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The Same Few People Still Own The Country
Published on Thursday, August 31, 2000 in the Buffalo News
Labor Day:
The Same Few People Still Own The Country
by Rod Watson
OK, they're going to humor us again next week.

Sure, they're giving us Monday off. But the lakes will be too crowded to fish. And besides, we really shouldn't be bought off that easily, anyway.

In fact, to be honest about it, we should just be honest and stop even calling it Labor Day. Start celebrating Corporations Day and get it over with. After all, the corporate culture has permeated this society far more than any idea ever propagated by modern labor leaders.

Even unions themselves - despite a few high-profile victories - haven't found a way to rebuild membership or infiltrate the so-called "new economy" sectors where much of the job growth is taking place.

Union membership is only a paltry 16 percent. And it's only about 10 percent if you subtract government workers and count only private-sector employees.

Changing the name to Corporations Day would reflect who really runs the country. The change would be especially appropriate in a presidential election year.

Just think about it. Corporate influence is evident in everything from sponsorship of the two major conventions to the fact that business is picking up much of the tab for the upcoming debates - which helps explain why corporate thorn-in-the-backside Ralph Nader won't be coming soon to a TV screen near you.

But who's going to protest when we keep hearing that half the country is now invested in the stock market and the other half wants to be, either directly or through 401(k) plans and the like? Just who are the workers going to rail against? Themselves?

Which raises the obvious question: Has labor lost its working class consciousness because the laborers are also the owners? Has the growing corporatization of America changed what the new workers/owners are concerned about?

"That's a very interesting question. Five years ago I would have said it should," said economist Margaret Blair, research director at the Georgetown-Sloan Project on Business Institutions at Georgetown University.

But she and others point to the just-ended labor spat at United Airlines, where workers have invested heavily in the company, as proof that minds can't be changed at older industries simply through employee ownership. Or, to put it more bluntly, workers can't be totally bought off with stock options.

Still, if there's any real working-class consciousness surviving in new-economy America, it may be because the notion of worker investment in the economy has been oversold, anyway. For the most part, the same few people still own the country.

That's one finding that will be outlined in the Economy Policy Institute's "State of Working America" report that will be released this weekend. While still guarding the details of the analysis, co-author Jared Bernstein says that despite the hype, most workers still aren't invested in the stock market. And for most of those who are, it's such a small investment that it couldn't possibly affect their outlook.

Nearly 70 percent of the market's recent gains have gone to just the richest 10 percent of Americans, he said. For most workers, their livelihoods still depend almost exclusively on wages or salaries, and their health benefits.

"The stock market boom has largely passed the middle-income households by," said Bernstein, an economist for the Washington-based think tank.

But that doesn't mean that corporate America hasn't infiltrated workers' minds in other ways.

From the public television commercials posing as sponsorship messages, to the Channel One ads that tell schoolchildren which products they must have, to the business logos all over public buildings, we are constantly being corporatized.

So why shouldn't corporate America have its own holiday?

I know what you're thinking: It already does; it's called Christmas. But that period from the day after Thanksgiving to Dec. 24, during which buying becomes a religion, is not officially named after the folks who make it all possible.

With the Commerce Department reporting that spending went up twice as fast as incomes last month, and that the personal savings rate was a negative 0.2 percent - the lowest ever - it's clear who's pulling the strings.

Any sector that can talk us out of our paychecks this effectively deserves its own holiday. So does any sector that can talk the Democratic Party into becoming a free-trade organization, talk both parties out of changing the campaign-finance system that makes it all possible, and talk half of the country into staying home on Election Day and letting it all happen.

So stay home Monday, and celebrate Corporations Day.

Copyright 1999 - 2000 The Buffalo News


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