by Michael Burns
"Cost of living's gone up, but salaries haven't."
"I can't afford to pay for childcare and work at the same time."
"Workplaces are not safe."
"Whether a worker has experience or not doesn't matter. Layoffs happen anyway."
"There's a lack of understanding about how the economy works."
"We're slowly slipping into the status of a third-world country."
So went just a sample of replies to the question, "What are some trends you see in the current economy?" posed by Mike Prokosch of Boston-based think-tank United for A Fair Economy (UFE). The question opened a UFE workshop in April in Vernon on economic inequality and what we can do about it sponsored by the Greater Tolland County Chapter of the Connecticut Green Party. The talk touched on economic theory as well as current debates on how to lessen the effects of (and ultimately reverse) the economic recession. The highly interactive two hours sparked lively discussion about what governmental priorities prevail when it comes to keeping the economy afloat.
For example, when looking at the economic stimulus package provisions proposed by Congress, the group found it hard to see the connection between massive tax breaks for companies to supposedly spur investment at a time when markets to buy products and services are depressed. If there is no market for what they're producing, Prokosch asked, why would they invest?
It is no wonder many commentators on the left believe that corporations and their allies in Congress used the political climate after September 11th to pass long desired measures of tax credits and rollbacks unrelated to short term stimulus that would go unquestioned under the cloud of "patriotism" and "unity". The result was a bill that gave $1 in worker relief for every $8 in corporate welfare. The workshop was designed to provide attendees with useful details like these for organizing and educating others, whether it be inside or outside the Green Party.
Prokosch moved on to facilitate a discussion on arguments made by elected and corporate leaders alike that government is too powerful and too intrusive in the lives of Americans. While this can be true sometimes, Prokosch explained, the public has at least some direct control over the decisions made in government. And thus attempts to "defame, defund, deregulate, and privatize" government should be see as removing what power the people do in fact have to affect policy locally, state-wide, and nationally. The need for government to provide a non-market based role in society by regulating industry and servicing citizens was repeatedly articulated by participants in response to corporate agenda rhetoric.
Prokosch reminded the group that economic policy is made by concrete decisions made by real people with real priorities, and not the result of some "natural" process that cannot be altered. While the presentation was clearly educational, powerful, and excellently presented, some participants expressed frustration, feeling that despite the obvious fact that the rules of our economy are by and large designed for the rich and by the rich, average people will not care enough to take notice or do anything to stop it.
In response to this sentiment, Prokosch added an extremely important point:
"there's a lot of ways to psyche ourselves out of doing things, like by saying [the public] is too comfortable or too scared," he concluded, "but when it comes to social change you don't have to have a majority of people participating. You can have influence way beyond your numbers.... Doing this work is one by one, and it really counts."
The workshop was the first in what chapter representatives are planning to be a series of similar events. The Greater Tolland County chapter includes over a dozen towns including Vernon, Coventry, Manchester, and South Windsor.
Michael Burns, Greater Tolland County Chapter, CT GP