Recently, Mitt Romney made a stop on his “Jobs Tour” in upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania just outside of Philadelphia. His appearance was supposed to be, interestingly, at a local WAWA store (for those out-of-state, WAWA is a convenience store chain) Why is this interesting? Because WAWA, like so many employers these days, is a low wage, no benefit “job creator.”
Faced with a couple of hundred demonstrators, Romney cancelled his event and instead ate a “sub” (uh, hoagie) at another WAWA. Demonstrators outside of the event were from Occupy Philly, Fight for Philly and the Democratic Party. Ed Rendell, machine Democrat and ex-governor, spoke at the Democrats’ rally. (Technically, counter protesters were part of two separate protests). We caution everyone not to believe for a minute that either “Fast Eddy” Rendell or his Democratic Party are friends of working people.
Working class demonstrators told their stories of struggle in the current economy, while ultra-right thugs (Tea Partiers) heckled them.
The first speaker…gave a short statement about his former job as a steel worker at Fairless Works, a steel mill that was located in Levittown, Pennsylvania. He was a third generation worker at the plant and claimed that he along with 50,000 other people, were victims of Bain Capital, who bought the business, laid off the workers and sold it for a profit. His statement began with populist egalitarian views such as taxing the rich and feeding the poor, but as he began to talk about the investment firm, the Romney supporters began to yell about how it was the unions who destroyed this country. They were attacking one of the only institutions that fight for decent working class wages and safe workplace conditions. The ignorance of the Romney supporters was in overdrive, especially when a drunken older man received applause for shouting borderline racist slurs about the president. His slurs included “The Muslim Brotherhood is in the White House” and “Lock up your daughters because Sharia Law is coming to America. – Mitt Romney: “Coward in Chief” cancels campaign event at last minute.
When the “Jobs tour” landed in Wisconsin, Romney appeared with union-busting Governor of Wisconsin, and enemy of workers, Scott Walker promising jobs and prosperity. That is, low wage jobs for the 99% and prosperity for the 1%.
Anyone who reads the statistics, or has applied for a job in the past few years, can tell you there’s not much out there in the way of jobs; and what few that are created are low wage and offer few, if any, benefits.
According to the Teamster Nation:
…the US leads developed countries in the share of workers earning low wages. The research also shows that increased wage polarization over the last several decades is one of the reasons for the large share of low wage-work in the US….
…the share of employees earning low wages has increased from 22 percent in 1979 to 28 percent in 2009. Thus, we have more people at the extremes of the distribution, and fewer in the middle.
The report, written by John Schmitt, also concludes that low-wage work doesn’t lead to high-wage work: “Not only are low-wage workers likely to stay in low-wage jobs from one year to the next, they are also more likely than workers in higher-wage jobs to fall into unemployment or to leave the labor force altogether. From 1995 through 2001, for example, about half or more of low-wage workers in Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States remained in low-wage work from one year to the next, and between 8 and 23 percent of low-wage workers left the workforce year-to-year.”
Racism is another factor working people have to look at. For instance, unfortunately, the unemployment rate for African Americans rose in May to 13.6 percent from 13.0 percent in April, the Labor Department said on Friday. The numbers mirrored the national unemployment rate, which also increased to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent, the first rise in 11 months. Further, employers created only 69,000 jobs in May, the smallest amount in a year. The startling numbers mean that federal, state, and local governments will have to invest in job-training programs for African-American workers who are increasingly losing jobs like those in the public sector, Rep. Danny K. Davis (Ill-D) told NewsOne. – “Black unemployment just keeps getting worse.”
In a study conducted at Princeton University it was found that “black applicants were half as likely as equally qualified whites to receive a callback or job offer. In fact, black and Latino applicants with clean backgrounds fared no better than white applicants just released from prison.”
Romney’s “plan” to address persistent high unemployment is further reliance on tax cuts for the 1%, austerity, deregulation, and union busting. Obama on the campaign trail is still promoting his jobs plan that died in Congress last fall.
The Huffington Post described the Obama plan this way:
Obama’s bill was a mix of tax cuts and new spending aimed at spurring job creation in the short term. It included $270 billion in payroll tax cuts and other tax relief, along with $175 billion in new spending on roads, school repairs and other infrastructure projects, as well as an extension of unemployment benefits and aid to local governments to prevent impending teacher and police layoffs.
Neither of these plans is adequate to address continued long term unemployment. Both Obama and Romney (Obamney) are tone-deaf and disinterested in real job creation. Both candidates serve the interests of Wall Street because that is where they get the most money for their re-election campaigns. Liberal programs for job training and other such band-aids are not a solution either.
Recently, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate joined together to slash $4.8 billion in food stamp funding. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), chided her colleagues in the billionaire boys’ club:
We all here in this chamber take the ability to feed our children for granted. That is not the case for too many families in America…Put yourselves for just a moment in their shoes. Imagine being a parent who cannot feed your children the food they need to grow. It’s beneath this body to cut food assistance for those who are struggling the most among us. – Food Stamp Vote In Senate Blocks Bid To Restore $4.5 Billion In Aid.
Let’s look at the unemployment numbers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report released on June 1, the economy added only 69,000 jobs in May. The economy has to create approximately 150,000 jobs per months just to keep up with the new workers entering the workforce; otherwise the unemployment rate would rise even more. At that time there were 12.7 million counted as unemployed. An additional 8.1 million work part-time jobs because they can’t find full-time jobs. Another 2.4 million workers are referred to as “marginally attached to the labor force.” These include more than 800,000 “discouraged” workers who have stopped looking for work. The numbers are also skewed downward by people dropping out/giving up, “aging out” (going from unemployment to collecting Social Security) or by the fact that the undocumented CAN’T get unemployment compensation and therefore aren’t counted.
The “marginally attached” are not counted as unemployed. If you add all of these numbers together, this means that more than 23 million people are locked out of the US economy. What this means is that to reverse the unemployment situation over a period of 5 years, the economy would have to add more than 500,000 jobs per month to put everyone back to work, taking into account labor force growth as well.
Putting millions of workers back to work will require an immediate and emergency initiative to create a public works jobs program like the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930s.
One-Sided Class War
In the midst of this economic crisis, the one-sided class war, waged against U.S. workers for decades, has accelerated. The bosses want to balance their “recovery” on the backs of working people, and this includes a bipartisan attack on the right to organize and strike. This is what’s behind the concerted attack on public sector unions, especially teachers. More than half of all local and state public employees are working with pay freezes. Public employees have also seen pensions and benefits slashed. Over the last 3-year period local governments eliminated more than 480,000 jobs. States chopped an additional 150,000 jobs in this same time frame. Approximately 200,000 of the public sector jobs lost were teachers. The attack on public employees has coincided with the media demonization of “greedy” and “lazy” public workers.
“Those job losses have led to slower emergency response times, backlogged courts, and larger classroom sizes, and the public sector losses aren’t likely to cease in 2012. The public sector lost 1,000 jobs in March, and according to Moody’s, states are expected to lose another 15,000 jobs while local governments will shed between 150,000 and 175,000 this year.” Last Three Years Were Worst On Record For Public Sector Job Losses.
Public employees are the appetizer; private sector unions are the main course. Politicians are already working to repeal prevailing wage laws in different states. In Pennsylvania, the right wing is working to repeal the state prevailing wage law, which sets the wage for publicly funded construction projects at the union rate. Similar efforts are underway in other states.
Don’t expect the Democrats to save you
“Here is the short list of states that have Democratic governors where labor unions are undergoing severe attacks: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon, California, New York, Illinois, Washington, Hawaii, Minnesota, Maryland and New Hampshire. Other states with Democratic governors are attacking unions to a lesser degree.
“The Democrats in these states have sought to distance themselves from the Republican governors of Wisconsin and Ohio, who have specifically attacked the collective bargaining rights of unions.
“The above Democrats all hide their anti-union attacks behind a “deep respect for collective bargaining [akin to a thief who will steal your car but, out of respect, will not target your deceased Grandma’s diamond earrings].
“For example, the anti-union Democratic governor of Connecticut is demanding $1.6 billion in cuts from state workers! The contract has not been ratified yet, but Governor Malloy referred to the agreement as: ‘historic because of the way we achieved it – we respected the collective bargaining process and we respected each other, negotiating in good faith, without fireworks and without anger.’” – The Democrats Attack Unions Nationwide.
Divisions in the labor movement and support for the Democratic Party help fuel the bosses’ offensive. For example,building trades unions have contributed money to New York State Governor Coumo’s anti-union effort to break public employees unions.
Giving money to our class enemies is like fighting an attacker with one hand while digging your own grave with the other.
What is needed is unity in struggle and a united front fightback where working class organizations join together to oppose austerity and cutbacks, combined with a fight for jobs at union wages and single-payer health care. We also need a unified defense of the right to organize and strike. Building unity also requires defense of affirmative action and an uncompromising fight against racism.
Building a united front necessarily means including the broadest possible participation by the mass organizations of the working class and oppressed; even those that are tied to the Democrats. This is a difficult terrain of struggle and there are no guarantees, but revolutionaries can present programmatic ideas within this larger context. Asking agreement in advance with a revolutionary or radical program will automatically result in a situation where the left captures itself. Revolutionaries have to be the best, most consistent, fighters in this struggle.
The central lessons of the defeat in Wisconsin are that mass action and class independence are critical elements of a successful fightback. Taking the movement off of the streets and channeling it into electoralism took the wind out of the sails of the movement there.
What to do next
Currently, there is not a unified national fight against the bipartisan austerity drive. There are, however, signs of hope. The fightback in Wisconsin, before it was diverted, points to what such a mass movement might look like. The solidarity and mass action in support of Longshore workers in Longview, Washington, including the shutdown of the port of Oakland in a one-day strike, is another example of the road forward. There are hundreds of local struggles: to save public schools, to stop foreclosures, to stop social service cuts and more. The outlines of this future movement can be seen in the occupy movement, in the unions and in formations like the Emergency Labor Network.
Such a mass movement can’t be wished into existence, it has to be organized and fought for.
This article orginally posted in Philly Workers Voice.