Blue Collar Buzz, Features, Multimedia

When Congress Works Late, Be Nervous

October 30, 2017

By Bill Hohlfeld

On Sunday night’s edition of Blue Collar Buzz, my Spotlight on American Labor History had a slightly different bent to it.

Bill Hohlfeld at the mic.

It wasn’t so much about workers, organized or not, taking a collective action against an employer, as it was about the formation of an unprecedented American working class consciousness. While there was more than one cause of the “Great Depression,” the stock market crash of 1929 was certainly the single most contributing factor. The United States reached an unemployment rate of 25%. Nothing makes workers more irritable than not having a job.

It took ten years of various pieces of legislation, and a Congress under great pressure from a persistent and progressive President Roosevelt to truly address the havoc wrought by a boom and bust economy that was unregulated, and allowed to spiral completely out of control. When the brakes were put on and banking and trading regulations were put into place, and the power of corporate America was counter balanced by a strong and growing labor movement, we the people were lulled into a sleepy period when we peacefully dreamed that “it could never happen again.”

But, we suffered through the savings and loan debacle of the 1980’s and told ourselves it was a mere anomaly. It was an unaccountable blip on the screen, we thought. The Deregulation and Monetary Control Act of 1980 would be just the ticket we were told, but what it did was make everything worse. When the inevitable took place, and the doors of financial institutions began to be shuttered and then the foundations of the institutions began to tremble, the same institutions that were charging us anywhere from 10 to 16 percent interest on the money we needed to purchase a home, came to us, the American taxpayer, for a bailout. We paid hard cash to fix their mistakes. We were to take what consolation we could from the notion that “it could never happen again.” Once again we believed that lie, until of course, 2008, when we were asked to believe that once again it was only right for us to dig even deeper and come up with the money to save those banks that, (and I know you remember this one) “were too big to fail.”

Well, it’s been nearly a decade since that last indignity, and although Congress hasn’t seemed to be able to agree on anything the American people say they need, like fair trade, environmental protection, infrastructure, tax relief for the middle class, reasonable college costs, workable immigration reform, and an affordable universal health care system, (which was originally proposed by President Harry Truman 70 years ago), they did finally decide to get moving and work late the other night so they could get something accomplished. And what was that?

Allow me to quote the Washington Associated Press from October 25th:

“The Senate has voted to nullify a consumer-oriented rule that would let millions of Americans band together to sue their banks or credit card companies.

Vice President Mike Pence has cast the tie-breaking vote to stop the rule from going into effect.”

That’s right, in a late night vote, the U.S. Senate gathered together and made a priority out of protecting the poor beleaguered credit card companies from the avaricious consumer who currently pays an average of somewhere around 20% interest on his unpaid balance, from participating in class action suits. He or she should just take off from work and engage in arbitration is the thinking here. That system works well enough. Well, I guess it does, if you are American Express or Bank of America.

There was at least one sane voice in the Senate that summed it up pretty neatly. That was Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, who said, “Once again, we’re helping the powerful against the powerless.”

October 30, 2017

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