The free market vs a living wage
The task of rebuilding the Gulf coast region devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will bring billions of dollars worth of business to the construction industry. George W. Bush, our compassionate conservative President, is making it even more profitable for the contractors by waiving the provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act. The law requires contractors on Federal-financed projects to pay employees "the locally prevailing wage." In many cases, this reflects union-negotiated rates.
The law allows the President to suspend the requirement in case of a "national emergency." But Bush has failed to recognize the unique "emergency" that the hurricanes have vividly uncovered in the Gulf Coast region for all to see: that deep-rooted poverty exists there that more prosperous Americans elsewhere have probably not acknowledged before.
So the waiver means that impoverished workers in New Orleans and neighboring towns who are lucky enough to land construction jobs will probably wind up earning only the Federal minimum hourly wage of $5.15 instead of the region's prevailing wage rate which is skimpy enough at $9 an hour. Conservative Congressmen who worship the so-called free market have blocked any increase in the Federal minimum wage rate, which has remained unchanged since 1996
One would expect that a Louisiana Senator would show some concern for his constituents' plight caused by the Davis-Bacon waiver. But the state's freshman Republican Senator, David Vitter, appearing recently on CNN's Lou Dobbs news hour, vigorously supported the waiver, arguing the need to preserve the alleged virtues of the free market.
Vitter is a New Orleans native who previously served six years in the House of Representative. A Harvard-educated lawyer who was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, Vitter makes a fetish of the free market. It is a commendable philosophical concept but it is not always relevant in situations like the crisis caused by the two catastropic hurricanes.
In arguing the need to uphold the academic free market concept, Vitter displayed such religious fervor that the usually unflappable Dobbs, certainly no kneejerk liberal, appeared stunned by the Senator's apparent lack of compassion for the poor working stiffs whose interests he is supposed to represent in Washington.
Vitter's TV performance reinforced my frustration at the apathy of working-class voters who fail to elect friends and continue to vote for politicians whose social philosophies and personal interests clash with the voters' economic best interests. With friends like Senator Vitter and his ultra-conservative ilk, blue-collar and other low-income workers don't need enemies.