Report on Organizational Activities in Behalf of Job Creation

by Trudy Goldberg, Chair, NJFAC
presented at: “The Jobs Crisis and What to Do About it,” 3/26/10, Murphy Institute for Worker Education & Labor Studies, New York, NY.  Co-sponsors: Murphy Institute for Worker Education & Labor Studies and the National Jobs for All Coalition (NJFAC)

For decades, we’ve had a chronic shortage of jobs–let alone living-wage jobs. Hardly anyone paid attention, including many on the Left. But today’s seemingly intractable, mass unemployment, nearly double digit for months, can’t be ignored. Still it has yet to galvanize a movement to bring unemployment down to pre-recession levels, much less address our chronic problem. And we have a serious chronic problem. As the handout from the National Jobs for All Coalition shows (see below), the chronic problems of unemployment, underemployment and low wages afflicted millions of workers– even in the year 2000, when we were at a 30-year low of 4% unemployment.

New Dealers strove to make permanent reforms while the memory of mass unemployment was still fresh. Those of us who favor living-wage jobs for all are determined to strike while the iron is hot. . We know that to secure the right to living wage jobs takes a movement comparable to the great mobilizations that brought civil and political rights to all our people. We know, too, that those civil and political rights are not secure until they are bolstered by economic rights. And we know that this is a formidable task, for it strikes at the heart of employer hegemony that has seldom been greater.

Social Movements need two types of participants: those who benefit directly and those moved by conscience. Both are important. And they are not dichotomous. Direct beneficiaries of full employment are elusive. As some of you have experienced, workers unemployed during a downturn tend to see their plight as temporary and may not regard themselves as beneficiaries for long. They want jobs, but a movement for full employment can begin with direct job creation, as Phil Harvey has just shown us. The experience of being unemployed may increase empathy for the unemployed making those unemployed during this Great Recession potential conscience participants.

The chronic victims may be hard to organize although who would have thought that welfare mothers could organize and join a movement for welfare rights. With both groups of the unemployed, there is the problem of self-blame, shame and the likelihood that they won’t see themselves as entitled to what should be a human right. If beneficiaries can be broadened to include the underpaid and underemployed–and it is important to recognize that chronic unemployment depresses wages–then movement potential grows. Many more could be included in a full employment movement if we can convince them how severely unemployment bites. One of our handouts refers you to a recent survey that revealed the trauma of joblessness; such findings should increase empathy and prick consciences).* And then there are the costs in revenues lost to the Treasury and the Social Security Trust funds. Yesterday the New York Times (March 25, 2010) carried a front-page story revealing that for the first time ever, social security took in less funds than it paid out; that wasn’t supposed to happen until 2016, but the unemployment brought that shortfall six years earlier than anticipated. There is, as well, the loss of potential output–that we are literally throwing away the goods and services the unemployed could produce. James Galbraith recently helped us to frame the policy choices in a Great Recession in terms of useful or useless deficits: The only choice is what kind of deficit to run: useful deficits that rebuild the country, as in the New Deal, or useless ones, with millions kept unnecessarily on unemployment insurance when they could instead be given jobs (The Nation, March 22, 2010, p. 24).

Action Report
Not enough has happened yet, but action is accelerating. Logan Martinez, our Outreach Coordinator in Dayton Ohio, is in touch with groups all over the country who are advocating remedies to this Great Recession. He identifies five major organizations/networks. We could use a clearinghouse to get a better idea of the range of action, to coordinate efforts and to help people to find opportunities for taking action in their communities.

I don’t have time to say much about four of them:
1. The AFL-CIO: Make Wall Street Pay project which reportedly included 200 demonstrations this week. .. The focus is on regulatory legislation, union pension funds and making Wall Street pay for recovery. Recently AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was specific about jobs; he called for a program of $900 billion to create jobs, half of which would be financed by a tax on trading of financial assets.

2. Jobs for America Now is DC- based and counts as members over 100 national organizations, including the AFL/CIO, Wider Opportunities for Women, Coalition on Human Needs, Economic Policy Institute. They have a. 5-point program: that would create 4.6 million jobs in the first year, over half of which would be the result of a tax credit to employers in return for job creation.

3. Jobs with Justice, They are organizing around the country in support of a major piece of legislation for jobs. In Chicago they are said to be very accepting of a tax on financial assets to fund the programs, an approach advocated by our affiliate, the Chicago Political Economy Group. The Jobs with Justice Website says “Join us at the U.S. Social Forum this June.” This will be held in Detroit. The impressive Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign will soon begin a march from New Orleans to the Social Forum. Probably there should be another type of organization supporting jobs: anti-poverty groups like PPEHRC. Jobs with Justice is also working with students, sponsoring a Student Labor Week of Action March 28-April 4th. The student group will undertake a series of escalating mobilizations through the spring semester, including rallies and student walkouts.

4. Union of the Unemployed. Organized by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers: This union which was formed last summer includes 4-5,000 unemployed workers. You lost your job. You’re not alone. Thirty-one million Americans face the same challenges. You want your job back. You want your life back. The idea is that if millions of jobless join together and act as an organization, they are more likely to get Congress and the White House to provide the jobs that are urgently needed. Whether this will resemble the organizations of unemployed workers during the Great Depression remains to be seen. But it is a promising initiative.

5.Living-Wage Jobs for All Campaign, an outcome of a conference initiated by NJFAC and co-sponsored by diverse organizations–religious, labor, academic, anti-poverty and welfare rights. The Campaign’s unique emphasis is on a much larger program than anything currently proposed. Our letter to the Nation, April 5, 2010 (also a handout) congratulates economist Bob Pollin for raising the ante to 18 million jobs by 2012, but we consider that an interim target. If we stop there, we fail to deal with the chronic high unemployment and low wages that persist even in “better” times. Nor does it raise the fundamental issue of the right to a job at a living wage. We will support efforts to increase jobs, even if they fall short of the mark and work with the other networks we’ve identified–and more. But we are determined to keep our eye on the prize, and we will try to convince other groups to the same. Won’t your join us. in some actions here in the metropolitan area.

As a concrete proposal to advance our strategic thinking and advocacy for full employment, the National Jobs for All Coalition proposes that we convene a follow-up meeting for New York-area people to discuss:
Ways we could collaborate in this area to advance this agenda by engaging in:
Public education programs, such as additional events and conferences
Legislative action
Coalition-building and networking to mobilize a broad range of labor, community, religious and human needs organizations
Public actions such as press conferences, demonstrations or other types of broad-based mobilizations. One such model for this is the “First Friday” actions to call attention to the monthly release of unemployment statistics by the Department of Labor. One First Friday in the New York metropolitan area is scheduled for Elizabeth NJ, Friday, May 7th.**
And last but not least–we should also discuss funding and resource mobilization–because know it will take money and a paid organizing staff to achieve our bold agenda.

We’ve requested the use of a classroom here at the Murphy Institute two weeks from today. We propose to hold an initial meeting of all who would like to pursue a serious jobs creation agenda on Friday, April 9 at 9:15 AM, right here in this building. We are circulating a sign-up list, and if you are interested in being involved in the network, we’ll provide you with follow-up information by email or phone. We very much hope to see you then.

*See M. Luo & M. Thee-Brenan. (2009). “Poll reveals trauma of joblessness in U. S.”, New York Times, December 15, A1. Available on line at http://www.transitioning.org/2010/02/03/poll-reveals-trauma-of-joblessness-in-u-s-new-york-times/

**New Jersey’s One-Stop Career Center (formerly the unemployment office), 921 Elizabeth Ave., Elizabeth, NJ, from 10 a.m. till 1:00 p.m. Elizabeth is just across the river from Manhattan, immediately south of Newark. For information, be in touch with the organizer, Rev. Dr. Douglas Grote, dfgrote@yahoo.com