PREDISTRIBUTION: A BIG NEW IDEA On September 6, in a speech at his country’s stock exchange, British Labour leader Ed Miliband called for a new agenda: “predistribution.” The term was coined by US political scientist Jacob Hacker, who in 2011 noted that discussions of government responses to inequality often begin and end with redistribution—taxing the rich to provide benefits for the rest. But that’s only half the equation, Hacker said, urging progressives to pay more attention to “the way in which the market distributes its rewards in the first place.” That includes regulations that protect consumers and empower workers: “The regulation of markets to limit extremes and give the middle class more voice is hardly easy…. But it is both more popular and more effective than after-the-fact mopping up.”
Miliband agrees. Noting the high human cost of austerity, he said, “We need to care about predistribution as well as redistribution.” After trying “to make work pay better by spending more on transfer payments,” he argued, government must “also make work pay better by making work itself pay.”
Miliband (a former Nation intern) expanded on this in an interview with The Telegraph, citing a post–Thatcher era “consensus around regulation” that “turned out to be really problematic.” On globalization, New Labour became “too easy and accepting,” he said, adding: “It’s just not true that all the top CEOs will leave the country unless we pay them whatever they demand.” Miliband also traced his embrace of predistribution to the political and economic consensus limiting how high taxes can go. (He argues for 50 percent.)
As Sam Pizzigati has reported in The Nation, the turn toward predistribution in the United Kingdom has been fueled by activists and includes pushing local employers to narrow the pay ratio between the top and the bottom ranks of their workforce.
The British story is all too familiar: failed austerity, political resistance to taxes, a left-of-center party that spent much of the 1990s getting out of the market’s way—and an awful human toll sparking the activism against inequality.
“We want a market economy, not a market society,” says Miliband. That’s true on both sides of the pond. KATRINA vanden HEUVEL
A WIN FOR WORKERS: When a Wisconsin judge tossed out the key components of Governor Scott Walker’s anti-labor law on September 15, on the grounds that they failed to provide equal protection for the rights of schoolteachers and municipal employees, the best the governor could do was attack him as “a liberal activist judge.” It’s doubtful that Walker read the twenty-seven-page ruling, but those who do will find nothing adventurous about Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas’s decision to strike down substantial portions of a law explicitly written to undermine trade unions and collective bargaining. Colas grounded his decision in a recognition that trade unionists have basic rights and are not second-class citizens.
That’s not a radical idea. When the United States pressured other nations to write pluralistic constitutions after World War II, it was recognized that the right to organize a union and engage in collective bargaining was essential to forming a civil and democratic society. Eleanor Roosevelt and the other Americans who helped write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights operated from the same point of reference.
At a time when union rights are under assault by corporate Republicans (and even some Democrats), this history and the points made in the ruling must be restated—frequently. Union rights are under attack in Chicago, where teachers are struggling for a fair shake from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his school board; in Milwaukee, where immigrant workers are striking in the face of intimidation by Palermo Pizza; in California, where unions are fighting a ballot measure (Proposition 32) that seeks to prevent them from playing a meaningful role in local and state politics; and nationally, as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan run the most militantly anti-labor ticket ever mounted by the GOP.
Colas was correct to write that “there is no constitutional right to collective bargaining.” But that does not give anyone the authority to discriminate against workers who organize. Where collective bargaining has been allowed, there cannot be separate rules that restrict the basic rights and liberties of some trade unionists—especially those who organize in the public sector. JOHN NICHOLS
A CALL FOR JUSTICE IN THE BRONX: “No justice, no peace! No racist police!” cried 100-plus protesters outside the Bronx Hall of Justice on September 13. A hearing for NYPD Officer Richard Haste, who faces charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter, was beginning inside.
Haste shot and killed unarmed teenager Ramarley Graham in February after following him into his South Bronx home without a warrant, on suspicion of drug possession. Family members and their supporters, who were well represented in the courtroom, have held weekly vigils since his death to call attention to the injustice, particularly in the context of the NYPD’s racially biased stop-and-frisk policies under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Just down the hall was another case involving a police shooting. Reynaldo Cuevas, a worker fleeing a robbery at a bodega, was shot dead by the NYPD. That officer faces no charges. The arraignment for the three robbery suspects has been postponed.
The judge rescheduled motions in the Haste trial for December 11. Ramarley’s mother, Constance Malcolm, vowed to stay busy in the meantime, saying biweekly rallies will continue outside her home, the next one on September 27. Malcolm questioned the NYPD’s training, citing a spate of shootings this summer. “We’re losing our young people to senseless murder and senseless police killing,” she said. “We have to stand together. Justice doesn’t come easily; we have to fight.” For more, see “Marchers Demand Justice for Ramarley Graham” at TheNation.com. LUCY McKEON
MAKING POVERTY VISIBLE: A new study by Extra!, the magazine published by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, has found that poverty “barely registers as a campaign issue.” Of 10,489 campaign stories over six months, only seventeen addressed it “in a substantive way.” Of the eight outlets examined, poverty coverage did not represent even 1 percent of stories. For an antidote to this media blind spot, visit Greg Kaufmann’s This Week in Poverty blog at TheNation.com.