Justin Trudeau recently admitted he had smoked marijuana after becoming an MP (yawn). This sparked a national debate. Talk of getting high is all the rage. I say, "It"s about time."
But I am not talking about the same kind of high. It is time to turn that frown upside down. After the past lows, we could sure use something uplifting.
Right-wing media has convinced many to think small, accept a token existence and fly under the radar. Low wages, interest rates, union density and expectations bring us to a depressed feeling there is nothing left in the cookie jar. So while the overall economy continues to grow the middle class, working people and low-wage earners stay in perpetual crisis. This segregation has stonewalled and silenced the majority.
But glimmers of light are beginning to emerge. Media commentators are finally realizing that a depressed middle class cannot be a base for empowered consumers. They are accepting that an expanded middle class is the route to prosperity. Headlines increasingly read: Bad News for the Middle Class — Worse News for the Economy.
So why are we still not moving ahead? Just follow the money. Low interest rates are a bonanza for the rich. Bankers, or "banksters" as I prefer to call them, convinced the middle class and low-wage earners that low interest rates, not higher wages, can best blunt the economic pain. This has brought about a system of cheaply-borrowed money. While the wealthy increase their investments, cheap credit replaces bona fide wage increases for the middle class, working people and low wage earners.
Low interest rates can destroy defined benefit pension plans. Many Canadians now believe that those who think people should have a decent pension are smoking the same stuff as Trudeau. Again — not true! A decent pension is not a frill; it is a necessity.
Low wage strategies accomplish a lot for financial dealers. First, they exaggerate the distinction between "haves" and "have nots". Money separating a low wage society from a living wage society goes into the vaults of the wealthy.
Low wages ensure low government revenues. With this, government"s ability to provide community services erodes. To make matters worse, our progressive tax system has been hobbled. The highest taxation rate (at a rate that is not that high) is applied at the $135,000 annual income level. Taxes remain at that same percentage for all levels above that, in contrast to many countries where higher wage earners face even greater taxes.
The Reaganites had a name for this approach: "Starve the Beast". In other words, they wanted to limit government by cutting taxes to deprive it of revenue. This also meant greater public debt. The result brought public accusations government was wasting money and running up deficits. People saw this as an addiction as serious as one to crack cocaine. Government was seen as wasteful and irrelevant, rather being the arbiter for fairness and a provider of public services that benefit all.
The desire for greater achievement has now been replaced with low expectations. The browbeaten, downtrodden and economically abused find it hard to fight back. This is true when organizations like unions are undermined. Unions can counter the powers of the wealthy and privileged.
The labour movement must maintain its efforts to ensure that society understands we are in their corner and on their side. Labour Day is a focus for this effort. For OPSEU, next Monday, Sept. 2, is a day to reflect on past glory and begin another year of achievement. We have changed public discourse through education and mobilization. We have become a model for others. We are Ontario"s Union for Changing Times.
Fighting for the middle class, working people and low-wage earners is cool again. People realize the rich dominate our province. They are motivated by self-interest and greed. They sacrifice the well-being of the hard working to grab what they think is theirs.
Rather than debate the marijuana highs of Justin Trudeau let us talk about other "highs:" higher wages, increased expectations, improved labour standards and an enhanced place in society for working people. With this fairness our economy will grow like a weed, with the benefits shared by all.
Happy Labour Day!
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
First Vice-President/Treasurer, OPSEU