

Again, facts don’t support his words. There’s been an alarming increase in child poverty in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that in 2010, 2 million American children lived in poverty. Between 2008 and 2009 alone, the number had jumped 10 percent. But violent crime in the United States is currently at the lowest level in 20 years. And yet politicians, right-wing TV and radio shows, and law enforcement officials continue to claim that child poverty is now, or will very soon, make that rate skyrocket. Gingrich has hopped on that fear-mongering bandwagon.

3. Gingrich’s real reason for lifting child labor law protections? It’s his gift to the 1 percent, and a fat one: union-busting. He alluded to it in his Harvard address:

“You say to somebody, you shouldn’t go to work before you’re what, 14, 16 years of age, fine,” Mr. Gingrich said. “You’re totally poor. You’re in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I’ve tried for years to have a very simple model. Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.”

So there’s your real reason for this idea in a nutshell: hiring children, in schools and elsewhere, supplies the wealthiest capitalists with a whole new, cheaper labor force—one that replaces “expensive” union employees with children who are required to work. The pro-child line that this would help kids begin to “rise” from their poverty is just the ribbon on the box. The 1 percent know that.

They also know that they would be placing children in dangerous working conditions. Take those school janitorial jobs. Janitors don’t just sweep floors and empty wastebaskets. They’re responsible for maintaining the furnace and cooling systems, for trouble-shooting electrical problems, for trash compacting and paper shredding, and for handling corrosive chemicals. In fact, janitorial jobs at schools are close to equal with police work in the number of non-fatal injuries, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And now we have Gingrich proposing that ten-year-old children without health care benefits be the ones handling those chemicals and crawling through airshafts to fix HVAC problems. Plus, those pesky unionized salaries and benefits will be a thing of the past—kids will work for pennies on the dollar!

Gingrich’s capitalist owners include Charles Schwab, Robert Wood Johnson (of Johnson & Johnson), Freddie Mac, and casino overlord Sheldon Adelson, one of the five richest people in America. All of them could benefit, directly or indirectly, from accessible and cheap child labor.

There are those who wishfully want to believe that ideas like this are linked to one political party or another. They aren’t. Both parties have politicians who are bought and paid for by the wealthiest Americans. It just happens that most of the 1 percent hold hyper-conservative opinions because those benefit business. But you’ll find plenty of so-called liberal politicians who are waging war on the working class as well, also at the behest of their political contributors. This isn’t politics. It’s class warfare.

Gingrich’s, Snyder’s, and other lawmakers’ Christmas gifts have all helped to make true overlords out of the wealthiest 1 percent, whose net worth during the past 30 years has increased 300 percent on average.  CEO pay has reached an average of $9.3 million, while the average salary for the bottom half of Americans is $26,364 and predicted to fall as jobs continued to shift overseas.

It’s been a while since someone has channeled Dickens’ depiction of misery in London’s underclass with such a pitch-perfect tone as Newt Gingrich. But if we don’t stop the wealthy capitalist handlers of Gingrich, Snyder, and other politicians, just imagine what our Christmas gifts next year might look like in this new Gilded Age that is being built around us. 

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