Editorial: Protest may be a sign of a bigger shift
It’s time for Market Basket shareholders to bag it.
In the court of customer opinion, Arthur T. Demoulas and what he represents – low prices and concern for employees, who receive higher than average wages and benefits plus profit sharing – has won.
Boston-area business experts are warning that if the battle between the two branches of the Demoulas family isn’t settled soon, the supermarket chain will suffer a drastic drop in value, if it survives at all.
The Market Basket employees – line workers as well as managers picketing in front of the near-empty stores – and the customers who support them are demonstrating the power of acting together. The employees aren’t unionized, but they are united.
While the Market Basket employees picketed, some 1,200 fast-food workers from across the nation met at a convention center a few miles from McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Illinois. Most of them earn the minimum wage or a few dollars more, which means that a full-time worker with one dependent can’t afford to eat the fast food he or she serves and still make the rent.
Employees, whether they are among the 17 million-plus workers covered by a union contract or not, have been losing economic ground for a generation. From the end of World War II through 1979, 60 percent of the nation’s income gains went to the bottom 90 percent of households.
The trend, which coincided with a decline in manufacturing jobs and union membership, then reversed, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Between 1980 and 2007, 60 percent of the economic gains went to the top 1 percent of household, with the lion’s share of that going to the top one-half of 1 percent.
The minimum wage, which in New Hampshire is by default the $7.25 per hour federal wage, increased just 21 percent since 1990. During the same period, the cost of living increased by 67 percent. The nation’s progressive tax policy hasn’t been nearly progressive enough to stop the income gap from growing, let alone shrink it.
The income gap between the truly wealthy, among them the battling Arthur S. and Arthur T. Demoulas, and the vast majority of working Americans is at a level not seen since the 1920s. The wealth gap is even greater. The number of billionaires in the United States increased tenfold between 1987 and 2012, from 41 to 425, according to the website Statista.com. Meanwhile, three out of four working Americans live paycheck to paycheck, according to Bankrate.com, and some 60 percent of baby boomers lack the ability to maintain their lifestyle if they retire.
More than two decades ago, the economist Arthur Laffer came to the Monitor and drew his famous Laffer curve, which ostensibly proved that cutting taxes for the well-off would generate economic activity that would increase income for everyone further down the economic ladder. That’s not what happened. Wealth accumulated at the top didn’t trickle down. Supply-side economics didn’t supply jobs.
The Market Basket pickets in their white shirts, the fast-food workers gathered in Illinois, and successful campaigns to raise the minimum wage in Massachusetts and other states make us wonder whether historians will look back on 2014 as the year America’s workforce said “enough is enough.”
The vast income gap and the pooling of income at the top is hurting, not helping, the economy. Henry Ford doubled the wages of his workers because he believed he would profit if more people could afford to buy cars. The same principle, it seems, applies to Happy Meals or a bag of groceries.