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Freedom Summer II
by Robert B. Reich
I spent several days in New York last week with students from around the country who were preparing to head into the heartland to help organize
Almost exactly 50 years ago, a similar group headed to Mississippi to register African-Americans to vote, in what came to be known as Freedom Summer.
Call this Freedom Summer II.
The current struggle of low-wage workers across America echoes the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.
Today, as then, a group of Americans is denied the dignity of decent wages and working conditions. Today, just as then, powerful forces are threatening and intimidating vulnerable people for exercising their legal rights. Today, just like 50 years ago, people who have been treated as voiceless and disposable are standing up and demanding change.
You and I and other taxpayers shell out for these workers'
The firm says it can't afford to give its workers a raise or better hours and working conditions. Baloney.
Don't worry about its investors. Its largest is the Walton family, whose combined wealth is greater than the combined wealth of the bottom 42 percent of the entire American population.
Giant fast-food companies have the largest gap between the pay of CEOs and workers of any industry, with a CEO-to-worker compensation ratio of more than 1,000-to-one.
Meanwhile, across America, low-wage workers are demanding -- and in many cases getting -- increases in the minimum wage. Despite Washington's gridlock, seven states have raised their own minimums so far this year. A number of cities have also voted in minimum-wage increases. On Monday, Seattle's city council approved a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour, the highest in the nation, to take effect over the next few years.
The movement of low-wage workers for decent pay and working conditions is partly a reflection of America's emerging low-wage economy. While low-wage industries such as retail and restaurant accounted for 22 percent of the jobs lost in the Great Recession, they've generated 44 percent of the jobs added since then, according to a recent report from the
But the movement is also a moral struggle for decency and respect, and full participation in our economy and society. In these ways, it's the civil rights struggle of our time.
It took guts to take on the power structure of Mississippi a half-century ago. It takes guts to take on the power structure of giant companies like
But confronting such powerful bastions is a vital step toward fundamental social change. Freedom Summer II is just the start.
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"Freedom Summer II"