Platform: Longer Hours/Lower Wages

Platform: Longer Hours/Lower Wages
Photo by Christopher Burns / Unsplash

The journalist Michael Kinsley put his name on a certain kind of political mistake, or “gaffe,” as they are sometimes called. A “Kinsley Gaffe” occurs when a political figure accidentally tells the truth. Jeb Bush made such a mistake recently when he said if working families weren’t happy with their lot in life, the solution is: “work longer hours.”

The truth according to Jeb. But even if you’ve got more hours to work, watch out. Other Republicans, here in West Virginia, have another piece of the “solution”: lower wages. Senator Bill Cole and his crew have been on a crusade to drive wages down for blue-collar construction workers, union members; basically anyone who earns a paycheck will be making less, as they implement plans put together by their donors.

These are the two pillars of modern Republican economic thinking: longer hours and lower wages — for you, not them. It’s not hard to understand why – working people putting in more hours for less money makes the company richer, even as the workers fall further and further behind. Republicans tout their proposals as promoting “growth,” but any growth will only be in the corporate bottom line, not in the workers’ paychecks.

At the same time laws that protect the paychecks of workers are being gutted, courts are being used to take away benefits, like retirement, from those who have earned them week by week and year by year. The monumental theft of retirement benefits from Patriot Coal miners has been well documented. But adding further insult to injury, this past week, the executives who built the company to fail so those miners could lose their benefits asked a court to approve millions in bonus payments for themselves.

Incredibly, an industry lobbyist for Republican anti-wage policies recently referred to the wages of West Virginia construction workers as “larceny.” He described the availability of benefits like insurance for such workers as “excessively high.” He suggested a more suitable wage for working-class men and women would be $10-$12 per hour.

That’s what it has come to in red America: executives of a bankrupt company legally pay themselves $6,400,000 in bonuses, while men and women working over hot asphalt all summer long are accused of theft for making more than $10-$12 per hour. Longer hours at hard work for the little people, for slimmer and slimmer paychecks. That’s Jeb Bush’s and Bill Cole’s “solution” to what ails America.

It would be mistake to think that in West Virginia, where times are tough enough, that they can’t get any tougher. The Republicans of 2015 are a radicalized party — a party that can actually look around West Virginia and think, as one writer put it: “our working families are living too high on the hog.” You may think the living is kind of thin these days, but when they see a working-class paycheck, Bush and Cole get the x-ray eyes of Wile E. Coyote – and see that turkey their rich donors want to eat.

Basic economics tells us that good wages don’t just help the person who earns those wages. Such wages form the backbone of the tax base as well. Strong wages also support the market for labor – they keep other heads above water too. But Bush and Cole see something different. To their influential backers, a good wage for even one worker is a threat to corporate greed in general, which wants to have as many people working as hard, and as long, as possible, for the lowest wages they can get away with – to maximize profits.

This is why the Chamber of Commerce projected “savings” that amounted to requiring skilled masons to work for less than minimum wage. Careful analysis has revealed time and time again that the only gains from attacking the wages paid to blue-collar workers are accrued by just who you’d think: the corporate executives, like those at Patriot taking home millions while the retired workers are cheated. Meanwhile, the diminishing wages weaken West Virginia’s economy as a whole.

Struggling? Bush says “work more hours,” while Cole says “your wages are inflated.” It doesn’t matter which one of them you pick – they’ve got you covered. It’s a long campaign season these days, but at least one political Party has defined itself early in the race. The 2016 Republicans: “Longer Hours/Lower Wages.”