Not long after he won the White House in a disputed 2000 Presidential election, George W. Bush achieved his prized goal: a $1.3 trillion tax cut. Responding to evidence that the lion’s share of the tax cuts would go to 5% of the wealthiest individuals and profitable corporations (including big-time contributors to the Republican Party), Bush apologists said the tax cuts would stimulate investment, expand the economy and create thousands of new jobs.
It turns out that in the two years that Bush has been in the White House, 69,000 jobs were lost each and every month. The wealthy recipients of the tax cuts had no obligation to invest in job-creating enterprises. They could invest their windfall income abroad or spend it in luxurious living or stash it away in family foundations.
While the economy is undergoing an anemic recovery, a new wave of mass layoffs are expected in 2003. Workers who are still employed worry whether they will be next in line to be dismissed. Last November alone, the nation’s employers initiated 2,150 mass layoffs affecting 240,000 workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (A mass layoff is defined as any firing that involves 50 or more people.) Between January and November 2002, there were 17,799 mass layoffs involving nearly two million workers.
On January 7, President Bush proposed a $600 billion growth and jobs economic package, that would eliminate the taxes individuals pay on stock dividends, accelerate income-tax rate cuts approved two years ago and provide $400 rebate checks for middle-class parents.
The new White House tax initiative is also designed to increase corporate profits and boost stock market prices, but offers little solace to those who can’t find a job.
The Bush plan gives some assistance to workers who have exhausted their unemployment benefits, including eligibility for up to $3,000 to spend in looking for work or training for work. But there is not the slightest suggestion that the White House favors creating public works projects for the jobless.
Although the unemployment rate has risen from 3.5% to 6% in less than three years, there is no sense of alarm in Washington, even though the single-digit figure represents 9,600,000 human beings who can’t find a paying job. It’s understandable that a great many of them feel useless and unwanted by our society and are having a miserable time trying to feed and care for their families. They can’t blame the government for their hard luck, can they? Nor can they be bitter against their employer for following the rules of the business world. They’re made to believe that no one’s to blame for their deplorable situation, except possibly themselves.
The jobless population represents a cross-section of America in terms of race, gender, age, nationality, religion, occupation and other attributes, with one common need: a decent job. It is larger than that of more than 40 States and nearly all of our nation’s cities. It could jam-pack at least 300 sports arenas, and there are enough of them to line up on the side of a national superhighway from New York to San Francisco, standing a yard apart and nearly two deep. They could make plenty of noise and terrify politicians if they were organized.
It’s hard for even baby boomers to believe there once was The Employment Act of 1946, which declared that there will be afforded useful employment opportunities, including self-employment, for those able, willing and seeking to work, and to promote maximum employment, production and purchasing power. The Act, which was passed out of concern for the 12 million soldiers returning to civilian life, has long gone the way of the dodo bird.
Surely, there is plenty of socially useful work to be done in America that could use the know-how, talents and experience of this enormous army of unemployed workers. It’s easy to make long lists of public works projects that could enrich America while providing job opportunities for those in need. But since the unemployed, despite their enormous numbers, are leaderless and politically powerless, hardly anyone in Washington pays attention to their needs.
Not only President Bush, but influential Republicans and Democrats, firmly believe that the government owes no worker a living, and there is no such thing as a right to a job. They support the trickle down economic doctrine under which the welfare of the employer is paramount, and the worker will get a job only if and when the employer determines it is profitable to hire him or her and not one day sooner.
In reality, employers have said they are reluctant to hire any new workers until they absolutely have to. They are trying to make their current employees more productive to take up any slack because of layoffs. They don’t want to be caught with newly-hired workers at the next business downturn. This means that rehiring will be sluggish for at least the coming year, according to employment experts.
Clearly, the unemployed need a champion to fight in their behalf. Is the labor movement prepared to take on that role?
LaborTalk appears on www.laboreducator.org every Wednesday. Our weekly Labor and the War column can be viewed Fridays at the same Web site.