April Fools Day, 2014
We are getting ready for our best Workers Unite Film Festival yet! 10 days in May of films, poetry, music and speakers on issues and stories concerning workers, their unions and their lives. Our preliminary schedule will be posted by Friday and you will be able to see how hard we are trying to inject some working class cultural themes into the general mess that is our current mass culture.
On the same day, the NY Times, (which has been disgusting of late in its whining about the website and other procedural details of the Affordable Care Act during the largest increase in Americans covered by health insurance at any one time since Medicare), wondered if Karl Marx weren’t right about the glaring inequalities of capitalism left to its own devices, the 24 hour news cycle was otherwise filled with the sick and putrid image of one Sheldon Adelson, casino owning magnate, worth over $40 billion, putting around on an electronic scooter, while Christie, Bush, Kasich, Walker and even lesser GOP hopefuls scurried alongside for a chance to blow air kisses at his rat’s nest of fake hair and kiss his withered and decaying ass.
One can dwell on the sad spectacle of “family values” acolytes hopping and skipping to the tune of this sleazy seller of unluck for a buck, but when one reads their NY Times, one sees that these GOP types already know where we are headed and just want to suck onto the .0001%er’s back long enough for one final glorious ride around the fish tank before it all goes boom. Who can blame them? For these right wing thugs, who delight in cutting back on food stamps for hungry children, restricting democracy by curtailing voting rights and hours, eliminating the American Dream, if you happen to be from a different (read brown colored skin) ethnic group of immigrants than their own Moms and Dads, for this bunch of soulless liars and con men, Sheldon Adelson, with all his massive wealth built on fooling all of the people all of the time, this is a perfect fit.
These are all the same folks who scream bloody murder when there is a suggestion of a hike in the minimum wage, much less hike to a $15 minimum wage. “How dare they?” they scream. “Don’t they know you have to have skills to earn more?” Of course referring to the lying skills most of them learned as lawyers and have used so effectively during their otherwise pedestrian political careers. As a wonderful article in Portside details today, raising the minimum wage is not just about the fight for better pay, though that is important too. They are critically about changing the current gross imbalance of power that Marx saw would happen as unfettered “free market capitalism” had more of the restrictions removed from it’s unsavory operations (as has so efficiently been done by both Democratic and Republican beneficiaries of corporate money). Raising the minimum wage to an actually livable $15 an hour would make the vast majority of that workforce – women, many of whom are single working Moms, finally part of the civil society that we project as equal every day. It is currently so far from that it is frightening.
“We ought to think about why - especially during Women's History Month - those most experienced with living on a minimum wage are the women taking your order across a fast-food counter, changing your hotel linens or caring for your children. Women's history tells us something else about this issue: The long struggle for wage justice has always included women fighting, especially through unions, to change the balance of power.
To be sure, an increase is a welcome step in the fight for fairer compensation. But the recent state-level increases in the minimum wage still do not restore it to the level it reached in the late 1960s. Because its value has not kept pace with inflation while the cost of everything from groceries to housing to medical care has increased, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has eroded. And unlike 50 years ago, today's minimum wage workers are no longer teenagers. Their average age is 35; more than a third are over 40 and only 12 percent are below age 20.
Most importantly, the new laws and adjustments barely address the return of the very inequities that originally gave rise to the idea of a minimum wage a century ago. So yes, Americans now are sorely in need of a raise in the minimum wage. But that alone is not going to address the core problems of economic insecurity, inequality and economic and political disfranchisement that mark our era.
Its proponents always recognized that a wage reflected a power relationship and a measure of social worth. Lacking bargaining power, women perpetually found themselves working but poor. Today women comprise over 55 percent of minimum-wage workers; 71 percent of restaurant servers are women, tipped workers who fall outside minimum wage coverage.”
That's why the "Fight For $15" campaign among fast food workers is not just about raising the minimum wage. It's about changing the social relationships and balance of power embodied in the wage. Through opening this struggle, low-wage workers compel us to rethink again who is a "breadwinner."
As the National Consumers' League understood a century ago, workers still need a union. Unions, through collective power - collective power that has legal and ideological legitimacy - compel a more balanced sharing of the profits. Workers' organizations, at their most ambitious, also give people the space and the tools to articulate a just economic vision and build political power to get us there.
That is why the theme for our Workers Unite Film Festival this year is Income Inequality and one of our major evenings is devoted to the concept Equal Pay for Equal Work. Each of our evenings is devoted to another view of how current unfettered capitalism has made the lives of regular working folks a daily hell. And what to do about that hell.
We plan to screen some film history gems, including Salt of the Earth, on its 60th anniversary, new films, Tears In the Fabric, about Bangladeshi garment workers fighting for their rights and lives after the collapse of their factories in Rana, Made in Dagenham, about women in England fighting for equal pay against long odds. People Stand Up! about Haitian workers organizing to fight inequality in Haiti, Under The Bus, about school bus drivers fighting for their rights in NYC, Dreamworks China 2, about Chinese workers wondering how to survive building Iphones for 14 hours a day and the amazing Truth Through A Lens, about fighting to save your community from greedy developers, while also having to deal with agressive police. It is all the same battle. We are all in this together.
We hope you will join us for at least one night of the festival and take away that there are folks, just like you, who are fed up with all the lies, the inequality, and the gross imbalance of our societies worldwide after more than a decade of the return of the Gilded Age mentality. It is time for it to stop. It is time for you and your family and friends to turn off Dancing With the Stars, Housewives of NY, and learn about why you are getting the shaft. Time to fight back.
See you in May.