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Serve your constituents or grow your own wealth, with Campus Action for Democracy

Rep. Trey Hollingsworth of Indiana is one of the richest members of Congress; he is, as the members of Campus Action for Democracy point out, a prime beneficiary of the Republican tax bill poised to pass. On the other hand, in the middle of his district–Indiana’s 9th–is Indiana University, where students, campus workers, and graduate students make up a large part of his constituency. The rest of the district is largely working class. When a group of Campus Action for Democracy and Hoosier Action members went to his office to ask to discuss his vote for the tax bill, they were met with stonewalling–for eight hours. They share their story, and the organizing they have been doing to challenge the tax bill and more across Indiana.

 

THG: The congressman has never been available publicly to his constituents at either office, anyway. We really felt when we went there yesterday like we don’t have the opportunity to have any kind of communication with this person who has been elected to represent us and is supposed to be our voice in Congress.
And over 8 hours yesterday he really proved that point to us, that we actually have no way to communicate with him. I can’t speak for everyone here, but I think we all had similar experiences. I felt really dismissed and disrespected and honestly disenfranchised by that experience yesterday, by the way that he and his D.C. office coordinated things around us without engaging us. It was a really troubling and upsetting experience as a constituent and a voter.
JK: We felt that the only recourse that we had to communicate with our congressman was to show up in his office and refuse to leave or else, perhaps, get arrested, we really honestly thought that was the only way we could get in contact with him. And it didn’t work. Maybe it would work if we went to D.C. and did this. But, again, the idea that you would ever have to leave your own state to communicate with your congressman is pretty patently insane.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Taxing people out of higher education, with Tom DePaola

One of the remarked-upon features of the House version of the Republican tax bill currently headed to reconciliation is that it would tax tuition waivers given to graduate students who do much of the teaching and research workloads on campus as income. (To explain: When I was a graduate student teacher, my stipend–the money in my pocket–was around $16,000 per year. Tuition for my program was nearly $30,000, but was “waived”–no checks were written, no loans taken out. The GOP plan would tax me as though I made $46,000 for that year, taxes I would have to pay out of my measly $16,000 to live on.)

Graduate workers, though, have been organizing their workplaces in recent years, and are ready to fight. A group of graduate workers organizing with SEIU’s Faculty Forward campaign went to Washington, D.C. to greet Paul Ryan and ask him why he wants to raise their taxes. When Ryan wouldn’t talk to them, Tom DePaola and others were arrested. DePaola, an education PhD student and researcher at the University of Southern California, talks to me about the tax bill, the Republican attacks on campus, and the universities’ ambivalent response to the Trump administration.

I think this is much bigger than just the tax bill. It is much bigger than just graduate students. I try to keep that in mind because in past iterations of the labor movement in the US, I think that there were a lot of fatal mistakes made when we may have pivoted too hard to bread and butter issues as opposed to what we might call social movement unionism where we are all advocating for each other, we are all standing up for each other. USC is the largest private employer and the largest private export in the entire city of LA. We have the most international students of any private university in the country. They like to say that this the evidence that their fundamental valuing of diversity, but when we saw the immigration ban rolling out, we saw DACA, all of these things, the university was basically silent. A couple of memos went out, “Oh, we respect everyone. Oh, if you need some advice, head on down to the law school and maybe someone can talk to you there.” If I were an international student who was scared, that would have done nothing to assuage my fears. We, students, the workers themselves, we have to come together to protect each other because really that is all we have. The university isn’t going to protect us. I have tons of work to do. None of us have the time for this. None of us have the time to take days to fly down to Paul Ryan’s office to get arrested. But, at the same time, we are not going to step aside while folks come in and just try to rip our careers out from underneath us and our ideals and intellectualism at large.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Mainers challenge Susan Collins’s vote for tax cuts, with Mike Tipping

Maine Senator Susan Collins was one of three votes to stop ACA repeal. But last week, after getting empty promises that are already being walked back, she voted for a tax bill that include big healthcare cuts, and her constituents are not pleased. The Maine People’s Alliance and others have been protesting since the vote, and plan to continue challenging Collins to stand with her state when it comes time to vote on a final bill.

As you may remember, Susan Collins, upon returning to Maine after voting against the Republican healthcare repeal, got applauded at the airport. There were several scenes of people on the street thanking her for her vote. She did not have the same reaction in Maine, actually she stayed in D.C. and did the Sunday shows, but in Maine people were protesting up and down the state and they are continuing to do so all this week.
Yesterday in Bangor dozens of people were outside her office and five very brave souls went inside and refused to leave until she talked to them about her vote, and she did not and they got arrested and carted out in a police van. So things are definitely escalating here, I think people believe that she’s not listening to them, that she’s doing real damage to the state, that she’s been lying about her votes and about the policy and that they’re not going to take it anymore.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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The real-world fallout of wealth consolidation, with Kevin Borden


On the day the Republican-controlled Senate voted to give a huge tax break to billionaires, Kevin Borden was in Austin, Texas with members of Manufactured Home Action (MH Action), a nationwide organization of mobile home residents fighting the consolidation of ownership over the ground they live on. For these exurban and rural working-class people, handing more wealth to billionaires has very real consequences. Borden talked to me about bringing far-flung communities together to connect their struggles around housing to the broad struggle against inequallity.

I feel like our folks are very clear about what this really means. It is loosening up more cash for the wealthiest in our country to continue to gobble up different sectors of our economy that make it harder and harder for folks to get by. My sense from having one on one conversations with folks is folks are smart. They see this tax bill for what it is. It is going to make their lives harder and it is going to get more cash and capital in the pockets of folks like Frank Rolfe and Dave Reynolds, like Sam Zell who is a multi-billionaire that owns the largest publically traded company that owns manufactured home communities across the country. It is going to be a windfall for him.
Our folks definitely see the direct connection between this tax bill and how it can continue to exacerbate the situation that many families face. Our folks also completely understand that when we start to decimate our public coffers in this way with these bizarre tax bills that are based on failed trickle-down economics, they have seen first-hand what that means. A lot of seniors know, they are on Social Security, they know that it is going to get harder for them to survive. Folks who are on disability know that then the fight is around SSDI to make sure that is funded. It is going to get harder.
Climate disasters, whether it is what’s happened in Florida or what has happened in California, they really see this continuous shift toward the already-grotesquely-wealthy in the country is not going to play out well for their communities. They are moving on a national level and that is why we are trying to organize, I think. Yes, they see the direct connection. They see it. They understand it. That is why we are organizing to try to change that stuff.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Putting trickle-down cash into the contract, with Jody Calemine

Trump says his tax cuts will give every American a $4000 raise. But American labor unions have been burned by trickle-down claims for decades, because the wealth has just been zooming upward faster and faster. So when Trump made his promise, the Communications Workers of America told corporations: “Put it in the contract.” The union opposes the tax bill, which will hit many members with tax increases, but if it’s going to be forced to swallow more trickle-down policy, says general counsel Jody Calemine, then the companies getting the big breaks need to pony up the cash to make it up to their workers.

As far as I know, we have never responded in such a direct way before. The promises made by this White House are so specific about what the outcome would be that it simply spurred us to try and hold them to this promise and got to our employers and ask them to sign. There is another specific promise that these guys made, on Paul Ryan’s website in big letters, that this tax bill is going to prevent the off-shoring of jobs. That is a big issue for us. We have been fighting off-shoring for a long time. It is what the Verizon strike up and down the east coast last year was all about. They are saying this is going to prevent off-shoring? Then, we are going to our employers and in these contract proposals, there is a second provision. It says “So long as this tax bill is in effect, they will not off-shore work. New jobs will be created here rather than overseas and work that is here isn’t going to move overseas.”
Again, just like the wage increase, this is something entirely within these corporations control. Based on the tax savings they are going to enjoy under this tax bill, they get to decide what they are going to do with it. The politicians are saying, “This is what will be done with it. That is why working people should support this bill.” So, we are going to those employers and saying, “Is that, in fact, true?” and we haven’t gotten a response.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Class warfare in a tax bill, with Michael Kink

“Whether or not you agree with fighting class warfare on behalf of workers, the billionaires declared class warfare on everyone,” says Michael Kink of the Republican tax bill. Earlier tax-cut plans might have offered a little bit to working people in order to pass big cuts for the wealthy, but the Trump-Ryan-McConnell plan on the move in Congress right now gives tax breaks to billionaire heirs and heiresses and pays for it by slashing healthcare for the elderly, poor, and disabled; ending deductions for graduate students, teachers, and the self-employed, and essentially raising taxes on people making between $10,000 and $75,000 a year–which is the vast majority of the population. Luckily, it’s also deeply unpopular, and the coalition that grew out of the healthcare fights is mobilizing again for one last battle to halt the GOP agenda before the holidays.

One, at even the most moderate level, if you look at public opinion polls, things that pollsters already ask people about, most Americans want the wealthy to pay their fair share. Most Americans want to see higher taxes on rich people, not lower taxes on rich people. Most Americans would like to see a lot of loopholes eliminated, particularly the loopholes for outsourcing jobs. Most Americans would like to see a tax system that doesn’t overly reward people that are already wealthy, that doesn’t over-reward people that just invest for a living, that does something to help families that are struggling. We don’t have any legislation that does that.
More aggressively, what is the single payer of economic policy or fiscal policy? I would argue that if most people want to see the wealthy pay their fair share and most people want to see government budgets that actually invest in and create jobs by hiring people and giving them paychecks as opposed to just sprinkling helicopter-loads full of cash on rich zip codes, we could talk about fiscal policies that actually redistribute income and invest in the future. We can talk about public goods. We can talk about the opportunity to close loopholes, make the wealthy pay their fair share and invest in an economy that would actually employ a lot more people then we have now. We could make the transition into a clean energy infrastructure. We can move forward with single payer healthcare and staff that out in a way that responds to our opioid addiction crisis, that responds to the aging of America, that provides more independent living options for seniors and for people with disabilities.
There are a lot of things we could do that would create a lot of good, meaningful jobs for Americans with decent paychecks and we have the money to do it. The Republicans are saying they would be willing to spend a $1.5 trillion on something. If we were going to spend $1.5 trillion on clean energy and public health and education and higher education, a lot of people would be in favor of that. The tax system is a way that can provide the resources to do it. You could be scared of the phrase “redistribution of income,” but when pollsters ask questions about “Make the wealthy pay their fair share and invest in programs that create jobs and pay off for the public in the future,” that is what they are talking about. When we have young people supporting socialism over capitalism by significant margins because they have been screwed so badly by the economy, then I think it is incumbent on politicians to provide more effective public policies that were previously extended.

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Tax policy matters, with Marshall Steinbaum

Trump’s tax plan has dropped and is a huge giveaway to the owners of capital. Despite many promises on the campaign trail to put people back to work and to pay attention to the needs of working people and the unemployed, Trump’s plan is, economist Marshall Steinbaum notes, Republican tax policy on steroids, larded with giveaways to the rich and those who live off their wealth. He joins us to explain how to fight it, and why the fight over tax policy is at the heart of the fight against inequality.

We have eliminated progressive taxation in this country or vastly reduced it and the effect of that has been to increase the incentives that rich people and powerful people have to dominate the economy to their own benefit. We used to have a statutory maximum individual income tax rate of 90% over a very high income and what that is is basically making it illegal to be rich. Not surprisingly, if you make it illegal to be rich, people don’t want to be as rich as they used to be. I was having this debate about the history of progressive taxation in the United States. There were no rich people by today’s standards in 1960. Like none. Now we have tons of them and they are richer than they ever were before and that is because we stopped taxing them so it became more worthwhile to earn more. If you are wondering why the owners of one gigantic profitable corporation would want to merge with another gigantic profitable corporation and cut tens of thousands of workers and chop off their supply chain and raise prices to consumers because you have no other place to go, that is exactly why. If their tax rates were still 90%, it would be illegal to increase their income from where it currently is, more or less, and there would be no incentive to do that.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.