The Bourgeois Congress and Economic Violence
By Charles Sullivan
If the greatness of a nation is measured by how it treats its poor
rather than its military expenditure, America must rank near the
bottom of the heap. The disparity between rich and poor has never
been greater and it is widening at an accelerating pace.
Some pertinent statistics vividly tell the story:
* Of the world's 100 largest economic entities, 51 are corporations
and 49 are nations.
* The world's top 200 corporations account for over a quarter of the
economic activity on the globe while employing less than 1% of its
* The assets of the world's 358 billionaires exceed the combined
annual incomes of countries with 45% of the world's people.
* The richest 1% of Americans own 40% of the nation's household
* The average CEO in the U.S. made 42 times the average worker's pay
in 1980, 85 times in 1990 and 531 times in 2000.
* The corporate share of taxes paid has fallen from 33% in the
1940's to 15% in the 1990's. Individuals' share of taxes has risen
from 44 to 73%.
* The World Trade Organization (WTO) effectively gives veto power to
corporations over our U.S. environmental and labor laws.
The first minimum wage was established in 1938. On September 1, 1996
the current $5.15/hr. minimum wage was signed into law. There has
been no increase in the minimum wage in over nine years. During that
same period of time Congress voted itself eight pay raises.
Even the paltry minimum wage of $5.15 does not possess its original
purchasing power, as the cost of living has continued to rise. Thus,
the minimum wage, a national disgrace, has its lowest purchasing
power in 51 years.
The blatant exploitation of the working poor is occurring against
the backdrop of a Congress that is doling out massive welfare to the
world's largest and wealthiest corporations and providing tax cuts
for the richest Americans, even as worker pensions vanish after a
lifetime of service. But it gets worse.
A worker who earns the minimum wage of $5.15/hr. during the course
of a year earns just $10,700. That is $6,000 below the federal
poverty level for a family of three at $16,600. Sixty-one percent of
minimum wage earners are women, many of them single.
According to Rick Wilson, director of American Friends Service
Committee's West Virginia Economic Justice Department, the base pay
for a congressperson is $168,500 per year. A single mother earning
the minimum wage would have to work 15.7 years at 40 hours per week
to earn the congressperson's minimum.
Even that measure is misleading. The disparity is far greater than
the dire statistics indicate. There are 435 members in the House of
Representatives of which 123 had at least one million dollar
incomes. In 2002, 43% of freshmen congresspersons had incomes of a
million dollars or more and the number is growing with each election
cycle. As Congress continues to resemble the nation's economic elite
rather than the demographics of their respective districts, the poor
increasingly find themselves among the disenfranchised.
In the wealthiest nation on earth one in five children lives in deep
poverty. It this is not class warfare, I do not know what is
As the working poor sink deeper into the oblivion of the swirling
vortex of social and economic despair, ever more wealth is
concentrated among society's upper crust. What is Congress doing
about it? They have wasted weeks discussing how to abolish the
estate tax, a levy that benefits less than 0.3 percent of the
population—the very wealthiest Americans.
It should be clear by now that the working people have no protection
from Congress and the corporate Plutocracy. During the Clinton
presidency, Bill Clinton and the Congress dismantled the welfare
system while giving obscene subsidies to corporations such as
Microsoft, Wal-Mart, General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler. The
Republican record is even worse. Can there be any doubt about whose
interest Congress serves?
The outlook is likely to worsen for American workers as the economic
disparity gap widens. The minimum wage law is a cruel hoax against
the working poor. The champions of capital, as evidenced in the
statistics cited above, do not care about the poor. America's vast
economic divide is the deliberate result of policies enacted by both
Republicans and Democrats. That is why political reform is a pipe
dream. The workers have no one representing them in government.
The minimum wage must be abolished and replaced by a living wage. In
the wealthiest nation on earth there is no excuse why every worker
should not earn a decent living by working forty hours or less per
week with full benefits and guaranteed pensions upon retirement.
Ultimately, the wage system must be abolished and the ownership of
production given to the workers—those who produce all of the wealth.
The appalling social cost of the minimum wage may be the underlying
cause for the demise of the American family. When parents are forced
to work for slave wages at multiple jobs the family suffers. The
basic inequity of our culture of greed sets in motion waves of
criminal activity, as desperate people seek any means of providing
for their families. Desperate people do desperate things. It also
gives rise to a culture of violence, drugs and widespread alcoholism
that characterize America.
The per capita rate of incarceration in the U.S. exceeds that of any
industrialized nation, with the poor and people of color
disproportionately affected. Disparity doesn't just happen. It is
the result of social and economic policy deliberately enacted
against the poor. The evidence speaks for itself in the voting
records of Congress. It is there for all to see.
Ambrose I. Lane, Sr., XM-Satellite radio channel 169, The Power,
The Congressional Millionaires Club, Charles Sullivan, ICH 11/21/05
How the System Works (or doesn't),
Ralph Nader, Cutting Corporate Welfare, Seven Stories Press, 2000
American Friends Service Committee, http://www.afsc.org
Charles Sullivan is a photographer, free lance writer and social
activist living in the hinterland of West Virginia. He welcomes your
comments at email@example.com - read more from him at:
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