As restaurants across the country reportedly struggle to fill many of the grueling positions in their sweltering kitchens, conservative lawmakers have descended on the erroneous consensus that the pandemic-era enhanced unemployment insurance payments are the reason that some workers have failed to return to the job market. Top White House economic advisers countered these accusations in a memo released Tuesday, arguing that the reports of labor shortages were “a positive development, particularly for lower wage workers who have seen little wage growth over the past decades,” because “employers will raise wages to attract workers.” Indeed, the White House’s theory appears to be based in reality, as in recent weeks some major companies have already begun to announce wage hikes. National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Cecilia Rouse stressed in the memo that the lingering consequences of the pandemic, not unemployment benefits, remain the most substantial obstacle preventing laborers from reintegrating into the workforce. It is doubtless that the cruel decision by nearly two dozen Republican governors to reject hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid for the unemployed in their states, available until September under the American Rescue Plan, will have little effect on the purported labor shortages, though it is certain that they will inflict additional pains and difficulties on millions of deeply strained low-income families and inhibit the post-pandemic recovery of state and local economies.
Amid the ongoing assault on Palestine by Israeli forces, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian laborers stopped work and engaged in a general strike on Tuesday. The New York Times reports that the streets in Arab-dominated zones of Israel were deserted as schools and businesses temporarily shuttered and thousands of protestors gathered in the central squares, waving flags, holding signs, chanting, and listening to speeches. The strike, coordinated by leaders of the Palestinian community in Israel and supported by the Palestinian Authority, was a showing of solidarity among Palestinians, who came together to stand against what strike organizer Muhammad Barakeh described as Israeli “aggression” and “brutal repression.”
In a speech delivered on Tuesday to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Forum on Economic Recovery, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, reaffirming the Biden Administration’s exciting departure from the dominant strand of neoliberal economic orthodoxy that has plagued both political parties for decades, confirmed the Administration’s commitment to raising taxes on corporations in order to fund President Biden’s ambitious infrastructure proposal, The American Jobs Plan. Secretary Yellen insisted that the corporate sector must “bear[ ] its fair share” which, according to her, means “simply to return the corporate tax rate toward historical norms.” Notwithstanding that at some points in American history the corporate tax rate has risen to higher than 50 percent, Secretary Yellen, lest one be tempted to mistake her for a radical, seemed to have been referring only to the “historical norm” of 28 percent that prevailed before former-President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law in 2017. Striking a somewhat more inspiring tone, Secretary Yellen took a moment in her speech to confront the nation’s business elite about the devastating effects of economic inequality and to vocalize her support for strengthening labor unions. “Workers have seen wage growth stagnate over several decades, despite overall rising productivity and national income,” she explained, asserting that “one important factor” has been “erosion in labor’s bargaining power.” Secretary Yellen’s approbation of labor unions is hopefully another promising sign that the Biden Administration remains committed to fulfilling the President’s vow to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen.” Business groups were unmoved by Yellen’s appeals, declaring bluntly and without an apparent hint of irony that, in the words of Chamber president Suzanne Clark, the massive investment in public infrastructure and clean energy would “harm American workers.”
On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to consider a major restriction of abortion rights in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, slated for their next term beginning in the early fall. Dobbs, described by some as a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade, involves a challenge against a Mississippi state law enacted in 2018 that bans abortions after only 15 weeks — three months earlier than the “viability” benchmark originally established in Roe nearly 50 years ago. It’s difficult to overstate the gravity of the decision and, as the nation’s highest court has been captured by plutocrats and religious extremists, the outlook is grim. According to James Bopp Jr., general counsel of National Right to Life, the question that the Court has agreed to hear “couldn’t be broader.” In the most recent abortion case to reach One First Street, June Medical Services LLC v. Russo, decided last year, the four liberal Justices, reluctantly joined by Chief Justice John Roberts who felt bound by stare decisis, invalidated a Louisiana statute restricting access to abortions in the state, while the remaining four ultra-conservative Justices — Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh — vigorously dissented. Since then, the late Justice Ginsburg, a fierce advocate for women’s rights, has been replaced by religious fanatic Amy Coney Barrett, who displayed hostility to abortion rights during her brief tenure on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Though labor unions have historically been somewhat equivocal on the issue, in recent years many major unions have come to recognize that reproductive rights — allowing women to control their bodies, their labor, and their lives — are workers’ rights. If the Supreme Court decides to roll back abortion rights, imposing immense burdens on millions of women and families, particularly the low-income and the marginalized, perhaps we can take some comfort in the knowledge that President Biden has created a bipartisan commission to explore reforming the Court.
In electoral news, Philadelphia’s progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner easily fended off challenger Carlos Vega to secure the Democratic nomination in his reelection campaign. Krasner won overwhelming support from black voters in the city and overall election turnout exceeded that of the previous contest four years ago. In his first term, Krasner, who has expressed his belief in a criminal justice system that “makes things better, that is just…based on building up society rather than tearing it apart,” refused to prosecute many low-level offenses, including drug possession and prostitution, and reduced the city’s jail population by more than 30 percent. Krasner’s win last night is only the latest example of an impressive string of electoral victories across the country by the progressive movement in recent years.
Finally, today, May 19, McDonald’s workers have launched a national strike in more than a dozen major cities across the U.S. before the company’s annual shareholders meeting scheduled for tomorrow, demanding a $15/hour wage. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) are expected to join the striking workers and deliver remarks at the event. Senator Sanders affirmed to Business Insider that he’s “proud to join courageous workers who are taking on corporate greed and demanding dignity on the job,” concluding aptly that “the time is now to end starvation wages in the richest country in the world.”