Tag Archives: infrastructure

How Poor Public Transit Makes Idiots of Us All

This post originally appeared on the London School of Economics Policy Blog.

For more on the public transit crisis, join us for our October 13th forum “Getting Back on Track: The New York Transit Crisis.

By Kafui Attoh

The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 1848

There is perhaps nothing more idiotic than a city with poor public transit. The typical North American city may, in this sense, be the paragon of idiocy. As many have long noted, the US remains rather unique amongst developed nations in the reluctance of its citizens to board anything resembling – gasp!—a public bus.  In 2012, only 7 percent of all US residents used public transit on a daily basis. A whopping 51 percent reported never using public transit at all.  For many, of course, the reasons are clear enough. Beyond the “absurd primacy of the automobile in American life,” public transit in the US suffers the same underfunded fate as so much else that is “public” in this country. To quote John Kenneth Galbraith we remain a society that is “privately rich and publicly poor” and nowhere is this more evident than in the sorry state of urban mass transit.

Only this past summer, malfunctions with New York City’s century old signaling system drew national headlines after millions of subways riders complained of excessive delays, overcrowding, and of being stranded at their respective stops. In the previous summer a spate of track fires in Washington DC’s metro not only led to service delays, and the launch of the semi-ironic website “ismetroonfire.com” but several hospitalizations from smoke inhalation. Where this is the reality in two of our most transit-dependent cities, it is undoubtedly worse in smaller cities where transit often remains the domicile of the poor and where suburban sprawl makes commuting via bus slow and inconvenient. Continue reading How Poor Public Transit Makes Idiots of Us All

Avoiding Concessions Under Trump

In a recent In These Times article (When Raising the Minimum Wage is a Bad Thing), Murphy Prof. Stephanie Luce and Jen Kern warn of the perils of conceding ground on minimum wage in the name of short term gains:

First, we cannot accept short-term gains in the form of a higher wage if they mean concessions that undermine our ability to organize over the long haul. Such concessions could include the ability to form unions, engage in collective bargaining, strike and protest. For example, a minimum wage increase that comes alongside cuts to the Department of Labor’s inspection staff would be a major setback. A minimum wage increase that comes at the price of “right-to-work” provisions would be disastrous.

The minimum wage is a valuable tool for raising the incomes of millions of workers, but it loses much of its value if worker organizations and movements are too weak to enforce the law. It doesn’t help people without jobs and only minimally helps those with few hours of work. Most importantly, minimum wages have the greatest impact when workers have unions to protect their jobs and help them move up to higher paid positions.

Second, we must be wary of attempts to divide our movement. The first minimum wage, which was passed in 1938, excluded domestic workers and farmworkers—occupations that were dominated by African-American workers. Today, the federal law sets a much lower minimum wage for tipped workers—a practice that disproportionately hurts women and people of color. An increase to the minimum wage must benefit everyone, including farmworkers and people who work for tips.

It’s also quite possible that a higher minimum wage could be linked to concessions on policies that impact unemployed workers, through cuts to unemployment benefits and the safety net. If we accept an increase to the minimum wage on these terms, we will drive a further wedge between the so-called “deserving” and “non-deserving” poor. Indeed, our ability to win depends on whether this fight is an inclusive one. 

They remind us:

Our job isn’t to find common ground with Trump or to figure out ways to work with a hostile administration that will put forward terrible deals. Our job is to build organizations and make our movements more powerful.

For more on the role of unions, trade and infrastructure under Trump, read the full article at In These Times.

Photo by Stephen L via flickr (CC-BY-NC)