front page headline in a local paper on Labor Day held an
ominous warning: “Jobs of future: skilled, low pay.”
Associated Press story noted that, when employers finally
start to hire - in months, if not years - they will be looking
for two types of workers, professional types or those with
certificates or licenses to practice their trades, and the
rest will be those who are willing to take a job at low
workers seeking jobs are not willing to take a low-wage
job, they’ll get no job at all, was the message being sent
to Americans on Labor Day.
stands at 9.6 percent (official statistics, not the reality
of workers who are underemployed or no longer seeking work)
and it doesn’t look as if it will be getting lower anytime
has been widely reported that there are five job applicants
for every available job and people are out there looking
at anything they can get to pay the rent, keep a car on
the road, and put some food on the table.
the high unemployment rate and its effect on the national
economy has been regularly covered in the press, the massive
family and general social disruptions that are being caused
by the long recession have not been covered with the same
regularity and, if these problems are not addressed, the
problems will be compounded in the years to come.
years ago, Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter for the White
House and he opened up his presidency with the firing and
blacklisting of 11,500 air traffic controllers. That was
his warning shot across the bow of the union movement and
that renewed assault on workers and their unions has continued
to this day.
1984, running his campaign for reelection, he had his “it’s
morning in America” one-minute campaign commercial.
Sappy scenes of Americans going about their daily business
of seeking happiness, to the strains of gentle music and
gauzy camera shots. It
made people feel good.
feeling good was all working people were going to get. Even
though most of the country was willing to give trickle-down
economics a chance - consisting mostly of tax cuts for the
rich - there were those who were warning of the long-term
consequences of such ridiculous policies. Who was listening?
Herbert Walker Bush, when he was running in a primary against
the same Reagan he served as vice president, called trickle-down
economics “voodoo economics,” and he turned out to be right.
my father would have said, “Trickle-down economics is like
feeding the horses so the sparrows can eat.” And the mantra
of the right - most Republicans and some Democrats - has
continued to this day: “Tax cuts. Tax cuts. Tax cuts.”
nation under Reagan continued to empty the country of its
manufacturing and industrial base, except at a faster pace
and workers were regaled with tales of a strong economy
coming out of consumption and the wonders of what was called
the new “service economy.”
least from the early 1980s, there were people warning about
what would happen if we sold off our factories and heavy
industry to the countries with the lowest paid workers.
That was 30 years ago. Not many were listening then. Not
many are listening now.
2010, the dire warnings of 1980 have come to pass and little
was done in the intervening period to mitigate what has
become a disaster economically, socially, and politically.
economy and social structure speak for themselves. They
are in shambles, but the third, our political culture -
which is the element that could remedy our ills -
is not even relevant to large portions of Americans. Politics
is something incomprehensible to a large proportion of young
persons, so they do not participate.
Americans are not engaged in the political process, if one
is to reckon that by participation in elections. So, why
would we expect Americans aged 18-35 to be a part of it?
few years ago, Dick Cheney, the vice president, announced
that sending manufacturing and industrial jobs to other
countries was good for America. He indicated that it would
spur creativity among the people and push us to ever-greater
heights of the development of our technology, especially
related to the information age.
we are left with today - the week of Labor Day 2010 - however,
is a service economy. There are not enough jobs for all
of those who are college graduates, no matter how many advanced
degrees they have. Even they are forced in this economy
to take the service jobs or other low-paying jobs, such
as in the information technology field.
we lost our industrial and manufacturing base, America lost the very heart of a society
and economy that allowed the development of a strong working
class and a prosperous middle class.
and Cheney’s recipe for the American economy - trickle-down
and “outsourcing of jobs” - has played itself out and workers
are left with few options. Today’s unemployment rate was
not caused by Obama’s policies alone. Rather, the economic
problems of today have their roots in the policies of the
past five presidential administrations. And, all the while,
the assault on labor unions continued, in the workplaces,
in the bureaucracies of the government, and in the courts.
There has been little or no protection for workers.
the American labor movement has been forced into decline,
so has the nation’s economy, along with the country’s working
class and, now, pundits are decrying the decline of the
are rightly fearful for their futures, but nothing will
change until the people take charge of their government
at every level. They need to be involved in the political
process in a positive way. In the past, labor unions were
the most basic expression of democracy in action. With a
union, workers had some control over their destiny at work.
of that sense of freedom came activism in wider issues such
as civil rights, housing, health care, education, trade,
and more. Those who have used their economic and political
power to diminish unions had better reconsider their strategy.
Until and unless the power to control one’s destiny is returned
through a movement as fundamental to freedom as organized
labor, America and its economy will not recover
Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former
union organizer. His union work started when he became a
local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s.
He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York
In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers
as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure
from factory food producers and land developers. Click here
to contact Mr. Funiciello.