Thursday, December 16, 2010

Protests Over Jobs Become More Desperate!

Published Dec 12, 2010 11:10 PM

Anxiety over the possibility of losing their unemployment benefits and anger over companies refusing to hire even as they make record profits are driving more and more workers into the streets.

Across the country, demonstrations were held the last week of November and early December demanding no cuts in benefits plus government action to create jobs. Below are reports from three of these protests, in Baltimore, Detroit and New York.

‘Jobs, not evictions and utility shutoffs’

Angry unemployed workers and their supporters gathered in front of the downtown Baltimore unemployment office on Nov. 29 to demand an extension of unemployment benefits and a jobs program. Unemployment is very high in this city — officially more than 14 percent with almost half of young Black workers jobless.

The protesters were also asking for emergency action to keep people from being thrown out on the streets or left to freeze in their apartments without heat, hot water or lights. Their demands included a moratorium on foreclosures, evictions and utility shutoffs. The protest was called by the A Job Is a Right Campaign and the Ujima Peoples Progress Party.

— Sharon Black

‘Fight, don’t starve’

Unemployed workers about to lose their meager income were among those who demonstrated here on Dec. 2 outside the State of Michigan building to demand an extension of unemployment benefits and other relief. The protest was called by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs.

“Extend unemployment benefits! Fight, don’t starve!” chanted the noisy protesters, who marched in a picket line despite wind and cold weather.

Coalition spokesperson Derek Grigsby, a laid-off City of Detroit worker, talked to the news media about the impending cutoff of his own unemployment benefits. “It’s tough,” said Grigsby. “We want an extension of benefits, yes, but we also think workers should be guaranteed an income as long as unemployment remains high and they need a job. It’s time for a federal public jobs program to get people back to work.”

Demonstrators marched inside the building chanting loudly as more than 100 people sat in the unemployment office waiting room. Security officials made the protesters leave, but their message of fightback was still heard loud and clear by the unemployed workers there.

Some 162,000 workers in Michigan exhausted their jobless benefits from January through November of this year, according to a Nov. 22 statement issued by the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency. Unless Congress approves an extension of federal benefits soon, 181,500 more workers in Michigan will be cut off from December through April 2011. Extended benefits expired on Nov. 30.

A coalition leaflet stated: “The cutoff of unemployment benefits is already leading to massive foreclosures, evictions and utility shutoffs as winter is upon us. While the state has received $500 million in federal funds to keep the unemployed in their homes, the major banks have refused to participate in the Helping Hardest Hit Homeowners Program, and the state has failed to develop a plan for implementation despite announcing the program last July. Fewer than 200 unemployed workers have received the aid they were promised. With the cutoff of unemployment benefits, those in the most dire need of help will become ineligible.”

Protesters demanded lame-duck Gov. Jennifer Granholm declare a state of economic emergency in Michigan and use her executive authority to impose an immediate moratorium to halt foreclosures, evictions and utility shutoffs while the government is figuring out how to ensure the survival of hundreds of thousands of Michiganders.

Even with just a few weeks remaining in her last term, however, Granholm still refuses to display the political courage necessary to help the people.

— Kris Hamel

‘Ho, ho, ho – Jobs, not war’

As a crew at Rockefeller Center prepared for the annual tree-lighting ceremony there by decorating an 84-foot-tall Norway spruce on Nov. 30, a group of about 40 people brought a different message to the holiday season in New York: “Keep the lights on for the unemployed,” read their banner.

The protest was reminding New Yorkers that about 95,000 city dwellers and 200,000 people statewide were in danger of losing their long-term unemployment benefits, some starting the next day. The demonstration also included signs reading “Jobs not war!” and “We need jobs, not another Korean War.” The protest was sponsored by Flashmobs4jobs and the International Action Center.

— John Catalinotto
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