Our Government Should Be “For the People”

Vance Zimmerman

July 1, 2020

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(This article first appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people” are the words Abraham Lincoln spoke in his famous Gettysburg Address. Those words describe our democracy. We are those people who should be choosing our governors. Our lives are the ones that the government should work to make better.

Looking back at the last four years, I cannot say that the lives of “the people” are better. The working class has seen their wages increase by only an average of 2.7 percent a year since 2017. Yet CEO pay increased at nearly four times that rate – 11 percent a year. CEOs make 278 times more than the average worker, according to the AFL-CIO CEO Pay Watch. That makes me think the last four years we have not had a government for the people, unless you are one of the wealthiest people in the country.

What about the tax cuts the government claimed you got? Did you owe taxes in one of the last few years or get a much smaller tax return? If the answer is “yes,” you were not alone. Many Americans paid more and lost tax deductions. Yet the mega-rich saw significant tax breaks and corporate taxes were slashed. We, the people, are paying more, yet our government has less revenue. The budget deficit is at levels never seen before under any administration.

Protections for Workers Gutted

Many things have happened in the last four years to make us all ask ourselves if the government is “for the people.” The Brookings Institute tracked deregulation in the years since 2017. Some items of note are the rolling back of clean air and water standards, and safety rules that have a direct impact on workers. These include ending rules on exposure to specific chemicals, lowering training standards for commercial drivers, loosening rest requirements for truck drivers, and eliminating safety and security training for people who operate public transportation.

Rolling back these regulations do not make us more safe or healthy. The “cost savings” from deregulation is not passed on to you and me, but rather goes straight into the pockets of the corporations’ “shareholders.” How about your safety at work? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been gutted. Inspector jobs are not being filled. Now that they have been cut back, complaints often go uninvestigated and employers are not held accountable for their unsafe workplaces. One only needs to look at the COVID-19 pandemic to see how OSHA does not have the people at heart.

OSHA originally took a stance that when employees contracted COVID-19 in the workplace it did not need to be reported. When the AFL-CIO requested an emergency standard on COVID-19 be issued, OSHA fought back and said no. In return, the AFL-CIO filed a lawsuit requesting a standard, and OSHA fought the lawsuit and had it successfully dismissed.

The last few years have also shown the agency tasked with defending worker rights – the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – has shifted to defending employers and denying union workers rights they have earned over decades of case law. You need not look further than any news program today to clearly see that this government is not for the people. You see the injustices happening every day and you see the people’s frustration as they take to the streets calling for change.

We need change to happen. We need the government to be working for the people again. You can be part of the solution. You need to register to vote and exercise that right to vote. Get a mail-in ballot if you need to, and if you need to go to a polling place, I implore you to do so. Let us make President Lincoln’s words have the meaning they should.

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