Occupying our streets and our country

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tom Sigurdson
Executive Director, BC Building Trades

On Sept. 17, a group of people, who had had enough of Wall Street greed, gathered in Liberty Square in Manhattan to protest.

Tom Sigurdson - Executive Director, BC Building TradesBy the beginning of October, similar demonstrations occurred in another 70 major U.S. cities and 600 smaller American communities. Worldwide, over 900 Occupy movements filled the streets and public places to voice their discontent over the ever-widening gap between the phenomenally rich and the rest of us.

Right-wing conservative governments around the world have been on tax-cutting crusades for the past few decades. Starting with Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Ronald Reagan in the U.S., Brian Mulroney in Canada and now Prime Minister Stephen Harper, these corporate tax-cut advocates want us to believe that when taxes are cut, the money that’s saved is reinvested and this creates jobs for the rest of us. However, instead of investing in new jobs, trades training or new tools and equipment, most of the tax savings have been pocketed as profits. This Trickle Down Theory has been an economic disaster for working families.

Over 40% of the world’s wealth is owned by 1% of the population. On the other side of the equation, the bottom 50% of the world’s population owns less than 1% of the world’s wealth, according to the World Institute for Development Economics Research, United Nations University.

In Canada, the concentration of wealth is ever increasing.

BC Building Trades: Map of Occupy movementsJust before the Great Depression of the 1930s, the wealthiest 1% of Canadians owned 17% of our country’s wealth. When Canada came out of the Depression and the Second World War, there was a period of economic prosperity and union growth as well. With growing union density came an increase in social programs. The middle class grew and the lowest income working families were able to experience some of the economic benefits of being Canadian. Rich Canadians certainly weren’t suffering either. The richest 1% of Canadians between the 1930s and the 1970s controlled between 5% and 10% of our country’s wealth.

In the 1980s, the right-wingers began chanting a new mantra: We Want a Tax Cut!

And we workers joined in and started complaining about how much tax we paid. When conservative parties formed governments, they gave us tax cuts—right across the board. The problem was that the top income earners enjoyed sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax savings while the rest of us enjoyed only pennies. This was the Trickle Down Economic theory in practice.

Collectively, with millions of dollars of tax savings made available to the richest Canadians, the richest 1% garnered the lions’ share of wealth concentration. Their portion is now 32% of our country’s wealth. In the meanwhile, union density has declined, the middle class is shrinking, public education and social programs are under funded and the poor are being left behind. Being trickled down upon doesn’t feel so good—does it?

The Occupy movement has brought to light the fact that the greedy in our society are hurting too many of the rest of us. I don’t think we need to pitch a tent in the middle of a public place to be part of the Occupy movement but we do need to stand up and speak out. If we don’t fight back collectively, as trade unionists, we will feel the consequences personally.

BC Building Trades

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Tom Sigurdson, Executive Director

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Tom Sigurdson | Executive Director

Tom Sigurdson
Executive Director, BC Building Trades

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Tom Sigurdson
Executive Director, BC Building Trades

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