Verizon Strikers V. US Oligarchy, What’s Wrong With US Economy

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Above Photo: This June 4, 2014 photo shows signage at a Verizon Wireless retail store at Downtown Crossing in Boston.(Credit: AP/Charles Krupa)

Verizon workers are fighting back against a machine that increasingly takes them for granted. This is so important.

Verizon workers have been without a contract since last August, which has led nearly 40,000 workers to go on strike in states from Virginia to Massachusetts for the past month. Verizon has about 40 percent fewer unionized U.S. workers now than a decade ago, and the telecommunications giant wants to send thousands more jobs offshore and outsource additional work to low-wage non-union contractors.

In a presidential election year in which the electorate is motivated by deep economic anxiety over the loss of good paying jobs, Verizon’s decision to prioritize short-term profits and executive compensation over investments in advanced services that rely on its skilled workforce makes it the poster child for corporate excess.

This is the same economic predicament facing so many American voters. These strikers are courageously standing up to fight for a fair economy that supports middle-class workers and their communities; supporting these Verizon workers is crucial if we are to begin making the real changes needed to fix our economy and rein in excessive corporate power that undermines the broadly shared prosperity that once built the American middle class.

This is a watershed moment for American democracy. Millions of people feel that the economy is not creating enough good jobs to provide economic security. And there’s well-founded concern that global forces of trade and technology are not benefiting the average American family, even as they enrich the largest corporations and the 1 percent.

On the presidential campaign trail, these sentiments are being leveraged by candidates from both parties who have pointed to job losses in the wake of trade deals to connect to voter economic anxiety. In exit polls from the New York primary, 87 percent of Democrats and 92 percent of Republicans said they are worried about the direction of the nation’s economy. With 5 percent unemployment and steadily rising job numbers, “worried about the direction of the economy” does not mean fear about a recession. Rather, it means people feel the rules of the game are rigged against them.

Verizon’s version of the rules harm Americans both as workers and as consumers. At the same time Verizon has offshored and outsourced union jobs, it has refused to adequately invest in the hugely popular FiOS service that is installed and maintained by union workers. Verizon has violated cable franchise agreements with New York City and Philadelphia by failing to give every resident and business access to its advanced broadband network. Verizon unions have mounted public campaigns to get the company to honor those agreements and to bring FiOS to the many communities where there’s no service at all, including Baltimore, western Maryland, western Massachusetts, virtually all upstate New York cities, and many parts of Pennsylvania. Consumers and small businesses are starved for high-speed Internet access — their interests and those of Verizon workers are in perfect alignment.

Verizon seeks to hide behind vague claims that “market forces” require it to degrade jobs and benefits and renege on commitments to invest in better service. But when Verizon says “market forces,” it really means “market power” — that is to say, the political and economic power they have to charge higher rates while not investing in service improvements. Verizon would rather use its $1.5 billion a month in profits to enrich top executives or buy up other companies and further consolidate its market power. Telecommunications is the most concentrated industry in the United States and Verizon has a huge share of the national market and its monopoly profits.

In analyzing this trend among giant U.S. corporations like Verizon, The Economist magazine recently stated,

“High profits across a whole economy can be a sign of sickness. They can signal the existence of firms more adept at siphoning wealth off than creating it afresh, such as those that exploit monopolies.”

It’s no wonder that two-thirds of Americans, including sizable majorities of conservatives and liberals alike, say our “economic system unfairly favors powerful interests,” according to the Pew Research Center. Verizon has been tremendously enriched by the fruits of our nation’s technological leadership, and yet refuses to meaningfully invest in providing the high-speed broadband infrastructure and good jobs that American communities desperately need and seek. How do you think Verizon would fare if its actions were put to a referendum on the ballot?

  • AlanMacDonald

    Kevin, this just gives me another reason that “Empire’ is simpler and better understood term by average Americans — and it’s way easier to spell than Oligarchy, or even Oligarcghy, eh?

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  • jemcgloin

    Empire not only sounds old fashion and relatively benign, but it is misleading. Oligarchs head vast hierarchies, but the oligarchy is more of a club of rivals who all own pieces of each other’s corporations, and sit on each other’s boards. It is not a hierarchy like an empire.

  • Geoff Smith

    “Plutocracy” is accurate too, or as Ben Stein (who I normally can’t stand) called the US, a “kleptocracy.”

  • rkean

    What should we all be doing to support these heroic strikers? I’ve signed the petition but there should be more ways to show solidarity, no?

  • AlanMacDonald

    Yes, jem, (and Geoff) an oligarchy is not the same as an Empire — and you’re right again that Empire is a very old and historical term that has always been the correct definition for hierarchical rule throughout all history.

    Oligarchy and plutocracies are merely limited to diseases that exist only within a nation or country — and which do not include both the dual factors of exploiting and extracting wealth from foreign lands, countries, national — as well as tyrannizing and beggaring their own domestic ‘subjects’.

    Unfortunately today, most people have been misled (or more accurately propagandized by the media/propaganda-sector of this Disguised Global Capitalist Empire have all collapsed [TBC]

  • Blame big government (excessive regulation, taxation and spending) for the problems of American workers.

  • ywsf

    and Verizon is the highest costing phone service around, but market forces wont allow them to pay decent wages? These corporations all need to have their leaders arrested, fined and publicly humiliated.

  • AlanMacDonald

    No, TKL. —- It’s Simpler and more comprehensive than that — just Blame EMPIRE.

    The cancer of EMPIRE is the singular, seminal, and signal ‘meta-problem’ that causes all our hundreds of little ‘identity issues’, AND the more serious, but still subordinate, ‘symptom problems’ like; expanding wars, Wall Street looting, vast inequality of income and wealth, domestic spying, drone assassinations, and shooting black kids in the back, AND ALSO our entire “ailing social order” is also caused by our country not being a country, but being a Disguised Global Empire.

    As Zygmunt Bauman hauntingly puts it, “In the case of an ailing social order, the absence of an adequate diagnosis…is a crucial, perhaps decisive, part of the disease.”13

    Berman, Morris (2011-02-07). Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire (p. 22). Norton. Kindle Edition.

    To have any chance of avoiding the ‘final phase of EMPIRE’ we have to understand, call-out, expose, rip the mask off, and commit to confront this EMPIRE.

  • Big government is owned by the wealthy and paid for by the middle class and poor one way or another. The tax code is manipulated by the wealthy; cost to comply is paid by consumers through higher prices. It increases lobbyists, corrupts politicians and increases difficulty of entry for competition, which causes less employment opportunities for workers and higher prices.

    Excessive regulation increases cost for consumers, decreases job opportunities, corrupts politicians, increases lobbyists and increases difficulty of entry for competition. National debt: $154,000 cost per household paid by the consumer not the rich, through higher prices or lower standard of living. Federal Reserve: low interest loans for wealthy and connected, by the time it reaches lower rungs, rates higher, prices higher, including CEO pay – increasing the inequality gap.

    We have more socialism now than the liberal left’s golden age of the 1950s. We have the FHA, HUD, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, Community Reinvestment Act, Social Security, Medicare, Student Loan Programs, Obamacare/ACA, Snap Program, Earned Income Tax Credit, Unemployment Insurance Program and more. So the theory is false and the opposite is true. Socialism hurts the middle class. Big government equals more income inequality, smaller government equals less income inequality.

    The national debt keeps increasing because of deals, aka compromises, between Democrats (social programs and entitlements) and Republicans (corporate welfare and defense). The middle class pays the heaviest burden for the debt; as it goes up, it further increases the inequality gap by lowering their standard of living. National Debt: $19 trillion costs or is financed by each household, who is ultimately responsible for that debt. This comes out to $154,000 per household if paid for in one lump sum. Financed for 15 years at 5% interest it would take a monthly payment of $1218. Do not be fooled each household pays this one way or another, not the rich; whether you pay it directly in taxes and fees, higher prices or by a lower standard of living than you would otherwise have if the government had not spent that money. The question is: Is your household getting its money’s worth?

    Politicians promise you a fantasy land, that they can make your life golden by decree, raise your pay, give you free education, free health care, paid retirement, cheap housing, easy credit and protect you from the evils of the greedy businessman. In reality they can do nothing of the sort.

    To give you anything they have to take something from you, do not be fooled when they say they will take it from the rich, the rich get it from you (increased prices), in the end it always comes from you. Politicians point at the rich guy as they pick your pocket. They are selling you an illusion that does more harm than good, because in the process they disrupt the free flow and balance of the market causing unintended consequences.

    Politicians that promise to fix your life by taxing the greedy rich to cover the cost are really the sleaziest of middlemen that are selling you pixie dust while they take their cut, which is power.

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