This article was originally posted at the Tennessee Journalist, at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
With a large national debt, and with people taking multiple jobs just to make ends meet, American companies are still making record profits. On Tuesday, a group of students and faculty met at the Howard Baker Center for a National Teach-In, an event designed to rally the public to support unionization against, what some called, "the corporatocracy."
Members of the Progressive Student Alliance, the United Campus Workers and the general population showed up to watch a conference broadcast from New York. The conference was hosted by Frances Fox Piven, a professor at the City University of New York and Cornel West, a Princeton professor.
All of the speakers argued that the super-rich in America have taken over the government. The rich then use the government to pass laws designed to help only the upper class of American society while the middle class makes less and less every year.
"This is one bold assault by the rich on the poor," said Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University professor. During his talk, Sachs said the proposed federal budget would cut social programs to the lowest level in national history.
"We have let them run away without any social responsibility," said Sachs.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, discussed the conservative movement’s attack on unionized labor. Trumka argued that unions were vital to the health of the nation. He said that when people unionize, it makes them stronger.
"Nothing positive has happened in America without collective action," said Trumka.
Heather McGhee, a representative from progressive think tank, Demos, echoed what Trumka said.
"It is a universal human right to come together," said McGhee. "We are the first generation to not do better than our parents."
She said that up until the 1980s, wealth was more evenly distributed. McGhee said the government collected more taxes from the rich and reinvested it into necessary social programs. Now, programs are being cut while executives and politicians work hand-in-hand with one another to insure they keep more money to themselves.
McGhee called lobbying "legalized bribery."
Cornel West, one of the headlining speakers of the conference, spoke passionately about social injustice.
"Too many of our brothers and sisters of all colors are suffering and there is no reason for it," said West to the applause of the New York audience. "There is social injustice even Charles Dickens would have trouble depicting."
"There are dozens, if not hundreds, of participating groups," said Jon Shefner, a UT professor and member of the United Campus Workers.
Holly Rainey, a member of the Progressive Student Alliance, shared Shefner’s excitement about the national event.
"It’s streaming, so anywhere in the US, people can watch. It’s all about corporate greed," said Rainey.
Image courtesy of United Campus Workers, Tennessee