A few weeks ago, I found myself with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. Before me almost a thousand janitors wearing deep purple Service Employee International Union T-shirts lined up to march from a Beverly Hills park to the high-rise offices of Century City.
April 1 was a historic day for public education in the U.S. Joined by diverse community groups and other workers, Chicago’s public school teachers took to the streets demanding more from city and state leaders.
Americans don’t like inequality. We like to think of ourselves as a middle-class country where the top is not out of reach and the bottom doesn’t pose such a grim, cautionary specter that people fear for their livelihoods. We like to think that’s what makes us different from other societies. Or at least that’s the way it used to be.
CNN journalist John Blake, who grew up in Baltimore, remembers it this way: “Black men had good blue-collar jobs…Kids played baseball and basketball and every known sport at public fields and courts. We had summer jobs and internships.” Today, he says, “the factories and playing fields are locked behind gates or overgrown with weeds.”
That shift characterizes America far beyond Baltimore. It describes the inequality that has replaced the solid middle class.
Reversing climate change and addressing income inequality are the twin challenges of our time. Solving them both means a safer, more stable future for generations to come.
If we don’t stop and reverse climate change, our environment and our economy could collapse. If we don’t address the growing gap between rich and poor, our political structures and our economy will continue to fray, robbing us of both the funds and the political will to address climate change.
These challenges are irreversibly linked — and we can’t solve one without solving them both.
That’s why progressives, labor leaders and everyone who cares about addressing these twin threats should oppose the California Public Utilities Commission’s recently proposed decision to require poor utility customers to subsidize richer customers and the new Wall Street-funded quasi-utilities serving these wealthy customers.
The CPUC’s decision is on a technical issue called Net Energy Metering: the system that provides subsidies for the installation of residential solar systems by forcing utilities to buy surplus energy generated on rooftops at an artificially high price.
Last Monday was an important day for America’s shrinking middle class. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that could impose radical new limits on the rights of public-sector workers—like teachers, nurses and firefighters—to join together to win better lives for their families and communities.
What’s at stake is a basic democratic principle: All public workers that benefit from collective bargaining should be required to pay their fair share for those efforts.
So it’s no surprise that the Friedrichs lawsuit was filed by the Center for Individual Rights, a law firm with ties to anti-worker special interests—like the Koch brothers and ALEC.
These are the same interests that have spent decades campaigning to weaken the ability of working people to join together against corporate power and the interests of the One Percent.