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Democrats: Make Labor a Priority for 2020

Democrats and liberals need to take back the labor issue.

They, along with Republicans, have supported globalization and free trade policies that have stagnated the American wage for nearly 40 years. The worker remains in a precarious state, at the behest of the double-edged sword of outsourcing and artificial intelligence. Under these conditions, in which they are often happy to maintain any job, employers have been able to maintain low salaries and get by with offering only minimal benefits. Contracting out within the U.S. is also a problem, as seen with Uber and other employers that hire “independent contractors” who work long hours, are stripped of benefits traditional employees receive and are penalized for not providing rides around the clock.

A tax penalty for international outsourcing, stricter legal definitions on the “independent contractor” and fines for replacing workers with AI, without first securing an equal paying job, would be a good start. Tariffs on goods damaging American industry are another option. Unlike previous candidates, Trump paid lip service to the miserable conditions of the worker and has placed tariffs on steel imports. But his tax cuts, permanent only for corporations, and his further deregulation of industry have far outweighed any good that tariffs may have initiated. Furthermore, as the U.S. steel industry is already in a state of disrepair, the tariffs can only do so much, while negatively impacting American finished products industries that typically purchase cheap steel from China.

There are some daunting challenges to mainstream Democrats and liberals’ embracing pro-labor policies. First, just as the Republicans are closer to the fossil fuel industry, Democrat are in bed with the high-tech industry. Thus, placing a burden on industries that replace workers with AI faces a logistical hurdle – funding from the high-tech industry may then evaporate. Second, Democrats’ placing strong regulation on businesses is generally unlikely, as Republicans and mainstream Democrats are heavily funded by corporate interests. Lastly, making globalization work for employees requires that they are no longer easily replaceable with inexpensive labor in developing countries. But both parties have long-embraced the ‘freedom’ of American businesses to shift labor overseas, under the pretense of benevolent globalization. Yet placing a tax on businesses that outsource abroad is likely to further erode Democratic campaign funds.

There is also a perception problem among many Democrats and liberals. They hold a sanguine view of displaced workers’ ability to find other employment without difficulty. And they often associate disgruntled, displaced employees with the ‘angry white male’ who voted for Trump. However, worker displacement affects men, women, African Americans, Hispanics and the rest of the ethnic/racial gamut equally – from self-service cash registers replacing human cashiers, to AI removing white collar workers and outsourcing impacting workers throughout the socioeconomic spectrum.

The future of employment in the U.S. does not look very positive – unless Democrats act.

As mainstream Democrats and liberals are unlikely to promote labor reform, grassroots activism funded by a trove of small, individual donations – like the Ocasio-Cortez campaign – should push pro-labor candidates to the forefront for 2020.LGBT issues can temporarily move to the back of the agenda for strategic reasons.

While LGBT rights have made important gains over the past ten-to-fifteen years, labor issues have been largely swept under the rug. The precarity of labor affects everyone; thus, from a utilitarian perspective, the masses’ condition should be improved before focusing on who uses which bathroom. Which bathroom trans people are allowed to use is important enough, but the perfect storm of anti-labor policies over the past several decades and anemic wages has affected all Americans – LGBT, black, white, Hispanic, Asians, male and female, all included.

Labor issues are far less divisive than identity politics and, consequentially, more likely to gain mass support, if elucidated in clear, quotidian language. Furthermore, pro-labor policies are likely to bleed out the white working class’s support for Republicans and Trump in the heartland and key swing states in 2020.
And, most importantly, the ailing condition of the American worker is one of dire need.

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