Saturday, September 19, 2009
Fred Goldstein: JOBS NOW!
By Fred Goldstein
Published Sep 16, 2009 5:36 PM
Community organizers, trade unionists and activists from all over the country are going to Pittsburgh for a week of demonstrations Sept. 20 through Sept. 26. They’ll be protesting the gathering of the G-20 governments, who are convening to discuss how best to bolster the profits of global capital.
The G-20 meeting takes place against a backdrop of growing unemployment, poverty and homelessness, a mounting U.S. health care crisis, escalation of the U.S.-NATO aggression in Afghanistan and corporate devastation of the environment. Protests throughout the week will target the economic crisis, the environmental crisis, war, health care and other issues.
A key demonstration is the March for Jobs in solidarity with the unemployed, which will take place on Sept. 20. It will go from the Monumental Baptist Church, in the historic Hill district in the African-American community, to Freedom Corner, a symbol of the civil rights movement and the struggle against racism in Pittsburgh. The demonstration will return to Monumental Baptist to a “Bail Out the Unemployed” tent city.
The March for Jobs, initiated by the Bail Out the People Movement, is endorsed by organizations and prominent individuals across the country, including the United Steelworkers and the United Electrical Workers union, both of whom have their national offices in Pittsburgh.
Key to the success of the mobilization has been the Rev. Thomas Smith, pastor of the Monumental Baptist Church. The Rev. Smith lent the facilities and grounds of the church to the March for Jobs and the tent city. The Rev. Smith is also president of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization.
Raising the voice of the unemployed
The March for Jobs is meant to raise the voice of the unemployed to be heard above the cries of “recovery” being heard on Wall Street and in Washington. Profits and stock prices are up after the government gave the banks and the bosses $1.2 trillion in outright cash and $12 trillion more in loan guarantees. What is more, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury bought up their bad debts from the banks.
No one is giving loan guarantees and bailouts to the millions of workers losing their jobs, their homes, their very lives. While Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are showing profits again, the number of unemployed went up in August by another 216,000. The media say it was “only” 216,000.
This is not a recovery. It is a disaster—for the workers.
Under the official numbers given out by the government, 26.4 million are unemployed or under-employed. (This figure is actually too low because jobless workers who stop looking for more than a year are not included. The real number is closer to 30 million.)
The 26.4 million consist of the following:
• 14.9 million officially unemployed,
• 8.9 million on forced part-time, a rise of 298,000 workers, and
• 2.6 million discouraged workers who gave up looking.
Some 5 million have been out of work more than six months, the highest recorded since the Depression. In addition,
• the average work week dropped to 33 hours, the lowest ever recorded,
• African-American unemployment is 15.1 percent and Latino/a is 13 percent,
• 9.4 million new jobs are needed just to get back to before the downturn, and
• 96 million people were living below twice the poverty level at the end of 2008, 30 million of them children. (The official poverty level is so low that all experts agree that twice that level is still poverty.)
‘The Katrina of recessions ... folks are on their rooftops’
Most important, the bosses have cut jobs permanently. No hiring is going on and very little is foreseen in the future. While the headlines are about “green shoots” coming up, in the back pages all the experts talk about the “jobless recovery.”
What is a jobless recovery? It’s when business and profits pick up but unemployment keeps going up. Clearly, a jobless recovery is a recovery for the class of capitalist owners, the rich, and a crisis for the working class.
The bosses have used the crisis to increase the productivity of labor—which really means increasing the rate of exploitation of the workers. That means business can grow without growing jobs. For example, in the month of August, factory production rose—but 65,000 factory jobs were lost. (New York Times, Sept. 4)
Allan Sinai, a renowned Wall Street economist, says: “I don’t think businesses will hire back any time soon. Companies are rewarded by the stock markets for not hiring and keeping their costs down. We will see another jobless recovery.”
Rutgers University professor Carl Van Horn did a study of 1,200 workers in New Jersey who were unemployed during the year. He said, “This is not your ordinary dip in the business cycle. Americans believe that this is the Katrina of recessions. Folks are on their rooftops.” (See column by Bob Herbert in New York Times of Sept. 15.)
The message is that the working class and its communities cannot sit back and rely on some capitalist recovery to put them back to work, put them back in their homes, bring money back into the community, or help them recover in any way.
This is why the March for Jobs is seen as a vital initiative. It represents the beginning of a community-labor alliance and is an important step forward in the struggle against unemployment. It is demanding a real public jobs program which puts workers directly to work. And it is aiming to force the employers to hire workers and stop the firing.
The March for Jobs is raising the slogan that a job is a right. And it is based on the concept that only militant mass mobilization can reverse the tide. The workers and the communities that are under attack can only rely on themselves, fighting together in unity, to turn back the effects of this crisis.
No politicians are going to do it for us. No government bailout of the bosses will help get 30 million workers back to work at a living wage, with benefits. Furthermore, only a united struggle can stop the wave of layoffs, foreclosures and evictions.
Fear of the workers is the only thing that can really influence the government, the bosses and the landlords. Without the struggle, the ruling class establishment will talk the workers to death while doing nothing but take care of themselves.
Fighting racism key to the struggle
The March for Jobs also has a strong anti-racist component and a call for the unity of all workers. This is at a time when racism is raising its ugly head in an attempt to divide the workers, setting white workers against Black, Latino/a, Asian and Middle Eastern workers.
It follows the verbal attack on President Barack Obama during his speech on health care to the joint session of Congress when Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina yelled out, in an unprecedented display of racist arrogance, “You lie.” Wilson was one of the seven South Carolina state legislators who voted in April 2000 not to remove the Confederate flag from the State Capitol house. He is a member of the Sons of Veterans of the Confederacy, a racist organization that considers the heritage of slavery something to uphold.
He speaks the mind of the racist, reactionary and ultra-rightist crowds that turned up at Town Hall meetings and at the latest “Tea Party” in Washington with racist signs and slogans. These ugly demonstrations, that are supposed to be against health care reform, represent a de facto alliance between the health care industry, which has been mobilizing employees to participate, and the ultra-right wing of the ruling class.
The issue on which Wilson chose to challenge Obama concerned undocumented workers and their right to health care. Undocumented workers are workers, just like all others who live by selling their labor time, but their status here makes them more vulnerable and more easily exploited.
They are driven out of their homelands by poverty engendered by U.S. transnational corporations—the same transnationals that are throwing workers out of their jobs and homes right here in the U.S. Undocumented workers are forced to leave their families and cultures to work in back-breaking and often dangerous jobs like construction, meat packing and picking crops, or in menial and low-paid employment like food service and domestic work.
If you are exploited by a boss, you are a worker. All workers must stick together for the fightback. That is the message of the March for Jobs.
In this crisis, the struggle for solidarity with the unemployed is in the tradition of the beginning of the struggle against the Great Depression. The Unemployed Councils were the earliest form of the fightback, followed by general strikes and sit-down strikes in the middle of the 1930s.
This struggle can be the beginning of a much wider fightback, which is needed to keep the bosses from pushing this crisis onto the backs of the workers. The struggle for jobs is fundamental to the well-being of the working class under capitalism.
But beyond that, it is time to start fighting for a system where labor is not just a slave to capital; where workers do not have to depend on profit-making bosses just to live; where everything the workers produce, every service they perform, belongs to them, not to the bosses.
It is time to fight for a system where everything that is produced, every service that is performed, is owned collectively by the producers, the workers. This is the basis for an economic system that can be run on a planned basis for human need and not to profit a handful of millionaires and billionaires. In other words, a socialist system.
Fred Goldstein is author of “Low-Wage Capitalism,” a recently published book that analyzes the effects of globalization on the U.S. working class.
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