Jobs Crisis in Ohio

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By MARK GRAUHUIS

When the 1891 depression brought misery to millions, Jacob Coxey, an Ohio businessman, marched to the Capitol in April of 1894 with an army of 500 to lobby Congress and call upon the government to print money in order to build roads and other public works to put people back to work. Coxey and other leaders of his movement were arrested for walking on the grass. Under pressure from the Unemployed Councils marches and demonstrations, and the growing wave of strikes and factory occupations taking place at the same time, between 1934 and 1943 Roosevelt’s hand was forced to create and fill over 12 and a half million jobs, 11 million by 1940.  The Democratic Party today has not.

 

January figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists 1,100,000 people in the category of long-term unemployment (27+ months), officially called “discouraged workers.” Of that total, 638,000 are men, 421,000 are women. The number of adults in the U.S. unemployed and seeking work in October 2011 was 13,9 million, when the number of job openings was only 3.3 million.  One in six people who would like a full-time job are unable to find one. In the President’s home state of Illinois, only 37% of young African Americans had a job in December 2009.  Just 14% of young black teenagers in Illinois had a job at the end of that year.  Ohio’s real unemployment rate is consistently over 17 percent, and is worse in certain inner city areas like Over the Rhine. For African Americans, the rate is closer to 30 percent, and for Latinos around 25 percent.  Nationally, of African-Americans 16-19 years old, almost 45 percent are out of work as against 25 percent for teenagers as a whole.

 

Thanks to some ‘creative’ work with statistics encouraged by the 1%, when people stop looking for work the official national unemployment rate goes down, because those people are no longer considered part of the labor force whose employed or unemployment are counted by those produce the statistics.  So, the real unemployment rate remains far greater than we tend to hear about.  If you put together the unemployed, the marginalized, and the part-time workers together, you will realize that one in six people in the U.S. is currently without an adequate income (the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U-6 category, calculates this at a slightly lower rate, at 16 percent.).

 

The standard shout of opposition at Occupy events, “Get a job,” would make sense in a world where jobs grew on trees, or if it were as simple as asking potential employees to hand over the job like food from a vending machine.  It is also not true that one can always become a temporary service workers like Wal-Mart greeters, cashiers, or bartenders, or work a McJob.  Despite the shift from good skilled unionized jobs towards this kind of ‘dead-end’ employment, they do not hire just anyone, and many of our recent graduates find they are “overqualified” for some of the most degrading entry-level positions.

 

One of the ways in which this crisis is worse than the 1930s is the longevity of unemployment.  The International Labor Organization estimates that the economic crisis will put over 51 million people out of work.  Labor market imbalances are becoming more structural, with certain groups, such as the long-term unemployed, at risk of exclusion. This means that they would be unable to obtain new employment even if there were a strong recovery. In advanced economies, involuntary part-time employment and temporary employment have increased in two-thirds and more than half of these economies, respectively.  Jobs are still being lost in the the tens of thousands every month.  In industrialized nations, an estimated 15 percent of jobs are destroyed every year.

 

Plants in Ohio continue to be moved to the South, to the so-called Right to Work states where unions are weak and wages low.  Many American workers who had had union jobs in industry have lost them.  Public payrolls are down 1.0%, and public payrolls have been falling since mid-2009 with the exception of the decennial Census hiring.  Governments have laid off some 700,000 public employees, most of those (647,000) at the state level. Some 64 percent of those are women workers. African Americans workers have been particularly hard hit by the state and local government layoffs, because they make up a larger percentage of public employees, and their jobs pay much better than those held by other black workers.  7 percent of workers in the private sector are without the basic protections or benefits afforded by a union.  Our culture shifted, since the 70s, so that we no longer celebrate those who seek to democratize our workforce.  Today, even if you haven’t worked in a union but through your own hard labors received higher wages for you and your fellow workers, you will find that businesses have an even greater incentive to get rid of you

 

In March of 2012, the Jump-Start Our Business Startup Act, with overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans, passed in the House 380-41 and in the Senate 73-26.  It deregulated financial controls on business, with the hope that they then might grow and perhaps create 100,000 jobs over 8 years or so. What the mainstream economists call a “drag” on the economy is in fact coded language for the situation where the driving motive for jobs is private profit, which makes a neoliberal system unsustainable.  “If public-sector employment had grown since June 2009 by the average amount it grew in the three previous recoveries (2.8 percent) instead of shrinking by 2.5 percent, there would be 1.2 million more public-sector jobs in the U.S. economy today,” the Economic Policy Institute found in a recent report.

 

Massive unemployment is a problem for everybody, and not just the unemployed.  Job loss means less tax revenue and more expenditure by the government.  Economic depression leads surely to mental illness and social ills.  Today, there is very little temporary unemployment: if you are unemployed the job now disappears along with your paycheck and any benefits.  And you are likely to stay unemployed.  Added to this change in labor patterns is the fact that now more people than ever are structurally unemployed.  For the first time since World War Two youth unemployment has regularly surpassed 50%.  In September 2009, only 46% of people between 16 and 24 had any kind of job (paid or unpaid, since many are forced to work as interns without even the most basic rights as employees).  It is estimated that some 10 million jobs need to be created just to get back to where we were in 2007.

 

It’s actually very simple, so simple a child can understand it – if you want a people’s recovery from the crisis, rather than the creditors having their own way again, then the government must hire people directly.  The myth-makers and spin-doctors did an excellent job in double-speak and deception when they declared such hiring as “un-American” (the Republican NGOs fooled us twice when they called it “socialist”), when in fact there is no better way to show one’s patriotric duty and serve one’s country than accepting a job the government created with fair wages and benefits just for you.  Welfare for corporations is presently a basic human right, but not jobs or healthcare or education, nor access to food and water.

 

Throughout Ohio, but particularly in the northeast, many industrial plants remain idle.  Capitalist competition results in overproduction which in turn brings about a decline in new production and workers are thrown out of work; joblessness means further decline in market demand; production is further slowed as businesses are forced into bankruptcy or simply closed. For more than a generation, the major “growth industry” in impoverished communities has been the illegal drug industry.

 

We understand that there are many useful things that could be done by Ohioans.  Most civilized countries provide free twenty-four hour childcare – why not provide daycare centers and improve programs for the elderly?  Hundreds of thousands could be hired instantly simply be having them insulate or otherwise ‘green’ houses or help build a proper public transportation system that will decrease the use of cars and help a person get to their new decent job.  In the 1930s the entire society benefited from building city and national parks, preservation areas and advanced conservation projects, constructing levees in flood-prone areas, and so on.  More people can be employed if we switch from a culture of useless commodities that are produced new for the sake of being new to a culture of hands-on fixing and repair.  Small organic farms are more productive per acre and hire more than people than agribusiness.  Extensive recycling programs hire more people than mining ever could.

 

More urgently, a public works program modeled after the depression era Works Progress Administration would create 15 million jobs and build the infrastructure needed to create a sustainable economy. Converting a fraction of current military spending to other industries and tax cuts could produce 29 million new jobs, one for every unemployed or underemployed person in the United States, even after finding new employment for everyone displaced during the conversion.  Putting in place improved Medicare for all would provide a major stimulus for the U.S. economy not only by controlling the cost of health care and reducing deficits but by creating 2.6 million new jobs.  We need to be courageous in proclaiming that our decrepit system does not deliver the goods.  If a few individuals want to name-call or red-bait us for telling the truth, then let them – that will be no real recovery unless it is lead by those of us in the 99%.

 

There is urgent need of government action to create living wage unionized jobs, put people to the task of rebuilding a greener infrastructure, and restore domestic productive capacity.  But we must not allow the government to finance those projects by borrowing money created by the same private banks that create the financial mess. The government can and should instead issue debt-free money to finance the stimulus and meet other public needs.  The sad fact is that simple solutions – like a World War II-scale response to climate change (which could create millions of jobs) – are blocked by the powerful fossil fuel lobby.  The total number of jobs worldwide in the renewable energy sector in 2008 was only 2.3 million.  The total number of Wal-Mart employees in the same year was well over 2.1 million.

 

It is an encouraging sign that Occupy Cincinnati events have seen people chanting “Jobs not cuts!”  One of courageous young women carries around a sandwich board with the tongue-in-cheek sentiment: “I am a resident alien./ I came to take your job./ But you don’t have one./ Full employment now!”  In fact, a parsimonious U.S. full employment bill was passed as legislation in the 1970s – the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act – whose impetus came from the Left but was met by the Chamber of Commerce, which helped to water down the bill. Just to rub our noses in the mess they helped create, in 2009 the same Chamber of Commerce launched a $100 million campaign, which, among other things, draped their Washington, DC building with an enormous banner proclaiming “Jobs: Brought to you by the free market system.”  Really?  Well, the U.S. Department of Commerce found that from 2000 to 2009, U.S. transnational corporations, which employ about 20 percent of all American workers, cut their domestic employment by 2.9 million. The U.S. Chamber and powerful lobbyists like ALEC are bankrolled by global corporations trying to pay American workers the least, provide workers the fewest rights and benefits, and compensate as little as possible for consumers who are injured.  And every time a part-time and therefore uninsured employee for Apple has health emergencies, the burden falls on the taxpayers.

 

Occupy has helped bring to public attention the fact that alternatives are present everywhere.  Today, an estimated 13.7 million Americans already work in 11,400 Employee Stock Ownership Plan companies, in which employees own part or all of those companies.  Studies of democratically-run worker cooperatives like the Mondragón federation in Spain (which employs 100,000 worker/owners and is currently negotiating to establish a similar scheme here in Cincinnati), show that the ratio between the wages of those with mostly executive functions and others average 5:1 compared to the 475:1 in contemporary multinational corporations.  The largest conglomerate of worker owned co-operatives in the U.S. is the “Cleveland model” Evergreen Cooperative right here in Ohio, which includes the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry, the Ohio Cooperative Solar, and the Green City Growers, and shares new kinds of communal economic planning, mediated by “anchor institutions” (e.g. universities, non-profit hospitals), community foundations, development funds, state-owned banks or employee ownership banks, etc.  In the South Bronx, a new green worker co-op is reselling salvaged building materials.  The John Lewis Partnership in England is the largest department store chain in the country, with revenues of more than $11.5 billion, yet it is owned by its employees.  In 2011, the employees/owners got a bonus of 18 percent of their regular salaries, about nine week pay.

 

A small group of board members and major shareholders should not be allowed to close down firms and plants in Ohio and go somewhere else just because their considerable profits could swell their own pockets elsewhere.  Workers in Ohio, who contributed to the success of corporations across the world, have suffered enough.  In a democratic system, our workers could themselves ensure that decent wages, better job training and safer working conditions are upheld.  The fact is that workers, when left to manage themselves, do not employ dangerous technologies that pollute the environment, or use profits to speculate in dangerous financial derivatives, or pay some managers astronomical salaries, etc. The Kroger shareholder meeting here in Cincinnati is approaching in a few weeks, but how many Kroger workers enjoy their massive profits or are aware that the corporation continues to endorse slave labor in Florida where its fruit is picked and then shipped at great cost to the environment?

 

The Bush-Obama plan, of providing small incentives, inducements, etc. to the private sector in the hope that they might look at resources that could be used to hire people, does not work.  It is like putting a bandage on a serious burn and dumping the patient out on the street in case a passing private MD might be driving his SUV around and spot the victim and be feeling sympathetic to the poor on that particular day.  Rather, as a society, we see ourselves as the doctors in this situation and demand the government implement our plan for job creation –  one that will require taxing corporations and the rich first and foremost, but will also make better jobs and take the first steps towards widespread democratic workplaces.

 

It was Clinton and his Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin that pushed for increased deregulation, which ended up shifting jobs, and entire industries, overseas.  Obama’s modest stimulus program did little to sustain job growth and effectively ensured that the same forces that created the crisis remained in power. The major difference between Roosevelt and Obama is that the former could reach a compromise with the rich and their corporations by arguing that his new deal was better for them than anything the unions, socialists and communists would institute.  The unions or any other kind of leftist institution today do not have this power, or their officials share in the government’s power, and the government is not calling for the massive jobs program we need the rich to pay for.  We should create living-wage union jobs through a massive public works program to develop mass transit, renewable energy, infrastructure, health care, education, and affordable housing.  The program would offer a job to any American who was ready and willing to work at the federal minimum wage, plus legislated benefits. No time limits. No means testing. No minimum education or skill requirements. 

 

What the economy needs is jobs and growth.  With mass unemployment, businesses sit on profits; the rich move money elsewhere. So the government must act to put people to work.  We should demand to work for less time in full-time jobs and for job-shares, but also demand an end to exploitation through the highly deregulated worlds of part-time and internship labor.  The Cultural and Education Committee of Occupy Cincinnati calls upon all Streetvibes readers to join local efforts to put American back to work.  Our communities need to support efforts by the unemployed to organize and exert the pressure necessary to force the government to create public works programs.

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