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Why Michael Bloomberg Vetoed the Living Wage
The Guardian
Paul Harris

June 9, 2012
View the Original Article

New York's mayor enjoys a reputation as a liberal centrist, but his record shows the iron fist of a free-market fundamentalist

Sometimes, the devil really is in the detail. Or, in this shocking case, it lies among the smaller bits of day-to-day policy-making that come with running a vast metropolis like New York City.

A week ago, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg used his veto power on a piece of legislation coming across his bill known as the "living wage" bill. The planned law, supported by the city council, would have ensured that workers on large projects backed with more than one million dollars in public subsidies would earn a minimum $11.50 an hour. Or $10 plus benefits.

It is hardly the most radical of proposals. Indeed, in getting all the way to Bloomberg's desk over the loud squawking of business leaders, the bill was so watered down with exceptions that it would have actually only benefited an estimated 400-500 workers a year. Yet Bloomberg immediately vetoed it as a dangerous threat to future job creation and vowed to sue in the courts if the city council tried to over turn his action.

Let's just spell this out in stark terms. Bloomberg is the 20th richest man in the world. He owns 11 homes, including mansions in London, the ski resort of Vail, Colorado, and in Bermuda. Yet, he is prepared to veto a law that would have paid a maximum of $11.50 an hour to just 500 or so applicable ordinary, working-class New Yorkers, and only when the companies they labor for or using massive amounts of public funds. America's financial elite – of which Bloomberg is a fully paid-up member – has been fond of crying "class war" in recent years.

And they are right. There is a class war going on. Bloomberg and his ilk are waging it against Americans desperate for a decent wage. Here is how Bloomberg described the living wage plan on a local New York radio station:

"The last time we really had a big managed economy was the USSR, and that didn't work out so well."

Yes, you saw that right: the prospect of paying $11.50 an hour to a few hundred workers a year (again , only when their employers are getting public money) is just so Soviet. God forbid, America should go down that dangerous path.

It is astonishing that the prevailing image of Bloomberg is that of a moderate centrist. When online group Americans Elect cast around for a third-party figure earlier this year, to try to break America's sclerotic two-party system, Bloomberg's name was continually mentioned. Every four years, there is a cacophony of shouts from people wanting Bloomberg to launch an independent White House bid. Here, at last, they say is a man whose admitted social liberalism (that is, he does not hate gays) is offset by a sure understanding of the economy.

But, as the veto decision shows, Bloomberg is far from a moderate or a centrist on the economy. He is, in fact, the harshest of free-market conservative ideologues. As the Occupy movement exploded last year, no firmer defender of the wealthiest 1% of Americans emerged than Bloomberg. He rallied to the defence of the financiers and big banks that have crippled the American economy for the middle classes.

Nor was it words alone. Under Bloomberg, the NYPD ousted protesters from Zuccotti Park, the vital heart of Occupy and a blow from which the movement has never recovered. And it was done with police violence and the conscious trampling of the first amendment rights of the media.

Yet Bloomberg does not even apply his own meritocratic ideology fairly and evenly. While he wants ordinary workers to abide by the rules of the free market and accept whatever paltry wage companies are willing to pay them, he does not expect the same for the corporate bosses. Under Bloomberg, a recent city audit found that, in 2009 alone, almost half a billion dollars in public subsidies was given to 576 corporations in New York. This despite the fact that a staggering 334 of those firms went on to fail to meet their promises when it came to using that cash bonanza to create jobs. One analysis of the ten years of Bloomberg's rule estimates the city was "owed" some 45,000 jobs from businesses and banks that had greedily taken public cash and then failed to deliver jobs.

With such a record, Bloomberg is no centrist dream. He is a hypocritical rightwing nightmare.