Sep 9, 2010 - Issue 392
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What Kind of Jobs? - What Kind of Society? - Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - Columnist

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The front page headline in a local paper on Labor Day held an ominous warning: “Jobs of future: skilled, low pay.”

The 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 pay.

If 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.

Unemployment 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 soon.

It 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.

While 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.

Thirty 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.

In 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.

But 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?

George 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.

As 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.”

The 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.”

At 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.

In 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.

Our 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.

Most 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?

A 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.

What 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.

When 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.

Reagan 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.

As 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 middle class.

People 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.

Out 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 anytime soon. 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 State. 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.

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