When the March, 2009 BLS unemployment report was released, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote on his blog It's a Depression.
The March employment numbers, out this morning, are bleak: 8.5 percent of Americans officially unemployed, 663,000 more jobs lost. But if you include people who are out of work and have given up trying to find a job, the real unemployment rate is 9 percent. And if you include people working part time who'd rather be working full time, it's now up to 15.6 percent. One in every six workers in America is now either unemployed or underemployed.
What kind of grassroots coalition, initiated by organized labor, would be capable of mobilizing support for the array of policies and programs needed to address this most urgent problem? Based on some very positive feedback to that March, 2009 post For a Union of the Unemployed, I'd propose CREATEJobsNow! as the name and concept for the kind of organization we need.
CREATEJobsNow! The Coalition to Restore Employment And The Economy with Jobs Now!
-- a coalition of unions, civil rights organizations, progressive groups, veterans, student, environmental and retirees groups advocating for both public and private investments to create millions of productive, good paying jobs, restore employment and power the economic recovery.
Is it possible for labor to take the lead in launching this effort? It's not only possible -- it would also add a powerful "third leg" to labor's ongoing organizing efforts for health care and the Employee Free Choice Act, bringing many new supporters to all of those efforts.
Labor could take the initiative in organizing CREATEJobsNow! in conjunction with the ongoing progress toward a unified organized labor movement. This would bring together the huge AFL-CIO with the energetic Change to Win unions as well as the National Education Association for the very first time. This exciting prospect is but one indication of labor's renewed movement toward a leading policy advocacy and grassroots outreach role.
The AFL-CIO has launched Working America and their blog to reach out to non-union and union workers, employed and unemployed.
Recently the AFL-CIO also initiated the Unemployment Lifeline to help connect unemployed Americans with needed services and with one another.
The SEIU and Workers United announced a new unified affiliation while their Take Back the Economy campaign connects with the grassroots.
Meanwhile American Rights at Work has launched a major media and web-based campaign on behalf of the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation to simplify the process for workers to join a union to improve wages, benefits and working conditions.
These initiatives are relatively recent, and indicative of a real movement within organized labor to reach out beyond the existing member base to create more unified organizational coalitions. That's exactly what's needed; but even more. Imagine if all the labor organizations were to unite the focus of these and other resources to form the CREATEJobsNow! coalition -- one that would put organized labor, as one voice, at the forefront of a movement to address the real challenge of restoring employment for millions of Americans.
Would civil rights organizations want to join this effort? They know all too well that the unemployment rate among African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities is much higher than the nation as a whole. And major civil rights groups have already shown they're determined to work with labor in support of labor law reform, as reported by Seth D April 2 on Daily Kos : Civil Rights Leaders Urge Passage of Employee Free Choice.
The CREATEJobsNow! coalition would set up a unified web-based outreach program -- supported by web, cable and other media promotions -- to enlist hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of unemployed, underemployed and other working Americans. It could involve leading economists to help promote the smart, effective policies needed to adequately address the employment crisis. Legislative and advocacy actions would be promoted. Information on obtaining unemployment assistance, employment counseling, training, health and other benefits would be communicated.
Email campaigns, online petition drives, targeted phone banks, state and national rallies and demonstrations could be organized. Can you imagine a million unemployed Americans from across the country, joined by another million union supporters, progressives and civil rights supporters demonstrating in Washington, D.C. for specific solutions to the unemployment crisis?
Is this effort really necessary? After all, isn't enough being done already to address the need for jobs and economic recovery?
New York Times columnist Bob Herbert asked that question in his powerful April 28 column "Workers Walk the Plank". What follows are excerpts from that column (emphasis is mine):
The folks who led the nation to this financial abyss are the ones being made whole on the taxpayers’ dime. We can look after them, all right. But we can’t seem to get credit flowing in any normal way again; we can’t stanch the terrible flow of home foreclosures; and we’re not doing nearly enough to address the most critical need of all: putting people back to work.
Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, offered a rundown of the unemployment crisis in remarks she prepared for a House subcommittee last week. Ms. Shierholz began by noting that next month the current economic downturn will become the longest since the Great Depression.
"The 10 postwar recessions prior to this one have averaged 10.4 months in length, with the longest being 16 months," said Ms. Shierholz. "The current recession is now in its 16th month and the labor market is still shedding over 600,000 jobs a month."
More than 13 million people are officially counted as unemployed, with some 5.6 million jobs lost since the recession started. Ms. Shierholz tells us that since the first of the year about 23,000 men and women were being added to the jobless rolls every day.
Job losses on such a scale are knockout blows to ordinary American families.
The employment issue is not being addressed with the level of urgency that is warranted. For all the talk of green jobs, there is no large-scale creative effort to turn this employment debacle around. There is no crash program on anything like the scale needed, for example, to rebuild the rotting infrastructure — a big-time potential source of jobs.
The financial industry is seen as essential, but millions of American workers are not. They’re expendable.
If as much attention, energy and resources were given to the effort to put Americans back to work as has been given to putting the banking industry back on its feet, you’d have fewer Champagne toasts on Wall Street but a lot more high-fiving in family homes across the country.
Is it possible to move the needed policies onto the national agenda, given the political landscape? I think it is, because in the effort to do so I think we continue to change that landscape. And I think the key is in the White House.
On April 14 President Barack Obama delivered an incisive and substantive speech on the economy at Georgetown University. It is certainly a refreshing change to have a President who can so rationally and thoroughly articulate economic problems and policies. The full text of President Obama's speech is here. In it he describes the importance of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act "that's already in the process of saving or creating 3.5 million jobs over the next two years" and other needed initiatives.
But with 13.2 million unemployed and another 11.1 million under- or marginally-employed is "saving or creating 3.5 million jobs over the next two years" really enough?
Noting that Republicans have criticized him for "taking on too much at once", the President took the occasion to address those concerns at length. He also noted that "others believe we haven't done enough" and added again later "I realize that for some, this isn't enough". Curiously, though, the President did not address those concerns.
But why raise the issue of whether we're doing "enough" if you're not going to answer it? Was this just a "hat tip" to liberal economists and policy advocates like Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, Dean Baker and Joseph Stiglitz? Perhaps, but I think it goes beyond the "hat tip". Barack Obama is now the President, and that's where his mind is now focused. But in his heart he's still an organizer. And so his remarks, I believe, can be taken to help spur us on -- to create the grassroots, labor-led coalition we need to rally the unemployed, underemployed, union and non-union workers, youth and elder Americans to CREATEJobsNow!
In an upcoming post on this initiative, we'll focus on some proposed efforts, actions and policies for CREATEJobsNow!
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