Americans devoted Friday to celebrating independence. Flags and fireworks, picnics and pledges of allegiance abounded.

But there’s no liberty and justice for all if Americans aren’t economically independent.  Low wages, debts and dim prospects all subjugate. This is the condition of a shocking number of Americans as income inequality rises. And their economic desperation and subordination occurred by design.

CEOs and right-wing one percenters purchased legislation and court decisions that diverted the nation’s wealth to their penthouses. And despite their promises, not a dime trickles down to the workers whose labor created the wealth and whose productivity has risen even as their wages have not. The decision of the right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court last week in the Harris v. Quinn case is another example of the one percent’s unrelenting erosion of the 99 percent’s economic independence.

This decision makes it harder for 28,000 home care workers in Illinois specifically, but others across the country as well, to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

That’s exactly what the one percent wanted. The harder it is for the 99 percent to collectively bargain, the easier it is for the one percent to take everything. In this particular case, the one percenters include some of the richest people in the world, the Koch brothers and the Walton family, who fund the National Right to Work (for less) Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW), which bankrolled the lawsuit.

Home care workers, whose lives are devoted to aiding disabled adults, were paid minimum wage in Illinois a decade ago. Job dissatisfaction was high, as was turnover. Shortages of these workers forced the state to institutionalize infirm adults, a significantly more expensive and less satisfactory living arrangement.

Then in 2003, the state took steps that enabled home care workers to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and collectively bargain. Their wages rose to $12.25 an hour. They got health benefits and training. Turnover declined. The state estimates it has saved $632 million because fewer adults went to institutions.

The same was true in Washington state, where home care workers joined SEIU in 2002. Collective bargaining provided them with wage increases of 40 percent, health insurance, paid time off and mileage reimbursement. And like Illinois, Washington saved money because fewer disabled adults ended up in nursing homes.

This solution was great for the vast majority of everyone involved, taxpayers, workers and disabled adults. Here’s what one of those adults, Rahnee Patrick, told a National Public Radio reporter:

"I had a personal assistant come to me at 5 o'clock in the morning in my house. She rode an hour in the snow, from the North Side of Chicago. Why was she so dedicated? Not because I'm lovely, but because she gets a really good wage, and the wage came from the unions being able to collectively bargain. I can actually go to work, and it's because of her being able to pay her own bills that I'm able to pay my bills.”

Workers say it was a godsend. Dorothy Glenn received $1 per hour when she began caring for her disabled sister in 1972 after taking her out of an Illinois institution where she’d been badly injured. Glenn got no health insurance and no training. She recounts that when she asked for a raise, the state told her that if she didn’t like the pay, she should put her sister back into the nursing home.

“I felt like my sister and I were living in the shadow, and we had no voices,” Glenn told Think Progress reporter Bryce Covert. She said she got a voice when she was able to join the SEIU. “It dramatically changed my life,” she said. The difference is 28,000 workers bargaining collectively with the state instead of one. “As long as we keep our numbers, we have the power,” she explained.

The pay increases and health insurance benefits secured by collective bargaining gave economic independence to tens of thousands of home care workers in Illinois and in states across the country. Their work provided them with sufficient income to pay their bills, support their children, buy an Independence Day picnic spread. Collective bargaining meant they no longer had to depend on the government for health insurance or on food banks for dinner.

Economically independent workers are less easily manipulated and mistreated. That is exactly the opposite of what right-wing one percenters want. What was good for tens of thousands of home health workers was bad for greedy one percenters. So they searched for a way to thwart the system that worked well for workers, invalid adults and the state.

They found it in a handful of home care workers who didn’t want to pay the fair share fee that  was charged to those who benefitted from collective bargaining but declined to join the union.

The NRTW group volunteered to use Koch brothers and Walton family money to pay for a lawsuit seeking legal sanction for these workers to freeload, to reap the benefits of collective bargaining but shirk paying any part of its costs. That’s the genesis of the Harris v. Quinn case.

The NRTW scheme works like this: legalize freeloading to lower revenues available for collective bargaining, and thus diminish workers’ ability to secure better wages and benefits. This robs workers of economic independence.

The right-wing majority on the Supreme Court sided with right-wing one percenters. They ruled that a state can’t require home care workers to pay a fair share. They ruled for weaker collective bargaining and less economic independence.

And they ruled for higher income inequality. That is exactly how it has played out for the past century. As collective bargaining rose in the United States from 1918 to 1958, income inequality declined. And as collective bargaining declined from 1958 to 2008, income inequality skyrocketed.

Illinois home care worker Dorothy Glenn said there’s power in numbers. For many workers, only that power can achieve for them liberty and justice for all. 

In the depth of the recession, some foreign countries made a simple calculation. They’d subsidize their steel industries even though that violates international trade rules. It paid off by keeping their citizens employed, paid and fed.

These countries banked on dumping their excess steel in the United States. That has cost good, family-supporting American jobs. It has wounded the American steel industry. And it has emboldened foreign countries to continue eating America’s lunch by violating international trade laws.

Last week, Mario Longhi, President and Chief Executive Officer of U.S. Steel, and I asked Congress to enforce the law. We’re not seeking special deals or subsidies or handouts. We’re asking Congress to implement American and international trade laws to level the field of competition. If the same rules apply to everyone, U.S. industry can compete and win. And American workers can retain their jobs and afford their daily bread.

A simple story explains how this works. Just as the economic crisis hit, China began dumping Oil Country Tubular Goods, the pipes used in oil and gas exploration, into the American market. Dumping occurs when foreign manufacturers export products at prices lower than they charge in their home country or at prices below the cost of production.

American steel companies would quickly go bankrupt if they set prices below the cost of production. Many foreign manufacturers can get away with it because part of their production cost is offset by government subsidies. In 2011, half of the world’s 46 top steel companies were state-owned. They don’t live by the same rules American companies do.

Government subsidies are fine if all of the beneficiary company’s products are sold in their home market. But international trade rules prohibit sale of subsidized goods to other countries because their artificially low prices would distort the market and destroy companies that aren’t propped up by their governments.

To keep their citizens employed and sustain vital industries like steel, lots of countries ignore the rules. That’s what China was doing in 2008 with Oil Country Tubular Goods. A half dozen steel companies and my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), won a dumping case against them in 2009. Tariffs were placed on China’s Oil Country Tubular Goods to offset the value of the illegal subsidies. After that, Chinese shipments of the pipe to the United States virtually stopped.

When enforcement of the rules leveled the field of competition, American companies and American workers won.

This is an important story because it involves pipe essential to natural gas drilling. Americans are reveling in the possibility that hydraulic fracturing will make them energy independent. But there’s no point in achieving energy independence if failure to enforce trade laws condemns America to steel dependency.

Here’s what Longhi told the Senate Finance Committee last week: “It is not enough to open new markets for American goods and services; I submit to you that the greater economic and national security, and, indeed, moral imperative is to ensure that the rules governing trade in our own market are respected.”

In the past 18 months, American steel producers and the USW have issued demands for that respect 40 times, filing 40 antidumping and countervailing duty petitions. That’s the largest number of steel cases since 2001.

Among them is yet another Oil Country Tubular Goods case, this one against South Korea and eight other nations. In February, the International Trade Administration announced preliminary duties against the eight: India, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam. But it exempted South Korea.

The International Trade Administration’s final determination is expected in July. It should include South Korea, which exports 98 percent of the pipe it produces to the United States. Fearing the effect of sanctions, South Korea has stepped up exports. Last year, it shipped to the United States an average of 27,000 tons a month. In May, it sent eight times that amount -- 214,000 tons.

That subsidized steel takes bread off of American tables. Thousands of American steelworkers have been laid off. And untold additional Americans whose work depends on the steel industry have lost hours or jobs.

The cost is wide ranging. As steel production declines, so does coal, limestone and iron ore mining. Coke and iron ore pelletizing plant operations suffer. Truckers, railroad workers and barge hands who deliver supplies to mills all lose work. Scrap dealers who provide steel for recycling, as well as pump, industrial fan and valve manufacturers who supply mill replacement parts lose business. Profits shrink at restaurants, grocery stores and shops near mills. School districts, municipalities and states all lose tax revenue.

Considering all of that, it’s easy to understand why foreign countries would try to keep their steel furnaces operating, even if that meant violating international rules.

With all those mills running, there’s too much steel available. The global excess steel capacity now is more than twice what it was a decade ago. The European and U.S. steel industries responded to the excess by reducing production over the past 30 years. But Asian countries, including India and South Korea, ramped up. China, for example, forged 20 times more steel last year than it did in 1980.

When that steel is dumped on the American market, those foreign firms receive American dough in payment, further increasing the already dangerously high U.S. trade deficit. That’s another cost of the failure to enforce trade laws. It means trade law violators are taking bread out of the mouths of Americans twice. 

Ketchup king H.J. Heinz Co. announced last week that it’s working with Ford to convert tomato waste into auto parts. Now that’s an innovative Fusion!

In addition, it is further proof that Americans can do anything. They sent a man to the moon and a rover to Mars. They discovered a way to inoculate against the scourge of polio. They invented the slinky and the Internet, jazz and baseball. They overcame a civil war and the Great Depression.

Americans have proved over two and a half centuries that they can do anything when imbued with the exhilaration of self-determination. Americans fought a revolution to secure this self-empowerment. They would control their own destinies, not some arbitrary king. That, however, is all threatened because right wingers on the Supreme Court gave a minority – the wealthy – legal sanction to buy the government. Now, democracy-loving Americans are demanding a constitutional amendment to return governing to the majority.  

In a series of decisions, conservatives on the Supreme Court took power from the people and gave it to corporations and the rich. This began, oddly, in the U.S. Bicentennial year with the Buckley v. Valeo decision that asserted money was speech. Then in 2010, the court decided in the Citizens United case that corporations were people and could spend as much money on political campaigns as they wanted.

Finally, earlier this year, in the McCutcheon case, the court lifted campaign donation limits so that now the uber-wealthy may spend virtually as much as they want to influence the election of not just their own representatives in city halls and state legislatures and Congress, but also the politicians who are supposed to represent other people.

All of this has so emboldened billionaires that one of them, Tom Perkins, said earlier this year that citizens should get one vote for each tax dollar they pay. No more one person one vote. Perkins thinks the rich have the right to buy government.

His plan would kill American democracy. A Perkins Plutocracy is not what Americans sacrificed their lives and limbs for during the Revolutionary War. But Perkins doesn’t care about all that. He believes his billions entitle him to sovereignty.

Though billionaires’ tax dollars can’t buy them thrones yet, they’re using the Supreme Court decisions to secure control. For example, the billionaire Koch Brothers have promised to spend at least $125 million to purchase right wing supplicants of their choice nationwide.  And that’s just the 2014 Koch budget for purchasing government.

While the conservatives on the Supreme Court contended that gifts to politicians of $125 million are fine and dandy, the majority of Americans disagree. And for good cause. They have watched as their so-called representatives pass legislation that makes it crystal clear they really represent someone else – wealthy donors and corporations.

The majority of Americans want the minimum wage raised, unemployment insurance extended, Social Security protected, and infrastructure like highways improved, but that’s not what Congress is doing. Instead, it is slashing the budget in ways that the majority hates, including cutting food stamps and preserving tax breaks for corporations.

Princeton University professor Martin Gilens writes about this phenomenon in his new book, “Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America.” After studying thousands of proposed policy changes, he determined that the rich get the legislation they want, whether the majority agrees or not. But the reverse is not true. The majority does not get what it wants if the wealthy object. 

That’s not how a real democracy works. In a real democracy, all citizens, regardless of wealth or title, celebrity or status, beauty or brawn, have equal access to government officials and equal influence on government policy. Democracy is majority rule; not minority reign.

To restore democracy, America needs a constitutional amendment. One has been proposed to overturn Valeo and Citizens United and McCutcheon, to limit campaign spending by corporations and the wealthy and to return power to the people. A vote on the amendment by the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled for early next month. 

Amending the Constitution sounds audacious. Particularly when a proposed amendment to guarantee women equal rights failed. But it can be done. It has been done. Recently too.

The 27th Amendment passed in 1992. Before that, the 26th Amendment was proposed in March of 1971, and four months later, 18 year olds received the right to vote. That set the record for quick approval.

Working to get this done are groups like Move to Amend, People for the American Way, Common Cause and Public Citizen. They are joined by U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

They’ve got 43 co-signers in the Senate, more than 2 million names on petitions, and the endorsement of 16 states, 500 communities and retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

And more. They’ve even got the backing of some rich people. On May 1, Lawrence Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Center on Ethics at Harvard, launched the Mayday PAC, which is a super PAC to end all super PACs.

Non-rich democracy lovers gave $1 million to the Mayday PAC by the middle of May. Wealthy democracy lovers matched that. Among those rich donors were conservatives, like PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and liberals, like LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman.

Now Lessig is raising more, seeking $5 million in contributions of $10,000 or less from Americans who cherish a republic of one person, one vote. Again, the plan is for this to be matched by wealthy donors who believe in a government of the people, by the people, for the people that won’t be conquered by cash.

That Lessig raised $1 million in small donations for the Mayday PAC in the first two weeks shows Americans strongly support this idea.

Americans can do anything. They certainly can amend their constitution and preserve their democracy. 

A dozen North Carolinians had the brazen idea that, as American citizens, they could exercise their right to express their concerns to one of their elected representatives, Thom Tillis, who is the general assembly’s Speaker of the House.

They waited patiently for 10 hours in Tillis’ office in the state Capitol late last month. Then police charged them with trespassing, handcuffed them, and hauled them out of the people’s house.

These Moral Monday protesters didn’t understand the situation as Tillis did or, for that matter, from the perspective of his fellow hardline Republicans from Wisconsin to Georgia. The way GOP hardliners see it, Tillis is the Speaker. He speaks, and everybody else shuts up and listens. These lawmakers don’t represent constituents in a constitutional democracy. They are overlords. And as rulers over the people, they’ve awarded themselves the power to muzzle and handcuff anyone who disagrees with them.

While styling themselves as defenders of the constitution and protectors of individual rights, hardline GOPers, in practice, protect their own power and position by violating the Constitution and denying individuals their rights. Just take North Carolina for example.

There, Moral Monday activists gathered at the Capitol weekly for months last year, protesting the general assembly’s voter suppression laws, cuts to unemployment benefits, denial of expanded Medicaid benefits to the working poor under the Affordable Care Act, repeal of the Racial Justice Act, and tax cuts for the rich. These demonstrations resumed this year, with 80,000 rallying at the first one in Raleigh in February. And they’ve spread across the south, to Georgia and South Carolina. In Alabama, the weekly events are called Truthful Tuesdays.

Last year, police arrested 945 of these protesters when they entered the North Carolina Capitol to make their voices heard after congregating outside to hear speeches, chant and sing spirituals. They got lots of publicity. And their popularity soared while that of the GOP-controlled general assembly plummeted.

This, of course, annoyed hardline Republicans responsible for the policies the activists protested. So this year, they did something about it. No, they didn’t “repent, repeal and restore,” as the activists requested. Instead, the hardliners attempted to represss, rescind and revoke the citizens’ constitutional rights. 

The Republican majority in the North Carolina legislature adopted rules making it a crime – a misdemeanor – for citizens to exercise their First Amendment rights to assembly, speech and protest in the Capitol, legislative office buildings and the grounds.  

The rules forbid citizens who enter the Capitol buildings from “disturbing” lawmakers or their staff members. This includes singing, clapping, shouting and playing musical instruments. No Christmas carols in the North Carolina Capitol! Skulking lobbyists, however, are welcome.

That’s not all, though. The rule says police may arrest and criminally charge a citizen who poses an “imminent disturbance.” They didn’t define imminent disturbance, though. So, depending on the law enforcement officer, an imminent disturbance could be giving a lawmaker a dirty look. It could be carrying a hymnal. It could be walking with two hands capable of clapping.

The rules also outlaw signs on sticks and placards that would “disturb” a lawmaker or legislative staffer. So, basically, picketing on public grounds at the state Capitol is barred. Under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, North Carolina GOP State Senator Thom Goolsby was free to denigrate the protest as “Moron Monday” in an op-ed published in the Chatham Journal. But if Goolsby were “disturbed” by a citizen scrawling “Goolsby is a moron” on cardboard and carrying it in the Capitol, the legislative rules give the GOP lawmaker the power to order guards to confiscate it and charge the citizen with a crime.

In addition, the rules require protesters to get permits to rally on Capitol grounds from the very people who don’t want them to rally on Capitol grounds. The GOP hardliners have invested in themselves the power to determine exactly who has and does not have a First Amendment right to assemble on public property in North Carolina.

The GOP decrees violate virtually every protection in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – the right to petition the government for redress of grievances, the right to peaceably assemble and the right of free speech. 

This is Republican rule, not representative governance.  This is the arrogance of King George, not the behavior of a public servant. It’s unconstitutional and un-American.

In May, immediately after Republicans in the legislature imposed the new rules, 1,500 Moral Monday activists met and broke bread in the Bicentennial Mall in front of the North Carolina Legislative Building. Then they covered their mouths with duct tape and marched silently through the Capitol, distributing bread to several lawmakers.

The Raleigh News & Observer described it this way in an editorial afterward: “These protesters have done a public service, pure and simple. They have spoken eloquently and loudly, even when they do not speak at all.”

Americans cherish the idea that they live in a country that pulls up the downtrodden, protects the weak, and provides equal opportunity for all to succeed. They believe their government should work to fulfill these ideals. When it fails, Americans know their Constitutional protections, like the rights to speak, protest and assemble, will help them get their representational democracy back on track.

The Moral Monday protesters are dissidents, defying overlords who are trying to shut them up and shut them down by denying them their most basic Constitutional rights. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce threw a little hissy fit last week, stomping its Gucci-shod feet over a new rule requiring corporations to report the difference in pay between their median workers and their CEOs.

As usual, the navel-gazing Chamber got it all wrong. The big business lobby whined and wailed that the regulation likely to take effect later this year was mean-spirited, that its goal was to shame overpaid CEOs.

Those poor, picked-on CEOs! Well, maybe not poor since the average Fortune 500 CEO pocketed a record $10.5 million last year.

The reporting requirement isn’t about CEOs at all. Their morbidly obese pay packages already are disclosed. Instead, the rule is about workers. And investors. Congress figured that investors have the right to know when CEOs are shoving such big hunks of the corporate profit pie into their maws that workers are starved and investors cheated. The point of the law is to change the way that pie is sliced so that workers and investors get their just desserts.

Last year, the average Fortune 500 CEO got an 8.8 percent pay bump. The average worker, not so much: 1.3 percent. This follows a 30-year trend. During that time, corporations were very, very good to CEOs. The Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, has calculated that from 1978 to 2011 CEO pay rose 725 percent.

During those same years, worker pay increased only 5.7 percent. As corporate profits rose since 1970, the share of those earnings that workers received in wages fell. The money was there. Corporations showered CEOs with it but denied it to the workers whose labor produced it.

The New York Post noted this in a story about Domino’s Pizza shareholders protesting the corporation’s executive pay packages. The corporate board delivered $43 million to CEO J. Patrick Doyle over the past three years. That prompted the Post to lead its story with this:  “Hey, J. Patrick Doyle, save some dough for the pizzas.”

Domino’s workers don’t get the same treatment as Doyle. Twenty-three Domino’s outlets in New York admitted to wage theft – cheating their already low-paid workers out of earnings. Hey, J. Patrick Doyle, save some dough for the workers!

One reason this occurs is the my-dog’s-bigger-than-your-dog pathology of corporate boards. They want to brag that they’ve got the best CEO, and their measure of the man is the size of his pay package.

It’s certainly not based on performance since boards continue paying CEOs big bucks, even granting them bonuses, when stock prices fall. For example, the board of Alpha Natural Resources, one of the nation’s largest coal companies, gave its CEO a $2 million bonus after stock prices slumped and the government fined the company $27.5 million for polluting.

The my-dog’s-bigger pay program works like this: Corporate boards look at rival executive compensation, then pay their own CEO more to prove he’s the best. This, according to University of Delaware researchers Charles Elson and Craig Ferrere, spirals CEO pay continuously upward.  

Unfortunately for workers, corporate boards don’t give them the same consideration. Governing boards don’t measure their corporations against competitors by saying, “My workforce is better than yours because it’s better paid.”

The requirement that corporations determine the pay ratio between CEOs and median workers could change that because a wide ratio could prove costly. In the 1950s through 1970s, the ratio was about 20-to-1. For every dollar the average worker made, the CEO got $20. Now, the AFL-CIO says that figure has skyrocketed to 331-to-1.

In some cases, however, the numbers are even more shocking. The CEOs of Tesla and Oracle, for example, got $78 million pay packages, so the ratios at their companies are more like 1,500-to-1.  Exact figures can’t be calculated because the pay of median workers at specific corporations is not yet available.

When corporations disclose that information, some investors might find the discrepancies grotesque. They may figure that governing boards and CEOs who are willing to put such a disproportionate amount of corporate earnings in one person’s pocket might also be willing to stiff investors on dividends. Investors might also figure that workers in such a company are not as productive as they might be if they didn’t feel bilked every day.

Some state and local governments might find the discrepancies make the corporations worthy of similarly disparate treatment.  For example, California is considering legislation that would increase the state corporate tax rate for companies with high pay ratios and would decrease the rate for those with low ratios. For lawmakers, the justification for this is that taxpayers often must subsidize corporations with high pay ratios by providing food stamps, Medicaid and welfare to those firms’ underpaid workers.

In Rhode Island, state lawmakers are considering rewarding corporations that have low pay ratios by giving them preference when the state awards contracts. This, explained the bill’s sponsor, would provide corporations with an incentive to do the right thing.

By contrast, when the Chamber of Commerce surveyed 118 corporations that had paid the business group to lobby against the reporting requirement, the Chamber could not find a single benefit to compliance. While the non-biased Securities and Exchange Commission estimated the cost to corporations of calculating the ratio at $18,000, the Chamber said some in its hand-selected group of corporate complainers actually claimed they’d have to pay more than $1 million.

If corporate boards took the cost of compliance out of CEO pay packages, the price might drop precipitously. And to its credit, the Chamber did admit that 13 surveyed corporations said figuring the ratio would set them back less than $10,000.

Disclosing the pay ratios will interrupt the destructive pattern of corporate boards ignoring the contributions of workers while relentlessly pushing up CEO pay so they can boast “my CEO’s package is bigger than yours.”

The pay ratio information may actually create a better bragging point: My workers are better than yours. 

Steelworkers and CEOs, Democrats and Republicans are rallying together this month across the country to alert their fellow Americans to a threat to independence.

These groups, often at each other’s throats, have allied to confront a surge in dumped foreign steel, an illegal practice that jeopardizes the viability of American mills. Steelworkers and steel company CEOs, red and blue politicians celebrate the energy independence achieved through shale gas drilling but condemn the dependence on foreign steel that failure to enforce trade laws will cause.

The alliance is asking the Commerce Department to sanction foreign steel producers who violate international trade law by dumping steel in the American market at prices below the cost to produce it. In the past year and a half, U.S. steelmakers and my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), have filed 40 trade cases seeking penalties against foreign producers for dumping.

That’s so many that now steel is the Commerce Department’s primary focus, according to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who said during an event held at a mill near Pittsburgh last week, “Roughly 75 percent of the department’s ongoing trade investigations involve steel products.”

As dumped foreign steel grabs increasing portions of the U.S. market, it threatens the American steel industry. U. S. Steel invested $100 million in its Lorain Tubular Operations in Ohio since 2010, but it was forced to lay off 73 workers there earlier this year. Plant Manager John Wilkinson said dumped steel pipe, sold at 30 percent below market value, is to blame. 

Suddenly, the price of imported steel plummeted, dropping 23.1 percent between 2011 and early 2014, according to a report issued last week by the non-partisan think tank Economic Policy Institute (EPI). It’s titled: “Surging Steel Imports Put Up to Half a Million U.S. Jobs at Risk.

For the American steel industry, that contributed to losses. It posted net losses in four of the past five years, rising from $388 million in 2012 to $1.2 billion in 2013, EPI reported. Since Jan. 1 this year, nearly 1,000 steelworkers have lost their jobs because of surging imports.

The death of the American steel industry is fine with the likes of the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and the Cato Institute. They contend cheap prices are paramount. They say Americans should thank foreign states that violate international trade laws by subsidizing their steel industries because it means Americans pay a few dollars less for cars and refrigerators.  They don’t care if America would have to depend on China for the steel to make U.S. tanks and missiles. 

This is the view of rabid capitalists married to money and devoid of loyalty.  Made in America means nothing to them.

Not even conservative Republicans agree with them. Fourteen Senate Republicans last week joined 42 Democrats and an Independent in signing a letter to Commerce Secretary Pritzker about steel dumping. The Senators expressed concern that the Commerce Department failed to include South Korea in its preliminary ruling in February that eight countries – India, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam ­– dumped steel pipes used in gas drilling.

A Republican and a Democrat coordinated the letter. They are Ohio’s senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman. Supporting American manufacturing against illegal foreign competition is not a partisan issue. It’s an issue of patriotism.

In a conference call organized by the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) to announce the EPI report, Sen. Brown said that claiming dumped foreign steel is good because it’s cheap is contending that law breaking is acceptable when it lowers prices:  “It is a little bit like arguing that it is okay to buy stolen TVs because they are cheaper. They (foreign steel producers) are breaking international law.”

It’s an issue on which Steelworkers and steel executives work closely, testifying together on Capitol Hill and rallying together in steel towns.  At an event regarding training last week at U.S. Steel’s Irvin Plant southeast of Pittsburgh, I joined U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi in calling for trade regulation enforcement.

 “We’re not asking for anything special,” Longhi said. “We’re asking for a fair playing field. If that is the case, we can compete with anybody.”

A trade case involving the steel used in shale gas drilling, called Oil Country Tubular Goods (OCTG), is an example of how enforcement can level the playing field.

In 2008, China dumped more than 2 million tons of OCTG into the U.S. market. In China, as in many countries that violate trade rules, some steel companies are owned and some supported by the government.

Under international trade rules, subsidized products may be sold within the home country. But sale overseas is forbidden because it would distort prices.  

The Commerce Department determined in 2009 that China was violating those rules by selling subsidized OCTG in the United States. In cases like these, tariffs on the imported products often will eliminate the benefit of the subsidies. That evens the playing field. After that was done, Chinese export of OCTG to the United States virtually stopped. 

But, as Longhi testified to the Congressional Steel Caucus in March, by the time the tariffs were imposed in 2009, “many facilities were idled, thousands of steelworkers lost their jobs, and our communities and our families sustained significant and long-lasting injury.”

By last July, OCTG was a problem again. Steelmakers asked Commerce to sanction nine countries. Eight were, but the primary offender, South Korea, escaped unscathed in the preliminary ruling.

It is particularly compelling for Sen. Brown, the Democrat who represents Ohio, home of U.S. Steel’s Lorain works where OCTG is manufactured, that South Korea has no internal market for the OCTG it makes. It exports all of the pipe.

What that means, said Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, is “they see us as a big fat market they can exploit when they are in trouble.” He said the unfair trade places 13,000 jobs at risk in Alabama.

“I think we need to stand up and defend ourselves,” Sessions said in the AAM conference call. “We comply with international trade rules, and we need to expect our trading partners to comply also.”

Longhi told the Congressional Steel Caucus that South Korea escaped the preliminary sanctions with “obfuscation and chicanery.”

The unlikely alliance forged to preserve America’s steelmaking independence demands that the U.S. government cut through chicanery and enforce trade law. 

The GOP wants America to divorce Obamacare so badly that Republicans are willing to stoop to the tactics of prototypical evil mothers-in-law – nitpicking, backbiting, and straight up lying. 

Just last week, Republicans got caught in a lie about Obamacare very publicly – at their own hearing on Obamacare. As failed GOP presidential wannabe Rick Perry would say, “Oops.”

The “oops” moment was bookended by publication last week of two reports showing the popularity and effectiveness of Obamacare. To GOP dismay, their “oops” hearing ended up revealing a positive statistic about Obamacare – Americans are so eager to get the coverage that a high percentage paid their premiums. Republicans are right that Americans don’t like Obamacare – the name Obamacare, that is. When they judge it for the content of its insurance, they love it.

Like a spiteful mother-in-law who thinks she’s got proof that her daughter’s new husband is cheating, the GOP was gleeful April 30 when it announced it had determined that a third of Americans who signed up for insurance through the Obamacare exchanges hadn’t paid their first premiums. Republicans reveled in the opportunity to say, “I told you so.” They disregarded the downside, which would be millions of Americans without health insurance.

The Republican-controlled House Committee on Energy and Commerce issued a press release contending that only 67 percent of those who enrolled in the federal marketplace for insurance had paid their first month’s premium by April 15. And, the committee triumphantly added, it would conduct a hearing on the matter on May 7 because that would give the committee a second opportunity to gloat over the figures.

On May 7, executives from the country’s largest insurers – Aetna, WellPoint and Health Care Service Corp. – testified that the GOP had jumped to deceitful conclusions about Obamacare premium payment rates. The executive from Health Care Service, which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, said that by the time of the hearing 83 percent of those who signed up with his company had paid the first premium. The guy from WellPoint said his number was higher – 90 percent.

Here’s what happened: The GOP-controlled committee asked insurers to report the percentage of enrollees who had paid premiums by April 15.

The trouble is that April 15 was not the deadline for all enrollees to make their first payment. Nearly 1 million had additional time. At least two insurance executives testified that they warned the committee when they submitted the figures that they were incomplete.

The Republicans chose to ignore that.  Why wait for complete numbers and risk them showing that Obamacare premium payments were better than expected? Which, as it turned out, is what happened.

The high payment rate reinforces Democratic assertions that Americans love the contents of Obamacare, including its provisions outlawing the insurance company practices of dropping clients when they got sick and refusing coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.

Also reinforcing the assertion that Americans love the contents of Obamacare is the high participation rate. More than 8 million people enrolled, a million more than expected. This year’s fines for not getting health insurance, as little as $95, were too paltry to compel participation. The 8 million wanted the coverage, and the peace of mind that comes with it.

Another 7 million people got coverage through expansion of Medicaid to more low-income people and extension of coverage to young adults under their parents’ plans. Americans tell pollster after pollster how much they adore these provisions.

A Gallup poll released last week shows that the percentage of Americans without insurance dropped in April to the lowest level ever since Gallup began the survey in 2008.  Gallup found that Americans without insurance fell to 13.4 percent, down from a high of 18 percent.

That means fewer people are threatened with bankruptcy and ruin from medical bills. That means fewer will spread treatable communicable diseases. That means fewer will suffer physical and mental pain or face the threat of death from lack of health insurance.

And insurance does prevent death.  In another study released last week, researchers found that the mortality rate in Massachusetts declined by 3 percent in the four years after the launch of Romneycare – the health insurance law on which Obamacare was based. The mortality rate, which is deaths per 100,000 people, decreased most significantly in Massachusetts counties that had the highest rates of poverty and people without insurance before the law took effect.

The researchers compared outcomes for 4 million people aged 20 to 64 in Massachusetts to 44 million people in counties with comparable demographics, insurance and poverty levels across the country. There was no change in mortality rate in the control populations.

A 3 percent decline in mortality among the same age group nationwide would mean 17,000 fewer deaths each year. Knowing that Obamacare spared the life of a spouse or parent or child – now that’s something Americans love.

Still, Republicans are bent on separating Americans from their Obamacare.  U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, the GOP majority leader in the House, has promised a vote later this year on an alternative to Obamacare. Maybe they’ll call it Cantorcare.  So far though, they’ve got nothing to call anything.

Republicans have tried to break up Obamacare and America by voting to repeal the law more than 50 times. All that balloting failed to result in an actual reversal, and in all this time, Republicans still have produced no alternative health insurance plan.

Americans have said repeatedly they don’t want Obamacare repealed. If anything, they want it improved. But Republicans, divorced from reality, refuse to believe that. 

Those of the ilk of rancher Cliven Bundy and billionaire Donald Sterling believe there’s a place for African-Americans. And, Sterling said in a taped conversation, that place certainly is not in photographs with his girlfriend posted on Instagram.

Bundy, who is stiffing the federal government for $1 million in grazing fees, would contend the best place for African-Americans is in cotton picking trade schools, where they’d be taught a skill that would enable them to secure positions as slaves.

For Sterling, Bundy and their amoral company, the good old days were pre-emancipation, when white men like them were men, and federal law said black men were, well, only three-fifths human. Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, told his girlfriend she should not bring black people to his team’s basketball games. Bundy told a reporter he thought black people were “better off” as slaves. Crucial to this bigot-think is reduction of some people to subhuman status. That’s how Republicans see poor people: subhuman, three-fifths people. And that is the primary reason that the GOP last week blocked a measure to raise the minimum wage.

When Republicans talk about low-wage workers, they use the language of bigots. Fast food cashiers, home health aides and hotel maids, Republicans say, are stupid and unskilled and lazy. Also, the GOP contends, minimum wage workers are teenagers, not whole humans, merely children. Republicans say these subhumans deserve paltry wages.

Here, for example is House Speaker John Boehner, a GOP leader, belittling low-wage workers: “A lot of people who are being paid the minimum wage are being paid that because they come to the workforce with no skills.”

He is saying it’s OK to pay those people less money than needed to live because, in his mind, they are lesser humans – sub-beings with, according to him, no skills.

These are people who get to work every day, who perform duties prescribed by their employers, and whose production provides profits for the companies employing them. The firms hiring grocery stockers and waitresses and car wash attendants need these workers to execute specific tasks so that the corporations can make money and pay their CEOs millions of dollars. Only when these workers are denigrated as subhuman can CEOs and Republicans justify paying them sub-living wages.

If a Republican had a conversation with a minimum wage worker, he’d discover they’re smart, hard-working, adults. The average minimum wage worker is 35. In fact, 88 percent are older than 20. These are not children.

Forty-four percent have attended some college.  About 8 percent held bachelor’s degrees in 2012, and 37,000 had advanced degrees. 

Many tell stories of grueling, back-busting lives in which their dedicated work is essential for the support of spouses and children and elderly relatives. Twenty-eight percent of them support children. Some live in their parents’ homes, but not because they’re teens gleaning spending money. Sometimes the low wages leave them with only two choices: parents’ home or public housing. And sometimes it’s because they’re also caring for invalid parents.

But Republicans don’t know that. And don’t want to. The average net worth of the 41 GOP Senators who opposed the first minimum wage increase in half a decade is $6.26 million. They don’t deign to chat with the $15,000-a-year chauffeurs, maids, waiters, nannies and housekeepers who serve them hand and foot.

The GOP so opposes speaking with humans they disregard as “lower class,” that they bar them from testifying at government hearings on poverty.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the failed GOP vice presidential candidate, has refused to allow actual poor people to appear at a hearing he is conducting this week on poverty – just as he did at his previous hearing on poverty. He will, however, hear from this guy: Bishop Shirley Holloway, founder of the House of Help City of Hope, who has said, “You don’t dream when you’ve got food stamps.”

Maybe what Ryan would learn if he listened to an actual poor person is they don’t dream because they can’t get to sleep on empty stomachs after Ryan’s food stamp cutbacks.

If Ryan really wanted to decrease poverty, he’d increase the minimum wage. The proposal rejected by Republicans in the Senate to raise the minimum from the current $7.25 an hour to $10.10 over a period of 30 months would have pulled 900,000 people out of poverty, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO also estimated that it would have raised the wages of 16.5 million people.

But Republicans are dead set against that. Dead being the operative word.  Boehner, a Roman Catholic for whom suicide is a mortal sin condemning the evil-doer to an eternity in hell, once said he’d kill himself before voting to increase the minimum wage.

Some Republicans go further than that – they want the minimum eliminated entirely. Paying a penny an hour – even a penny a day – would be fine with GOP darlings Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann. Paul echoed Cliven Bundy in talking about it, saying poor people would be better off if no wage were too low to pay a worker. 

This contrasts sharply with the feelings of most Americans. Seventy-two percent believe the minimum should be increased. It contrasts sharply with opinion of President Barack Obama who has said no full-time worker should live in poverty. And it violates the teachings of Ryan’s and Boehner’s moral leader, Pope Francis, who tweeted last week: “Inequality is the root of social evil.”

But it’s in keeping with Republicans’ view that some workers are only three-fifths human and don’t deserve to be treated with dignity. 

On Feb. 12, Edward Lewis Neal told his wife goodbye and drove to the Cooper Tire plant in Texarkana, Ark., where his co-workers called him Preacher because of his ministry at the Springdale Church of God and Christ.

When an ambulance took Preacher from Cooper Tire that day, he left behind most of the flesh of his left hand and, as a result, the ability to clasp his God-given hands in prayer.  

The rubber milling machine that took Preacher’s hand lacked a body bar safety device. Four days later, on Feb. 16 at the Bridgestone-Firestone plant in Des Moines, Iowa, 30-year-old maintenance worker Dan Keeney lost his left arm to an auger that was not covered. Two days after that, on Feb. 18 back at Cooper Tire in Texarkana, a rubber milling machine with a body bar safety device that had been disabled for years crushed both hands of 42-year-old D.E. Morris Charles Hunter.

Those manufacturing workers are maimed. But they survived. Too many do not. Today, my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), will toll a bell for each of the 33 Steelworkers killed on the job since last Workers’ Memorial Day 12 months ago, including John Meyer, who was 51 when he was fatally injured in July at the Bridgestone-Firestone tire plant in LaVergne, Tenn.

Before Cooper hired Preacher in 1993, he had tried for a decade to get a job at the tire plant. What he sought was a steady job with good pay and benefits negotiated by the USW. When Preacher finally got in, he pledged to work hard and diligently in exchange for that compensation. He never agreed, however, to forfeit a hand for it.

Sometimes, corporations place production and profit above human safety. As a result, workers lose lives and limbs. Cooper recently announced it will spend $970,000 to improve safety. That’s good. But it comes too late for the two Cooper workers who are now amputees. A corporation that values workers’ lives engages in proactive safety, and thus preserves the hands applauding it.

Preacher realized the machine he operated for the past couple of years at Cooper was dangerous. It is a mill that grinds, heats and remolds rubber. He fed rubber into its two drums rolling against each other, one with a smooth surface, the other grooved.

He knew he had to be vigilant because the rubber mill had grabbed gloves off of his hands. That, he said, was scary.

“It doesn’t take much, even if you are being as careful as you can; it doesn’t take much for you to get caught in the rubber,” Preacher recounted. “Even though you’d be paying attention, sometimes it would just happen. It might catch the glove and pull the glove off. It happened before you knew it. If it catches that glove far enough, it catches you.”

That’s what happened to him on Feb. 12. When he put rubber on the mill and tried to get it to attach, he said, “it caught me before I knew it.”

With his right hand, he pulled an emergency cable, which stopped the machine. By then, though, the mill had splayed his left hand.

There’s a safety device called a body bar that’s designed to prevent a mill operator from getting close enough to the machine to lose a hand. It’s placed in front of the machine so that if the worker leans in too far, his body presses the bar, automatically switching off the mill before it can snatch a hand or arm or life.

Sometimes body bars are annoying because they restrict operator movement and stop mills unnecessarily. There was no body bar at the mill where Preacher worked.

There was one at the rubber mill that crushed the hands of D.E. Morris Charles Hunter six days later. But it had been cut and disengaged years ago. If corporate managers fail to use safety devices because they’re inconvenient, “then they have no heart, no soul. They are like the machines,” said Mr. Hunter, who continues to suffer pain and nightmares.

The rubber mill caught Mr. Hunter’s right hand, and as he tried to free it with his left, both hands were trapped. He had no way to pull an emergency cord to stop the machine. “I believe my Lord and Savior saved me,” said Mr. Hunter, “I believe He got me out of that machine.”

A functioning body bar might have prevented the tragedy. Instead, Mr. Hunter lost both hands.   

David E. Boone Sr., president of the USW local union at Cooper, said the two horrific incidents stunned the tire company’s 1,400 workers. Boone, also a minister, visited Preacher and the second injured worker at the hospital.

Joyce Neal said when she got the call that Preacher had been hurt at the plant, “I was sure my husband was gone.” But, she said, “The Lord kept me calm to drive up there to the hospital.”

“When I got there and he was still alive, I was relieved. I still cried. But I was relieved,” she said.

She said some in his congregation asked for a reason something so terrible could occur. She recalled her husband telling them:  “When the Lord lets me know why it happened, I will let you all know.”

Preacher suffers some phantom pain. And occasionally he forgets the hand’s gone and reaches for something. But he still gets up every morning and sees his wife off to work. And he got a prosthesis last week.

“I would still like to have my hand,” he said, “But I can’t bring it back. With the help of the Lord, I will make the adjustment and move on. There are some things that I used to do that I can’t do anymore, like lace up tennis shoes. I used to be able to get dressed in 15 to 20 minutes. Now it takes me an hour almost.” But, he said, he is looking forward to classes this week on using his prosthesis and hoping to learn an easier way to button than struggling with one hand.

“It could have been worse,” he said. “I am still here.”  Though grievously injured, Preacher knows he was luckier than Benjamin Butler, who at 60, just a year older than Preacher, was killed at the Cooper plant in 2007.

Preacher is glad Cooper is spending money to improve safety now. But, he said, if corporations faithfully treated safety as a solemn obligation, they could prevent tragedies. That is what the Steelworkers want: Consistent, continuous, preemptive and preventative safety. At all workplaces.

Boone, who began work at Cooper when he was 18 and plans to retire in a year and seven months, hopes to make it out alive and intact. That is the right of every worker, he said, and every corporation bears responsibility to endeavor to ensure it. “I believe,” Boone said, “when a person comes to work with two hands, they should leave with two hands.” 

***
Photo by Evan Lewis of Blind Eye Photo

Republicans in America suffer a crippling anxiety. It’s the terrible fear of corporations paying poor workers too much.

The GOP is so afraid that the nation’s lowest wage earners will get a raise that Republican politicians across the country are working overtime to outlaw wages above $7.25 an hour for these workers.

They’re passing legislation forbidding towns and counties from raising the minimum wage in their jurisdictions. Republicans insist: no pay bump for those raking in $15,080 a year! On the other side, however, there’s no amount of pay, perks, private jets, premium health plans and golden parachutes that Republican politicians believe could possibly be too much for a CEO.

That Oracle CEO Larry Ellison took home $78,440,657 last year is completely reasonable in the minds of Republicans. That it would take a minimum wage earner 5,201 years to earn what Larry took out of his company for one 365-day period is, according to Republican-think, a morally correct calculation.

That is why Republicans are working so hard to prevent Walmart and McDonald’s workers from earning more money while, at the same time, doing nothing but congratulating Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus for grabbing $79.9 million for six weeks of work.

Republican Mary Fallin, governor of Oklahoma, is among them. She signed a law last week forbidding towns in her state from increasing the minimum wage. Fallin, whose state lays claim to the third highest proportion of minimum wage earners in the country, a percentage that rose from 2011 to 2012, justified denying these workers a few extra pennies an hour by saying that would raise prices.

She and her GOP cohorts haven’t fussed at all, however, about the cable bill increases likely to result from Marcus’ proposed merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast, the corporate marriage which would result in that $79.9 million dowry payment to him.

Republican state lawmaker Chris Kapenga of Wisconsin responded like Fallin to a proposal by the Milwaukee County Board to raise the minimum wage for county workers and contractors. Kapenga’s legislation would prohibit local governments from doing that – even though two other Wisconsin counties already had. Kapenga’s proposal, which would slice the paychecks of hundreds of Wisconsin workers, has not passed. The Democratic-sponsored proposal to raise the rate in Milwaukee to $11.32, the amount necessary for a full-time worker to stave off poverty for a family of four, did pass. 

Republicans are on the wrong side on this. Seventy-one percent of Americans would vote to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour if given the chance, Gallup found last year. And it’s happening. As Republicans in the House block President Obama’s proposal to increase the minimum to $10.10 an hour, states and cities are doing it themselves.

A dozen states and four cities increased their minimum wage rates beginning Jan. 1. Since then, five states and the District of Columbia approved raises. When all of these take effect, half of the states will mandate wages higher than the federal minimum. And, in November, eight more states are expected to offer voters referendums on raising their rates. 

Still, Republicans inveigh against advances for the poorest. They say increasing the minimum wage would hurt businesses. They don’t care how much an unreasonably low minimum wage hurts workers. And at the same time, they believe James A. Skinner is worth every penny of the $28 million McDonald’s paid him in 2012.

They don’t believe that there are a dozen Wharton School MBAs who could take his place tomorrow and, frankly, sell hamburgers just as well for say, $280,000 rather than $28 million. They don’t see how his excessive pay might affect dividends to shareholders or the cost of fries. They’re blind to the fact that the majority of McDonald’s fans are willing to pay a few more cents for a Happy Meal if it means a higher wage for the struggling young mother serving the fast food.

Republicans don’t believe in paying a living wage to workers they disrespect, like the home health aides providing loving 24-hour care to the frail grandmas of GOP politicians across this country, like the housekeepers who clean GOP presidential hopefuls’ hotel rooms as they campaign across the nation, like the McDonald’s workers denied paid sick days who make extraordinary efforts not to cough on the fries that super-sized Republicans stuff in their faces.  

Republicans do believe, though, that the $31 million CVS hands CEO Larry J. Merlo has no effect on the pharmacy’s prices, that the $26 million Ralph Lauren hands its namesake CEO has no effect on the heart-stopping prices he charges for his foreign sweatshop-sewn clothes, and that the $31 million Estee Lauder grants CEO Fabrizio Freda has no effect on the eye-popping prices Lauder charges for its powder and perfume.

The GOP believes CEOs deserve to pocket in one year what it would take the average worker 331 years of labor to earn – a ratio calculated by the AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch team this year. CEOs are just so important, so special, so irreplaceable, according to the GOP.

They’re so much better than the heart surgeon who spends all day every day meticulously saving people’s lives. They’re 331 times as important as the firemen who rush into a burning home to save a woman’s life.  They’re 331 time more valuable than the policemen and paramedics who ran toward the sound of an explosion a year ago in Boston to rescue bomb victims. To Republicans, those CEOs are 331 times more precious than the teacher who nurtures the shy child, encourages the faltering student or refuses to abandon the recalcitrant pupil.

Republicans’ fear of paying too much is terrible. Not because of GOP angst. No, because it causes underpaid workers to suffer. Because it means Republicans are so enthralled with the 1 percent who write supersized campaign checks that they devalue the contributions of everyday workers to the welfare of America.  Because it means Republicans will continue to blockade efforts to resolve the growing income inequality that is rupturing the economy and the social cohesion of this nation.