The 50th Anniversary of ‘The War on Poverty’ demands a RI mobilization against poverty today- one that fights the roots of poverty, which is the unequal distribution of wealth in a system that favors management and the investor class, while strengthening the social safety net. This will begin on April 2nd, 2014.
Elmer Gardner, member of the RI Council of Elders and the George Wiley Center stated “we encourage all groups and individuals to band together to fight on bread and butter issues and how deals are made with elected officials to increase private profits at the cost of the workers.”
The War On Poverty,’ which led to the establishment of Medicare & Medicaid, Head Start, the Community Action Program (CAP), The Job Corps, the VISTA program, and increases in Social Security & Food Stamps, is the latest casualty of the ‘The Great Recession.’ ‘The Sequester’ in Washington has escalated poverty: continued massive unemployment, the spread of low-wage jobs, poverty, hunger & homelessness, utility shut-offs, foreclosures & evictions, school closing & student debt, and threats to 80 year-old programs such as Social Security, Unemployment Insurance & Food Stamps, and 50 year-old War On Poverty programs such Medicare & Medicaid.
Deborah L. Wray, of the Rosa Parks Human Rights Committee, said “enough is enough. Now is the time to take to the streets. I am a senior citizen live Public Housing complex that is cold and drafty. It’s an outrage-they take $50 out of your monthly food stamps (SNAP) just for the fact that live in low income housing.”
Today we have hit an all time low in the empowerment of workers and the loss of income has increased poverty. Robert Reich, President Clintons Labor Secretary, notes that “Corporate earnings now represent the largest share of the gross domestic product-and wages the smallest share of GDP – than at any time since records have been kept…At a time of record inequality and decreasing mobility, America conducted a Great Redistribution upward.”www.huffingtonpost.com/…/wealth-inequality-redistribution_b_454512…
Today, 47 % of the work force earn less than $20,000, 53% earn less than $30,000 and 73% earn less than $50,000. At the same time Wall Street posted record 30% profits. We see working Americans wages basically flat or declining as workers are held hostage to a depressed job market. “It is sickening that Congress is responding to the bad economy for the 99% by cutting Food Stamps (SNAP) by $5 Billion on November 1, 2013 and allowing Unemployment Insurance benefits to expire on January 1 for 1.3 Million persons nationwide, with an additional 72,000 being dropped every week, 5,000 of whom are Rhode Islanders. This is a crime.” said Bill Bateman, RI Unemployed Council.
A Brief History of Workers Struggle Against Poverty
After winning the War for Independence from Britain, the colonial power, the elites created a new ruling class based on ownership of property and race, leaving women, poor workers and people of color with the status of second class citizens. This inequity led to the near dissolution of the union. In his first Inaugural Address in 1861, when the economy was built on the racist dehumanization of workers under slavery in the South and abusive practices that included child labor in the North, Lincoln pronounced “Labor is prior to, and independent of Capital (money). Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed if labor had not existed first. Labor is the superior of capital, and deservers much higher consideration.”
Over the next 100 years workers organized and won rights, lifting themselves out of poverty by fighting for fair wages and benefits through collective bargaining; helped at times by the Federal government breaking up monopolies and the New Deal building a social safety net. When ‘War on Poverty” added Medicare & Medicaid Social Security, the poverty rate among older Americans dropped from 35% in1959 to 9% in 2012. But this important advance cannot be sustained under the constant blows of the masters of capital. After the WW2, while the fruits of this struggle was lifting people out of poverty and building the middle class, business interest began weakening theses gains beginning with the Taft-Hartley Act which attacked collective bargaining. Corrective measures were sought in ‘The War on Poverty.’
However in the 1980’s “trickle down economics” was adopted, which redistributed wealth upward and Free Trade Agreements like NAFTA which shipped good jobs overseas.
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
— The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.