Bennett, Martin


Martin J. Bennett teaches American history at Santa Rosa Junior College, serves as Co-Chair of the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County, and is a Research and Policy Analyst for UNITE HERE Local 2850.

Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Economic Justice

By Martin J. Bennett

Commemorations on the Martin Luther King holiday tend to portray a moderate civil rights leader who aimed to end segregation and racial discrimination by nonviolent direct action.

Often forgotten is his lifelong belief that a "radical restructuring of the architecture of American society" was needed, and that the fight for racial equality and the struggle for economic justice are intertwined.

As University of Washington historian Michael Honey demonstrates in his book All Labor Has Dignity, for King, race and class were inseparable and only a mass interracial movement of poor and working people could achieve inclusion and full citizenship for all.

The March on Washington: 1963 and 2013

By Martin Bennett and Fred Glass

Fifty years ago, on August 28, 1963, the nation witnessed the largest march in its history. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom lives on in popular memory as the moment when Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his iconic “I Had A Dream” speech and called for racial integration and reconciliation in America. Most Americans today point to the emergence of a substantial black middle class and the election of the first African American President as evidence of our progress towards that goal.

AB 10: Time is Ripe for California to Raise the Minimum Wage

By Martin J. Bennett

The New York Times recently characterized the economic recovery that officially began in 2009 as a "golden era for corporate profits." Indeed, corporate profits doubled between 2008 and 2011 and reached a record high.

However, these increased profits have fueled inequality and come at the expense of worker compensation. Profits are now a larger share of total national income, and wages and benefits are a smaller share than at any time since the 1960s.

Over the last four decades productivity gains have overwhelmingly accrued to business and not labor. The Economic Policy Institute calculates that between 1973-2011 productivity increased by 80 percent, but median hourly compensation by only 11 percent.

Prop 30: A Step Toward Fairer Taxation

By Martin J. Bennett

With the fall elections upon us, Californians are reeling under a weak recovery, enduring both historic levels of income inequality, and the most severe fiscal crisis in recent history. To address the crisis we must have some common sense remedies: raise taxes on the wealthy and build a movement for a fair and more equitable tax system.

Income inequality has exploded over the last two decades in both the nation and California. UC Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez has documented that the share of national income received by the upper 1 percent more than doubled from 9 percent in 1979 to an astonishing 23 percent in 2007. The richest 1 percent raked in a staggering 60 percent of the national income gains over these three decades, while the bottom 90 percent received just 9 percent.

The Jobs Crisis and A New New Deal for America

By Martin Bennett and Richard Walker

The nation is experiencing the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. Princeton economist and former vice-chair of the Federal Reserve, Alan Blinder, calls the current crisis a “national jobs emergency.”

The official unemployment rate in September was 9.1 percent – nearly twice the rate a decade ago – and leaving 14 million people out of work. In California, the rate is much worse, 12.1 percent, with over two million workers out of luck.

It's not just the financial meltdown of 2008 and the Great Recession. The American economy has been underperforming for years. Business Week calls 1999-2009 “The Lost Decade for Jobs,” as private sector employment grew by a paltry net 1.1 percent—the lowest increase for any 10-year period since the 1930s.  

Is the Wal-Mart Way the American Way?

By Martin J. Bennett

"We need to uphold the law, we need to apply the law and we need to allow this project to move forward. I believe that not to do so would be un-American." So stated Rohnert Park (Sonoma County) City Councilwoman Amy Breeze last summer when the council voted to approve a controversial Wal-Mart supercenter--despite a year long campaign against the project by a broad coalition of labor, environmental, and community organizations.

The Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County challenges Ms. Breeze's definition of Americanism. Though we respect her point of view, we think she is dead wrong. Wal-Mart, we believe, has betrayed fundamental American values. As the largest retailer and private employer in America, no other company has such a profound impact upon our economy and labor markets. It is time for Wal-Mart to change, or face a growing opposition to its plan to build at least one supercenter in every county of California.

Don't Blame California Public Employees!

By Martin J. Bennett

A recent article in the Economist magazine titled "Tough Times for Everyone - Except Public Sector Workers" states that taxpayers are now learning about "the banquet public sector workers have been having at the expense of everyone else" and that many public employees can "retire in their mid-50s on close to full pay."

These unsubstantiated claims--repeated endlessly in media--stand reality on its head. Such accusations are part of a systematic campaign by corporate America to mislead taxpayers and scapegoat public employees.

California public sector workers, such as teachers, public health nurses, firefighters, librarians, maintenance, park, transit, and social workers are not responsible for the economic crisis that makes drastic cuts to state and local governments necessary. These public employees earn modest, middle-class pay and benefits.

Opposition to Wal-Mart Supercenters Building Across Bay Area

By Martin J. Bennett

The San Francisco Bay Area has become the epicenter for contentious battles in California to halt proposed Wal-Mart supercenters that sell both general merchandise and groceries.

Both the City of Antioch in Contra Costa County and the City of Rohnert Park in Sonoma County will consider supercenter proposals this week. The outcome could derail Wal-Mart's strategy to build at least one supercenter in each county of the state.

In April, the Rohnert Park Planning Commission unanimously denied the Wal-Mart proposal to enlarge its existing discount store into a supercenter. Wal-Mart has appealed the decision to the city council.