Sunday, October 19, 2014

UK Protesters March For Fair Wages - Elizabeth Warren Rallies Progressive Democrats in Minnesota

Thousands of Londoners took part in 'Britain Needs a Pay Raise' march [Photo Dominc Lipinski]
If you look at indicators like GDP or unemployment rates, both the United States and Great Britain are well into a sluggish but steady economic recovery.

The sobering reality? Only the top earners in each country are actually feeling the benefits.

Yesterday hundreds of thousands protesters representing a broad coalition of public sector workers, railway workers, nurses & health workers, postal workers, pensioners, climate change advocates and anti-nuclear activists took part in marches in cities from Glasgow, Scotland and Belfast, Ireland to London. Representative from firemen's and police unions took past as well.

Saturday's marches are part of ongoing efforts to protest austerity measures by the British government and the longest period of wage stagnation since the Victorian era 150 years ago. On Monday thousands of nurses and midwives represented by the Royal College of Nurses went on strike to demand a modest 1% pay increase by the National Health Service (NHS) - the UK's publicly funded national healthcare system. The 1% pay increase is still below rises in cost of living.

This week prison officers and hospital radiology technicians will strike as well. Back in July hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in England went on strike for a day to stage protests against stagnant wages, pension losses and flat wages for the working class - which have actually dropped 8% since 2007 when factoring in the corresponding increases in the cost of living.

The demands come as a British report shows FTSE 100 directors (the UK's version of Wall Street execs) have enjoyed a 21% increase in compensation and now make a staggering 120 times the average UK worker.

What gets me is that wage stagnation and inequality in pay is even worse here in America. The overall unemployment rate is shrinking, but far too many of these jobs don't pay a living wage, or don't offer healthcare or 401k packages. Why aren't there thousands of Americans out there protesting stagnant wages?

Case in point: I rent apartments for a living. The other week a woman in her late 60's, I'll call her "Julie" applied for a 1-bedroom. She lost her husband in the past couple years, lives on her own, kids are grown. She's got a pension and Social Security but her husband's pension shrank by half when he passed away so she still works part-time at Wal-Mart as a cashier to make ends meet. 

She told me not only does Wal-Mart not properly compensate workers for over-time and mandate an under-40 hour work week so they don't have to pay healthcare costs, they'll fire someone for missing a day for legitimate medical reasons. She said they fired a man in his 50's the other week who'd worked there for 15 years because he strained his back and couldn't move heavy pallets on the job - he could do everything else, just not the heavy pallets. Wal-Mart fired him.

Millions of Americans like "Julie" have been forced to take jobs that pay a fraction of what they were earning before the start of the Great Recession, so they're employed but haven't made up the losses in wages, 401k's, pension cuts or equity lost from home values that were lost in the mortgage crisis.

Major elections are coming up in November so you'd think there are plenty  of reasons for thousands of Americans to be out there marching as part of a coordinated effort to address the lack of good-paying full time jobs and wage stagnation. 

On the same Saturday that thousands were marching over in the UK, progressive Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren was in Minnesota rallying Democratic supporters to support the senate race of Minnesota Senator Al Franken, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton as well as other candidates. She's speaking up on issues including voting rights, student debt, a livable minimum wage and government investment in education and clean energy.

On Friday she was in Colorado to support the Senatorial campaign of Mark Udall; and she's in Iowa today to support the Senate campaign of Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley who's running for retiring Democratic Senator Tom Harkin's old seat.

Obviously there many Americans standing up the issues that can make a positive different for the poor and middle class, folks who've been watching the "economic recovery" from the outside. There are wealthy Americans actively supporting a progressive agenda too.

I guess I'd like to see more large scale organizational efforts for people to make the media and politicians on both sides of the aisle pay attention to the needs of people who want everyone to be able to participate in the economic recovery - regardless of what they make or what they do for a living.

The best thing we can do is simply vote this November. Or maybe take a page from the British playbook and get out there and march. 

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