Corporate CEOs gone wild: Raking in inflation profits and busting unions
Price gouging by the giant food corporations is forcing people like this consumer in Jackson, Miss. to leave supermarkets with half-empty shopping carts as the profiteering eats into their incomes. Awareness is spreading from coast to coast that corporate price gouging is responsible for inflation, and that only measures like an excess corporate profits tax, not election of Republicans, can deal with the scourge. | Rogelio V. Solis/AP

Democratic politicians who don’t call out powerful corporations and their CEO’s as the driving force behind inflation risk allowing the GOP, the party with no plan to combat the skyrocketing costs to consumers of almost everything, to take power in the elections next week.

That is the message of former President Barack Obama, as he barnstorms the country, Sen. Bernie Sanders in his stumping, Democratic representative Elissa Slotkin, who is in a close race with a Republican opponent in Michigan and many others in the party.

A huge component of inflation hurting workers from coast to coast is the soaring prices of food, both at the grocery stores and in the restaurants, driven by naked price gouging by food giants like ConAgra, Pepsico, Coca Cola, Chipotle Foods and many others. Prices of food in supermarkets is up more than 15 percent over a year ago and at restaurants has soared by ten percent or more.

The price gouging by food giants comes on top of the rip-offs of consumers at the gas pump by the fossil fuel giants. Meanwhile, top corporate CEO’s continue with and even intensify their drive to bust unions, one of the most important ways workers have to fight for their own basic economic interests. Unions that fight for salary hikes are, in addition to many other things, a major tool workers have in fighting off the effects of inflation.

CEOs Andrew Jassy of Amazon and Howard Schultz of Starbucks, both known for union-busting, have gone beyond leaving corporate labor law-breaking to lower-level managers and flunkies advised by union-busters and are now doing it themselves.

“The NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) Region 19 has issued a complaint against @Amazon CEO @ajassy for his union busting comments made on CNBC Squawk Box interview the past April. Trial is February 7th! Seattle…Best believe WE WILL BE THERE,” Amazon Labor Union co-founder Chris Smalls tweeted. Amazon has raised its prices to consumers well beyond the official inflation rates.

A growing number of Democrats are fighting against the narrative that wages, stimulus programs, unions and Biden are responsible for inflation and pinning the blame for inflation on corporate price gouging. President Biden himself threatened corporations this week with an excess profits tax if they continue the dirty work of price gouging. The Republican answer to fighting inflation, like their answer to everything else, is replace Dems with Republicans so they can increase corporate tax breaks, another driver of the inflation on which their corporate tax breaks would have no effect.

Increasingly, in the final days of the campaign, Democrats are stressing the importance of the economic issues and, more important, many are showing how the attack on democracy, the attack on abortion rights, the so-called “social” issues” and the economic issues are inextricably bound up together.

“If you can’t speak directly to people’s pocketbook and talk about our vision for the economy, you are just having half a conversation,” said Democratic Rep. Slotkin.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont stressed the importance of properly motivating working-class voters and Barack Obama has said on the stump this week that preserving democracy, having a pro-people economy and protecting everyone’s rights are all issues that are closely tied together. He has been demonstrating how election of Republicans this year will set back all of those struggles.

Although food companies are brazenly showing how the rise in inflation is more than just being passed onto consumers, the practice in evident across almost all industries, underlining the importance of passing an excess corporate profits tax and other measures, none of which Republicans, if they take power, would ever consider.

In the past, food companies and other corporations hiked prices in tiny increments, almost trying to sneak up on consumers. Now they are pushing through sudden and walloping increases in prices in blatant moves to take advantage of inflation to hike profit rates and CEO salaries.

“Corporations did not need to raise their prices so high on struggling families,” said Kyle Herrig, the president of Accountable US, in a recent interview with the press. “Corporations have used inflation, the pandemic and supply chain problems as an excuse to exaggerate their own costs and then nickel-and-dime consumers.”

At the lower-priced Aldi’s supermarket in the Bronzeville section of Chicago the store was more crowded on Tuesday night than it was before the pandemic and even just a few months ago. Shoppers there said they could no longer afford to shop at their regular more expensive supermarkets like Mariano’s and Jewel Osco. “Even here I can’t afford to buy a nice piece of beef, something my family hasn’t had for dinner in a very long time,” a shopper named Linda said on the line at the checkout counter.

Has issued reports

Democratic Rep. Katie Porter of California has issued bulletins and charts that indicate, in her words, “at least 54 percent of the price hikes result from increases in corporate profits.”

In the final stretch of the race many Democratic leaders are focusing on economic concerns and showing how Republicans want to make things worse by destroying the social safety net. At the same time they are reminding voters, with Republican election deniers on the ballot across the country, of the threat to democracy inherent in GOP victories.

Obama has found some of the most creative ways to blast Republicans.

“If there was an asteroid headed toward Earth – it’s going to land in two weeks – if you went into the Republican Caucus and said, “What do you want to do? They’d say. “We need a tax cut for the wealthy,” Obama said in Wisconsin as he castigated GOP Sen. Ron Johnson. “That’s their only economic plan. Johnson has called for bringing Social Security and Medicare up for a vote for renewal on a yearly basis. Obama was campaigning for his Democratic opponent, Mandela Barnes.

As they rip off all American consumers, corporations like Amazon and Starbucks have also stepped up their attack on unions. Dismantling unions and preventing them from forming, of course, are another important part of their drive for more and more profits and Republican victories next week would move them close to their goal of taking over government bodies that now protect workers’ rights.

Starbucks, for example, is suing the NLRB in federal court in Buffalo. As part of it, the firm convinced the judge, Donald Trump appointee John Sinatra, to order Starbucks Workers United to turn over copies of all its communications with the media—emails, tweets, phone call records, etc.—to the company.

Sinatra’s order blatantly violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of speech and of the press. It’s drawn union outrage. The NLRB promptly appealed it to the Manhattan-based Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz went out on the road to host “collaboration sessions” with workers, during which he virtually admitted Starbucks hasn’t been listening to them. When he got to Long Beach, Calif., he asked workers there—20 of them from the store at Second and Covina—what he could do to “restore their trust” in Starbucks.

There is no question Starbucks workers have lost trust in management, if they ever had any to begin with. That’s one reason workers at more than 250 Starbucks stores have already petitioned for union recognition. In Long Beach, union activist Mads Hall spoke up.

Amazon CEO Jassy, successor to still-majority owner Jeff Bezos, also went after his workers, and on national television yet.

Claiming—among other management lies—that Amazon “empowers” its workers to make their own decisions on the warehouse floor, Jassy told interviewer Andrew Ross Sorkin, “That type of empowerment doesn’t happen when you have unions.”

Jassy also advocated direct dealing between bosses and employees.

“When you take care of employees and employees are safe and they love working where they work, they stay longer. They tend to be happier, they tend to be more productive,” claimed Jassy. He didn’t mention Amazon’s recent non-safety record, including warehouse fires, or the killing pace it forces on workers, leading up to 150% annual turnover in individual plants.

Jassy “sets a tone of threatening workers that they’ll lose contact with managers, and that’s not true,” said Seth Goldstein, a lawyer for the Amazon Labor Union, the independent union Smalls co-founded.  “Board law says you have the right to meet with your manager.” Jassy “violates employee rights under” labor law.

It is clear that corporate CEO’s are active like never before in the leadup to the midterms this week to rapidly hike their own salaries, increase their corporate profits, and destroy unions in particular and democracy generally by backing Republican moves to take over Congress. What will stop them is a massive turnout by the broad coalition of voters that came out in 2020 to remove the fascist Donald Trump from the White House.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.