Green Jobs for All

by Trudy Goldberg, Left Forum Panel on Green Jobs for All, Free Public Services for All.  New York, May  30,2015

envmarchThose of us who have been advocating full employment or jobs for all have been at least “green lite” since the late 1980s. Our proposals for job creation included jobs to build, repair and improve a chronically deficient infrastructure. Such work would increase efficiency and reduce energy waste. At the same time, we emphasized the  social  as well as physical infrastructure, and the pressing needs for vital services —child and elder care, health care….  These are hardly energy guzzlers. Increasingly, as the environmental crisis became imminent—we  emphasized jobs that specifically  reduce the burning of fossil fuels, like retrofitting buildings  or building solar panels.  In the leaflet we are passing out, Green Jobs for All, we  define green jobs: much more work on the subject is necessary and indeed there is a Department of  Labor site that defines them: here’s what we include:

•        Retrofitting or making houses, office buildings, schools, & factories more energy efficient
•        Manufacturing & installing solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal and other forms of renewable energy, along with employing researchers to develop more efficient alternatives to fossil fuels
•        Redirecting agribusiness subsidies to local, environmentally sustainable farming
•        Building a railroad system that provides  affordable, fuel-efficient public transportation
•        Making our infrastructure more efficient by repairing roads, bridges, water systems….
•        Adding millions of needed teachers, child care & health care workers to our work force
•        Producing easily recyclable and repairable goods and reducing planned obsolescence

We see full employment as a means of removing a principal barrier to mitigating climate change: the fear of unemployment—a problem that affects millions of people,  in both good and bad times.  Naomi Klein has written that a guaranteed income would make it easier for workers to say no to dirty energy jobs; I think a guarantee of living-wage jobs would be a better way, particularly in view of the vast need for services and the herculean job of greening the economy or greatly reducing the burning of fossil fuels. Saying no, of course, would depend on the level of compensation.

We have a chronic severe shortage of jobs, even now in so-called recovery, almost 40 million people severely disadvantaged in the labor market. It is Important to look way beyond the  official unemployment rate which is a politically motivated undercount that trivializes the problem and is  a deterrent to building a full employment movement. Counting those who are not actively looking for a job but who want work and those who want full-time work but are forced to work part-time the number is more than doubled and the rate goes from 5.3% in April 2015 to 13.1% of the labor force.

The recent riot in Baltimore brings to mind the urban uprisings that swept the country during the 1960s—in  Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Birmingham…  . A bi-partisan commission appointed by President Lyndon Johnson concluded that: “Unemployment and underemployment are among the most persistent and serious grievances of our disadvantaged minorities. The pervasive effect of these conditions on the racial ghetto is inextricably linked to the problem of civil disorder.” Consequently, this presidential commission (known as the  Kerner Commission) recommended the  creation of two million jobs in the next three years. That was in 1968 when official unemployment was 3.7%, compared to today’s 5.4%

We don’t have good data on ghetto unemployment generally and should have it for planning and targeting job creation. We do know that unemployment is rampant in Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park where the Baltimore riot erupted. According to a report of the Justice Policy Institute  over  half of the residents between 16 and 64 have been jobless in recent years.

Direct  job creation by government is the most efficient and effective way to end  unemployment and the myriad ills  it causes. And it  can be done with green jobs.  It costs less for government to hire workers to meet pressing needs for infrastructure repair, human services and environmental protection than to contract out such work  or to stimulate the economy through tax cuts. Unlike an overall stimulus,  direct  job creation can be  targeted to the areas of highest unemployment and greatest need—like  the nation’s ghettos.

The direct job-creation solution, as you know, was pioneered by President Franklin Roosevelt’s  New Deal work programs  that not only brought  jobs and paychecks  to millions of unemployed workers but employed them to improve the nation’s physical, cultural, and natural resources. Unemployed workers built or repaired  one million miles of roads and 200,000 public facilities, created works of art, wrote and produced plays, served school lunches to over a billion needy children, gave immunizations, taught illiterate men and women how to read and write, and did much more.

The Great Depression was a time of   national ecological as well as economic  crisis—a dust bowl disaster along with depletion of soil, forests,  and wildlife.  The  direct  job creation program that employed young   men in a Civilian Conservation Corps did much to restore the nation’s environmental resources–soil conservation, more trees planted than in the whole prior history of the country, wildlife protection,…. The CCC, employing many impoverished young workers, was among the most popular New Deal programs al. Some of those given government conservation work became ecologists and  environmental activists.

Job creation projects today should include innovative projects to mitigate an even greater  environmental crisis, one that is global, not just national. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) has just introduced a 21st Century Civilian Conservation Act to combat unemployment and  help preserve the environment. Not in this Congress but perhaps in the next we might hope to enact such a bill—if so, it would give people an idea of what we mean by direct job creation and what it can do to improve the environment and mitigate climate change—as well as provide jobs for unemployed workers.

Most comprehensive among the job creation bills pending in Congress is the Humphrey-Hawkins  Full Employment and Training Act, H.R. 1000. Introduced by Rep. John Conyers  (D-MI),  H.R. 1000 commits the U.S. to assure useful work at living wages for all. H.R. 1000 would create millions of jobs in construction, infrastructure repair, energy and conservation, education, health care, human services, and neighborhood renovation. HR 1000 would be funded by a Financial Transactions Tax of 1/4 of 1 percent on stock and bond transactions and similar small taxes on futures, options, and swaps. In view of who would benefit and who would pay for this legislation, passage of H.R. 1000 would begin a major assault on economic inequality.

Two other job creation bills are important to recognize.

HR 2553 – National Infrastructure Bank Act attracted the most co-sponsors of any of these bills in the previous Congress.  Introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) the National Infrastructure Bank Act, with 103 cosponsors, in the previous Congress and will reintroduce it in the current 114th Congress. The Act would create a public bank to leverage private and public capital to support infrastructure projects, including transportation, environment, energy, telecommunications, and water projects.  The bank would emphasize environmental infrastructure projects such as clean water, energy, and electric infrastructure projects. HR 2553 is supported by the Blue-Green Alliance, the United Steelworkers, and Utility Workers of America.

HR 1617 – Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act.  Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) has introduced HR 1617, which would create over 2 million jobs over two years: public service jobs to implement energy audit programs and retrofits, improve public parks, renovate schools and housing, and expand childcare and early education.  HR 1617 would be  financed by higher tax brackets for the rich, eliminating Big Oil subsidies, and closing tax loopholes for corporations that ship jobs overseas.

These bills will certainly not pass in this Congress, but pending legislation such as these give a certain reality to direct job creation. NJFAC would like to organize meetings in areas throughout the country  that feature local officials and Congressional sponsors and co-sponsors of job creation. These would lay out the extent of the jobs deficit, the effects on communities. The extent of unemployment in the neighborhoods of the poor, especially the black poor.

In his 1944 State of the Union Address  Franklin Roosevelt proposed a Second or Economic Bill of Rights, reasoning  that  the  rights guaranteed by the Constitution “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.” According to FDR, the first and most fundamental of these economic rights is a job at a living wage. Echoing this perspective  several  decades later, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. held that depriving a person of a job or an income is “in a real way depriving him [sic] of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  No one should have to riot in order to obtain a fundamental right. The Baltimore riot is  a warning  that more such disasters could erupt–unless we at last assure all Americans the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Download Green Jobs For All  Flyer on green jobs legislation