Fighting inequality at the local level


By Jim Hightower



Transit workers in Grand Rapids are organizing against pension theft and fare hikes.

Inequality isn’t a condition. It’s a creation. Inequality is produced by thousands of decisions deliberately made by bosses, bankers, and big shots to siphon money and power from the many to the few.

We see Wall Street and Washington doing this, but the deepening chasm of inequality in America is also the product of decisions that local elites are making every day. Take Grand Rapids, Michigan, a city largely run by a few billionaire families sharing an entrenched laissez-faire ideology. They oppose heavy-handed government policies — unless you’re poor or working class.

Thus the city’s leaders, who find it unconscionable to hike taxes on the rich, recently socked low-income bus riders with a 16 percent jump in fares. For the 27 percent of people in Grand Rapids who live below the poverty line, that’s a serious chunk of change siphoned right out of their pockets.

Then, the board of directors of the city’s transit agency slipped a siphon tube into the wallets of the agency’s own drivers and mechanics, arbitrarily terminating their pensions. Adding a crude insult to injury, the board simultaneously gave the transit boss a raise — literally stealing from workers to lift the CEO’s salary above $200,000 a year.

When the workers, members of the Amalgamated Transit Union, began leafleting bus riders to oppose the fare hike and pension theft, the arrogant boss and autocratic board threatened to arrest and fire them.

Luckily, it’s still legal to exercise your First Amendment rights even in Grand Rapids, so the union won an injunction against this repression. Better yet, the attempted siphoning of money and power has rallied community groups, students, bus riders, and others into a grassroots movement to stop widening the inequality gap and start bridging it.

By Jim Hightower

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.

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