Thanks to the government bailout, bankers and brokers are now self-righteously pocketing their record bonuses, reassured by Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein that they are doing “God’s work” (The New York Times, November 17, 2009). There is no humility in these quarters. Yet working people continue to be battered by relentlessly rising unemployment, caused by an economic crisis they had no part in creating. Officially the rate stands at 10.2 percent with the unofficial rate hovering around 17.5 percent, since it also includes part-time workers wanting full-time work and those who are discouraged and no longer looking for work. Both statistics are on the verge of rising.
Blacks and Latinos are, as usual, bearing the brunt of the job crisis with the official unemployment rates of 15.7 percent and 13.1 percent respectively. Worse yet, these grim statistics are accompanied by the highest foreclosure rates, not only because job loss is frequently followed by home loss but because banks actually targeted blacks and Latinos for subprime loans, even though many of them qualified for regular loans. Thus, they were required to pay much higher interest rates simply because of their race or ethnicity. A recent report from the William C. Velasquez Institute noted: “…across the country, blacks and Latinos were anywhere from two to nine times as likely as whites to have those kinds [higher cost mortgage] of loans. (The New York Times, November 17, 2009).
Meanwhile millions of workers who are receiving unemployment insurance are about to see their benefits terminate. Federal extensions of unemployment insurance are scheduled to end for many workers on December 31, and workers who lost their jobs after July 1 are not currently eligible to receive any extensions whatsoever. (The New York Times, November 18, 2009).
Although Wall Street brought the economy to its knees through recklessness and greed, the government has responded with generosity beyond belief, rewarding it with a staggering total of $12.8 trillion in the form of taxpayer loans, grants and guarantees, according to Bloomberg News. (See David Sirota, San Francisco Chronicle, April 9, 2009). And one must keep in mind that these people were already absurdly rich. For them, it is not a question of trying to hold on to the little they have.
But when it comes to working people, who lack the luxury of having multiple mansions to cushion any downturn, suddenly the government cannot afford to help, except by offering lip service and a few crumbs. This month, the Obama administration announced that its $789 billion stimulus created or saved as many as 640,000 jobs but immediately found itself on the defensive as the government watchdog countered that this number could not be substantiated while others argued it was surely inflated. Given that job losses have amounted to hundreds of thousands each month with a total of 7.3 million losses thus far, even if the administration’s number were accurate, it amounts to the offer of a mere bandaid to a patient who is hemorrhaging to death.
When he was on the campaign trail, Obama trumpeted job-creation programs across the country. Now he is backtracking rapidly. In an interview with Fox News, Obama spoke only vaguely about such programs and qualified even these timid remarks by cautioning that “it is important though to recognize that if we keep on adding to the debt, even in the midst of this recovery, that at some point, people could lose confidence in the U.S. economy in a way that could actually lead to a double-dip recession.”
With little help in sight from the administration, the NAACP has joined with the AFL-CIO and the National Council of La Raza to call on Obama “for increased spending for schools and roads, billions of dollars in fiscal relief to state and local governments to forestall more layoffs and a direct government jobs program.” (The New York Times, November 16, 2009).
This call is contributing to a growing chorus demanding relief from the agonizing plight of unemployment. Recently, for example, the National Assembly, a nationwide antiwar coalition, adjusted its orientation and placed jobs as its number one demand, ranking it above ending the wars.
In September, Michael Moore premiered his new movie, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” at the AFL-CIO national convention, resulting in a rousing reception. Moore urged the AFL-CIO to call a national protest day in Washington, D.C. to fight for jobs and health care.
Last week, Minnesota’s AFL-CIO President called on Minnesota’s Congressional delegation and the state legislature to create “an aggressive new jobs program.” Wisconsin’s State Federation of Labor adopted a similar position.
The Troy Labor Council in New York has called on the AFL-CIO to organize a demonstration in Washington, D.C. to demand job-creation programs and peace, among other things.
The AFT (American Federation of Teachers) Local 1021, covering 10,000 members and part of UTLA (United Teachers of Los Angeles), passed a resolution on November 12 calling on the labor movement to organize a Solidarity Day III demonstration to demand jobs.
A resolution has been submitted to the U.S. Labor Against War’s upcoming National Assembly, which will be held in early December, also calling for the labor movement to organize a Solidarity Day III demonstration to demand jobs and an end to U.S. wars, among other things.
Finally, the Workers Emergency Recovery Campaign (WERC), an emerging grassroots, national organization, worked with members of the San Francisco Labor Council and others who introduced a similar resolution to the Council which was passed on November 23. The WERC has a more concise version of the resolution that can be used as a model for anyone wishing to introduce a similar resolution in his or her union local.
The banks have been lobbying intensely for their own interests, and their efforts have been met with stunning success. We working people need to mount a campaign to pressure the government to respond our needs. After all, we are the vast majority of the population, and the government should respond to the needs of the majority instead of ignoring us in favor of a fabulously rich minority. By mounting a massive united struggle, we can succeed!
Ann Robertson is a Lecturer at San Francisco State University and a member the California Faculty Association. Bill Leumer is a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 853 (ret.). Both are writers for Workers Action and may be reached at [email protected]