Columns » Ernest Dumas

A bad year for Labor Day

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If we could have skipped Labor Day this year, the White House would have been fine with it. The holiday celebrations and most of the weekend news served only to remind people of one of the top dozen cataclysmic failings of the one-party government that President Bush runs, the decline of living standards for American workers.

What an abysmal day it was for the president. He flew over to Maryland to speak at a union event, where he boasted about the one good piece of news that he could find: the unemployment rate had fallen one-tenth of 1 percent in July, “a good sign for someone looking for a job,” he said.

Among the absentees at the event were the state’s top two Republican officeholders, the governor and lieutenant governor, who were intended to be the beneficiaries of the presidential visit. Not wishing to be photographed with the president on such a poignant day, they rode in a parade in another town.

At least in Arkansas, where Bush’s poll numbers are equally low, Asa Hutchinson actually showed up at the private presidential fund-raiser for him at the gated mansion of a Republican supporter. Cameras and reporters were not allowed although a photographer got to snap a picture of Bush with Hutchinson standing a few feet away in the parking lot of a West Third Street restaurant, where they stopped off to pick up a sack of fried pies on the way to the airport. Hutchinson provides a profile in courage by participating in a fleeting photo op with Bush.

For a hundred years, a presidential visit to rural vineyards like Arkansas was a big public event that was orchestrated for maximum exposure of the president and local pols. Not anymore.

On this long and truly American holiday weekend, the president could find nothing to talk about that would not remind people of his failures. He told the few invited guests at the Maryland event that the United States needed to reduce its dependence on oil because it made the country vulnerable to bad regimes around the world and hurt workers. But, of course, he has had done nothing that might reduce that reliance, like significantly strengthening vehicle fuel standards.

Then there was the news about compensation of Bush’s friends in the corporate offices of the energy companies, particularly Big Oil. Last year, the CEOs of the oil companies averaged $32.7 million in compensation each, which was 518 times the average wage of their employees.

That kind of comparison — CEOs vs. workers — has been widening dramatically all across the spectrum.

Here is another, from the report the other day of the Institute of Policy Studies that reverberates every time the president plumps his wars, as he did in his parking-lot photo-op at Little Rock and elsewhere. The CEOs at the top 34 firms that have gotten contracts from the Bush Pentagon (mostly no-bid) in Iraq and Afghanistan averaged $7.7 million last year as company profits soared. Compare that to the $25,000 or so that the privates dying in Iraq have been earning.

Since 9/11, the 34 CEOs have been paid nearly $1 billion. Their compensation doubled after 9/11 from the four previous years.

In the Bush administration, every ill wind blows to good for some. Inevitably, every one of them — terrorist attacks, wars, the energy crisis, economic malaise, you name it — redounds to the benefit of the same people, the wealthiest 1 percent.

While manufacturing jobs disappear every single month despite Bush’s celebrated revelation on Labor Day 2003 that he was appointing a “czar” to revitalize the manufacturing sector, manufacturing CEO salaries have risen sharply while wages have slumped against inflation.

The Economic Policy Institute report last week on the condition of working America concluded that wages stopped rising in the United States when Bush took office in 2001 and began losing ground even while workers were improving their productivity and corporate profits soared to their highest levels in 40 years. Since 2003 and the third round of Bush tax cuts, the median hourly wage adjusted for inflation has fallen 2 percent. Meantime, the number of people without health insurance rose the same percentage.

Remember Bush’s justification for the big tax cuts for wealthy Americans in 2001 and each round of tax cuts through 2004? They were going to unleash the investor class and produce tens of millions of new and better-paying jobs and raise the living standard of American workers.

Had it worked even a little, Asa Hutchinson would have been proud to be filmed with the president accepting his thanks for helping pass the first tax cuts. Alas, he had to settle for a whisper.

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