New Orleans More than 14 million statistically unemployed adding up to a jobless rate of 9.2% cannot really be invisible, can they? How could they be invisible especially when the real numbers of unemployed who are now “discouraged” job seekers, workers in the informal economy, and “portfolio” workers balancing a list of tasks while trying to find a job-job could make this figure 20 million or more?
Catherine Rampbell writing about this in the New York Times wonders why there are marches on the street and handwringing in political corridors. She talks to some people who should know and concludes correctly that part of the problem to paraphrase Michael Kazin from Georgetown University is that organizing and protest are not the same as spontaneous combustion. It takes real organizations and real organizers to make that happen, and both, tragically, are in short supply. Nelson Litchtenstein, the noted labor historian from UC-Santa Barbara, also comments from the long view that it may be too early to tell what may happen and that Obama could, like Roosevelt, could eventually hear the hearts break and feel the pain.
I appreciated some flag waving and finger pointing for the unemployed and certainly agree that the capacity to organize around these issues seems limited. The unemployed are hardly invisible though. In fact they seem everywhere one goes now, or is it just me and where I roll?
Looking past the capacity problem, I think the organizing problem is a muddle not for lack of interest, but for lack of consensus about who is to blame and what can be done to produce a real solution with real jobs. The banks deserve their share of scorn certainly and they are absolutely out of control, but hitting banks is not exactly going to turn the jobs spigot on. The non-stop wailing wall of city and state governments in the recession makes them a slippery target. The Tea Party types are right to flail out about jobs, but they are as confused as anyone else so are blaming the feds while they try to figure it out. Progressives know that too little is being done by the government and what is being done is not being done well, but are still not willing to get rough on the President and the few Democratic friends that are left.
I get the feeling there is a movement waiting for a decision on the targets.
I think our default has to be to act and act now.
I’m not sure that we necessarily need perfect targets, like the biggest business that is also paying the least taxes, and so forth. I think we need to make a list of companies and the number of jobs we need in our community to put people to work, and start organizing the unemployed to do actions against businesses demanding they create jobs and hire the numbers of people needed to end this level of unemployment.
Let’s say we want to reduce the level of unemployment from 12% to 5% and that adds up to 50,000 jobs in our town. We pull the labor stats and find that manufacturing is accounting for X percent of the jobs and tourism is account for Y and so forth to get a number of jobs we need from each one of those areas. We could get fancy and figure out the top 10 or 20 business in each sector, assume that they are responsible for 80% of the jobs, and come up with a “quota” demand for each one of them, or we could simply start taking action and listening to the pigs squeal while we put on the heat.
Rampbell and the headline writers are not wrong. We need to make ourselves visible so that the issue has a face and a voice, a loud voice. We have to crack this business-first-we-give-to-the-community message of the companies and demand real jobs right now, and not let up until we see our people walking through the door with jobs.
Quoting Barney Oursler from Pittsburgh’s Mon Valley Unemployed Committee, Rampbell makes the point that it is not as easy to find the unemployed at unemployment offices anymore. Heck, I’m not sure how many of them are getting unemployment checks anyway. The Fight for a Fair Economy has this part right: go door-to-door in the community. The unemployed are sitting right there. They aren’t hard to find.
They are just waiting for a clear plan, certain targets, coherent demands, and organizations and organizers who will stick with the program until victories are won. Can that be so hard to make happen?