In the fight for a fair economy, working people are up against a colossal army of corporate interests and right-wing fanatics.
Along with rolling back workers’ rights and stamping out organized labor, these forces are working more directly to suppress workers’ wages. Groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and powerful anti-union companies like Walmart have played a decisive role in the diminishing quality of life for the American worker.
ALEC, the right-wing’s legislative clearinghouse, has written hundreds of pieces of “model legislation” pushed by corporate-backed lawmakers across America. Since 2011, more than 100 of those bills introduced in more than 30 states have been specifically designed to suppress the wages of low-paid workers, according to the National Employment Law Project.
Along with promoting right-to-work laws that harm workers, ALEC is spearheading a widespread campaign to weaken and repeal state minimum wage laws, prevailing wage standards and overtime rules. The group has also been actively opposing local living-wage ordinances.
ALEC-affiliated legislators have been the most active movers of wage suppression legislation in the last two years. So while retail and fast-food workers have been organizing to improve wages in the fast-growing low-wage sectors of the economy, ALEC is determined to do just the opposite.
But ALEC is by no means alone. The notorious billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David Koch, spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy politicians and prop up fake grassroots groups inspired by pro-corporate “tea party” hysteria. They arm battalions of anti-worker lobbyists and fund think tanks that are little more than right-wing propaganda mills.
The shadowy network of anti-worker foundations, lobbying outfits and front groups is a vast and intricate web with massive fortunes at its disposal. It expends tremendous resources to drive down wages, shrink the middle class and turn America into an oligarchy. Many of these groups sound harmless enough, like the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which claims to fight for the interests of small businesses. In fact, NFIB is a powerful lobby for big business interests. It’s funded to the tune of millions of dollars by anti-worker organizations connected to ALEC and the Koch’s “Americans for Prosperity.” In 2007, NFIB teamed up with McDonald’s and other not-so-small businesses to oppose paid sick leave and minimum wage campaigns in multiple states.
Although ALEC boasts a membership of up to 300 corporations and 2,000 state legislators, many large companies are jumping ship thanks to activists’ efforts to expose the organization’s elitist agenda. But leaving ALEC doesn’t mean a company has renounced its hostility to working families. Take Walmart. The big-box retailer left ALEC in 2012 but remains steadfast in keeping American workers out of the middle class and widening income inequality throughout the economy.
In addition to its vicious union busting and anti-worker policies, Walmart’s poverty wages are sustained by an army of lobbyists with revolving-door access to Congress and other government agencies. With this power, Walmart has lobbied against everything from prevailing wage rates to improved labor law reforms and fairer trade policies.
Most recently Walmart successfully strong-armed the city of Washington, D.C. to strike down a living-wage bill, paving the way for Walmart’s low-wage empire to invade another major city.
More than ever, workers and the labor movement are fighting back against these formidable foes. Those making unfair wages are aggressively forging a new era of struggle in the retail, fast-food, trucking and warehouse industries. It will take more and stronger struggles like these to defeat the enemies of economic justice.