Dear Sisters and Brothers,
We learned this morning that the National Executive Council of the AFL-CIO has voted to support and mobilize its members for the October 2, 2010, march on Washington to demand “jobs, economic security, comprehensive immigration reform, a safe and renewable energy policy and a reversal of national priorities from making wars to meeting human needs.” This march was initiated by SEIU Local 1199 and the NAACP.
NAACP President Ben Jealous announced the October 2nd march at the NAACP convention in Kansas City in early July, explaining that “marchers will demand the change they voted for when Barack Obama was elected,” and emphasizing the urgent need to “create jobs and stop moving money out of education and into wars and prisons.” (Kansas City Star, July 12, 2010).
Indeed, while there are many issues of concern among working people, having a job ranks by far at the very top of the list, since so many other basic needs are directly tied to employment. The current Great Recession — some are calling it a depression — has spawned a surge in joblessness, with little recovery in sight. Temporary downward dips in the unemployment rate are resulting from workers becoming discouraged; they stop looking for work because they do not think they can find any, so they are no longer counted as unemployed.
Not enough jobs are being created in the private sector to keep up with the number of new workers who are entering the labor market. According to an AFL-CIO blog (June 7, 2010), 38 percent of Americans report that either they or someone close to them has lost a job. There are officially almost 15 million Americans now out of work, mostly due to the current economic crisis. But if those who are involuntarily working part-time and if discouraged workers are taken into account, the number is much higher.
Claiming that the federal deficit is the greatest threat to the economy, politicians of both major parties are displaying a stark lack of interest in aggressively attacking the problem of joblessness. Recently, Congress callously refused to extend unemployment benefits, thereby cutting a crucial lifeline for over one million unemployed workers. Many believe that this inflated focus on the deficit is simply an excuse by politicians to terminate popular government programs, where the politicians claim the government simply cannot afford to maintain them. Motivated by special interests instead of what is good for the country as a whole, these politicians propose privatizing the programs or eliminating them altogether.
It is within this context that we applaud two significant developments. First, as we have already mentioned, SEIU Local 1199 and the NAACP are organizing the October 2 march on Washington, D.C. SEIU Local 1199 President George Gresham has predicted that this demonstration will be a “massive — and we believe historic — march.” It might, in fact, mark a turning point for organized labor as it launches this fight-back.
Secondly, in Detroit, the United Auto Workers (UAW) and Jesse Jackson with his Rainbow PUSH Coalition have joined forces to spearhead a campaign to demand the creation of jobs. This campaign will be kicked off by a march in Detroit on August 28, 2010, the anniversary of the 1963 massive rally in Washington, D.C. where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
The significance of these events cannot be emphasized enough. Here, working people are not sitting back passively, hoping the politicians will throw them a few leftover crumbs after bestowing bountiful favors on the banks and corporations. Rather, workers are relying first and foremost on themselves. They are acting independently of the two major political parties, which are controlled above all by corporate and Wall Street interests.
Politicians act in their own self-interest. But often their self-interest lies in responding positively to whichever sector of the population is exerting the most pressure on them. The rich exert pressure routinely by showering politicians with generous campaign contributions and unleashing a herd of lobbyists on them. In contrast, the most effective weapon of working people is to organize massive demonstrations where their monumental size confirms that they have the support of the majority of the population.
Such demonstrations have succeeded in bringing down governments. Every major gain for working people in this country has resulted from huge demonstrations, including the right to unionize, the 8-hour day, Social Security, unemployment benefits, civil rights, women’s suffrage, immigrant rights, and the list goes on.
A massive government jobs-creation program that would put 15 million people back to work would not simply benefit working people, it would benefit the entire country, especially when linked to the demand that Wall Street and the rich pay for it.
As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka argued before President Obama’s Deficit Reduction Commission on June 30, 2010, an economic stimulus in the form of a jobs-creation program will help place the country on a stronger economic foundation. For example, it will help avoid a double-dip recession, which happened in 1937 when the government chose to switch course and reduce the deficit rather than stimulate the economy. Also, when people are put back to work, they pay taxes, which contribute to lowering the deficit. Moreover, by creating jobs through rebuilding the country’s public infrastructure, a strong foundation is laid for a future vibrant economy.
Trumka specifically mentioned such infrastructure examples as roads, bridges, urban transit, schools and university facilities, green generating plants, along with many other sound proposals. He further argued that the current crisis is in part due to the growing inequalities in wealth. When working people’s wages stagnate or disappear altogether because of layoffs, their ability to consume declines accordingly. With a drop in demand, businesses must cut back, lay off more workers, and demand drops even further.
As Trumka noted, making Wall Street and the rich pay for a jobs program reflects a basic sense of fairness: “We believe it is only fitting to ask Wall Street to pay to rebuild the economy it helped destroy.” As for the rich, he observed: “It would also be fitting to ask the wealthiest Americans who benefited most from the failed economic policies of the past 30 years to pay their fair share for rebuilding the 21st century economy and stabilizing the national debt.” He called for a raise in their tax rate, pointing out that “effective tax rates applicable to high-income taxpayers (earning over $250,000 in 2009 dollars) reached their lowest level in at least half a century in 2008.”
Trumka’s campaign for a jobs-creation program and higher taxes on the rich as the best medicine for the economy stands in stark opposition to the alternatives that many politicians are urging, including cutting Social Security benefits. As he argued:
While a jobs-centered approach to debt stabilization would help reverse income inequality and bring us closer to sustainable, broadly shared prosperity, several approaches now under discussion in the debate over deficit reduction would take us in the opposite direction. These approaches include prolonged unemployment, which would permanently cripple the earnings potential of millions of workers, exert downward pressure on workers’ wages, and condemn millions of children to poverty unnecessarily; cuts to Social Security benefits; and cuts to Medicare benefits.
Actually, Social Security has been generating a surplus almost since its inception and has in no way contributed to the deficit, although the media have been intent on giving the opposite impression. Trumka correctly added: “In fact, Social Security should be strengthened to compensate for the decline of traditional pensions and for the stock market losses of retirement savings plans.”
In order to ensure that the turnout for these demonstrations in Detroit and Washington, DC is massive, the demands must reflect the real needs of working people, not what the politicians say is possible after giving the corporations and Wall Street all they want, both of which have been pushing hard on the politicians.
We must push back even harder. President Trumka has called for the creation of 15 million jobs. We should demand nothing less; asking for crumbs will only demoralize our own ranks. If our demands are measured to fit our needs and they are just and fair, and with AFL-CIO resources building October 2, working people will see that a serious fight is being waged, and they will be inspired to join. Under such circumstances, this demonstration could indeed be historic.
We are asking you, our readers and supporters, to get your unions, state labor federations, regional central labor councils, civil rights organizations, antiwar coalitions, and community groups to endorse these demonstrations and to help build them, especially if you are located in the general vicinity of either event. The more people we can bring into the streets, the greater our prospects of success in influencing government policy in favor of the creation of more jobs.
Working people can make a difference when we rely on ourselves and act collectively. After all, we are the majority.
Jobs for All!
Hands Off Social Security!
Tax the Rich and the Corporations!
Money for Jobs, Not for Wars and Prisons!
Bill Leumer and Alan Benjamin,
Workers Emergency Recovery Campaign