At a Congressional meeting Thursday on the growing problem of income inequality, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders blasted the Walton family, owners of the Walmart corporation and some of the wealthiest people in the world, for what he sees their tax subsidized fortunes which have been largely wrought by their maintaining of poverty wages for many of their 1.4 million American workers. Calling into question whether it was right that such a massive and highly profitable company should have such high rates of full time employees seeking public assistance just to get by, Sanders asked the panel directly:
[box type=”shadow”]“Do you think the wealthiest family in this country should have large numbers of employees that depend on Medicaid?”[/box]
His sentiments were then echoed by public policy professor and former labor secretary Robert Reich, who described the situation as “corporate welfare of the worst kind.”
Sanders and Reich have both been at the forefront of the ongoing fights over income inequality and raising the federal minimum wage. Disgusted by the extravagant profiteering that corporate executives and investors have enjoyed on the backs of publicly subsidized low wage workers, Sanders recently illustrated the problem of Walmart’s “everyday low wages” when he tore apart the standard arguments against raising the minimum wage, asking the simply question of how corporate conservatives could call for a reduction or elimination of welfare and public assistance, if they were to insist on also maintaining the unsustainable wage levels which force so many families onto the roles in the first place.
As a result of the realities faced by Walmart’s poverty wages, the Our Walmart movement has made headlines in recent months, with walk-offs, strikes and demonstrations taking place at Walmart locations throughout the country. Though not a stated effort to organize a proper union, recently leaked internal memos have shown that Walmart’s corporate management is already gearing up for a union busting campaign of their own, hoping to squash the demonstrations and vocal discontent which is serving to paint the already controversial retailer as being even greedier and more apathetic towards the plight of their employees than previously believed.
Presently, congressional Democrats and President Obama are both backing proposals which would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, a full $2.85 more than the current minimum of $7.25. Though a substantial number of well renowned economists and labor analysts support the raise on the grounds that such would provide the working classes with greater spendable income while also significantly reducing claims for public assistance, these efforts to improve the economic sustainability for working Americans are naturally not without their detractors.
Also in attendance during the hearing was Scott Winship, a conservative fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and adviser to Rep. Paul Ryan on matters of poverty and economics. Winship, who recently had his theories and opinions thoroughly trounced by fellow attendee Robert Reich, argued that any increase in the minimum wage would be harmful to the economy and workers, as it would by some contrived logic, cause employers such as Walmart to hire fewer workers.
Clearly ignoring the realities of what increased buying power would mean for the working classes and Walmart, who enjoys the majority of their business selling to ordinary working Americans, Winship toed the corporate line to protect the federally subsidized riches of the Waltons and their top investors, while continuing the proud conservative tradition of throwing the working classes under the bus in the process.
Though such lines about protecting corporate profits in the name of presumed macro-economic benefit have been the norm in such discussions as the inequality and economic difficulties faced by working Americans presently have developed, Senator Sanders remains optimistic that the tide is turning. Recently during an interview with TV and radio host Ed Schultz, Sanders tapped into the growing frustration throughout the country, stating that “The American people are catching on…”
Watch Sanders’ remark in the video below, via The Raw Story: