Fight Forward

What should be the approach of leftists, progressive, and anyone with even a smidgin of concern for those suffering economic distress in hard times? 


A debate over reducing government, cutting spending, or raising taxes has no self evidently positive aspect. More government, more spending, more taxes, all sound bad to working people. In fact, even with context added, most working people fear that larger government will be intrusive and negative. Greater spending will be boondoggles for the rich. And increased taxes will wind up coming from them. And this is indeed what would happen to such a program in the absence of powerful forces able to compel better results. But powerful forces means massive sustained public campaigns that know what they want. And demanding more government, more spending, and more taxes, won't generate that campaign. 


So how about as a possible focus, having a public campaign for: More Jobs, Less Work, More Pay, More Training, and Less War. It would make sense here in the U.S., I think, but also elsewhere – Greece, Spain, and in fact, pretty much everywhere. Here is the logic.


(1) Current outrageous levels of unemployment horribly hurt the poor, the weak, and all those working for wages at anything less than the highest income levels. It weakens working class constituencies, and since owners profit more when workers are weak, owners and politicians who represent them try to expand unemployment. So, for a positive exit from crisis, government and society must be forced to generate more jobs. But how can that happen with people working 60 or 80 hours – as many do now? That is an ecological, climatological, and tension-inducing nightmare. 


So, (2) we also need Less Work – meaning we need to reduce the length of work down to, let's say, 30 hours a week. Five days at six hours a day might be a nice approach, or even four days at seven and a half hours each, where work beyond that earns overtime. This opens the way to relatively easy job creation as new workers take up the slack for workers who now have shorter schedules. We needn't add wasteful production. So now we have everyone working, but most are working less hours, creating a new problem – many folks won't earn enough in fewer hours. 


So, (3) we need to raise hourly pay rates so that working well less hours still yields us the same income we had before, or more. We get 40 hours pay for 30 hours work, and the minimum wage should climb as well, so that those who were earning too little due to low minimum pay before, now earn more due to higher minimum pay. What about the people who earn a ton already? Should they get a pay rate raise? They shouldn't. So for anyone who was earning $100,000 or more, they do 30 hours work in the new regime, like those who earned less, but unlike those who earned less, they do it for 30 hours of their old pay – thus their income drops by 25%, though they get 25% more life, in return. But if lots of highly skilled and technical and professional workers are working 25% less, who is doing the work they were doing before?


(4) For a time, they probably are, at least some of it. So they get back some of that lost 25% of their prior income, in overtime pay. But, that isn't ideal. What would be better is to have More Training. That is, society needs to prepare more people to do highly skilled, conceptual, and especially empowering labor. Thus, not only do the currently unemployed fill easily accessible slots freed by the lower hours of work per week that they were and are ready for, they also get training to fill more advanced slots, as do current workers. But then there is a new problem.


(5) The unemployed likely won't be enough folks to pick up 25% of all work currently happening. Even overtime efforts from high income folks won't fix that, nor training. Who else can do it? How about military personnel? Think about army, air force, navy, and marines – and all the workers who currently maintain their bases, and shuttle them around, and build their useless and pointless weaponry – or, worse – weaponry they are actually using. Instead how about all those people building housing, cleaning and refurbishing cities, developing and deploying green tools for homes and neighborhoods and transportation, and otherwise doing productive work that benefits people. That is a nice image. Imagine some huge military bases transformed to produce, say, low income housing. Imagine that the GIs and others on the base not only do that work, get nice pay, have lives due to sensible hours, but also are the initial recipients, should they wish to be, of the newly created housing. Okay, so we need Less War. And with less war not only do we pile up fewer corpses around the world, we can also have fewer soldiers deployed all over the world, and and thus able to doing productive work for society. 


The above five point program would not only alleviate tremendous pain and suffering for millions of people who are now unemployed, only improve social outcomes via creation of new infrastructure and useful products including fighting climate catastrophe, only expand life time training and increase the skills, confidence, dignity, and empowerment of working people, only maintain and expand income levels for the poor and weak lowering only those that are already unfairly high, only reduce war and violence more generally, but it would also empower working people relative to employers and thus leave them in position to continue a trajectory of improvements to society until finally changing it entirely. 


Could the next step be serious redistributive taxes? Could it be formation of workers and consumer's councils to begin taking responsibility for locale decision making in firms and neighborhoods? Could it be massive electoral reforms? And so on. Sure it could. 


Is this a banner: More Jobs, Less Work, More Pay, More Training, and Less War.


Maybe this is better: More Jobs, Pay, and Training – Less Work and War.


I don't know. Maybe it needs bigger or different changes. Maybe we should put Tax the Rich in there, somehow? Whether something like this resonates or not isn't just an analytic question, but, instead, is also a matter of people's preferences, desires, hopes, and fears. It is how words move people, or not, no matter what they objectively are intended to mean. What works works. What doesn't, doesn't. Maybe we ought to see if this does. 


One thing for sure. We need to stop fighting on the terrain that banner bearers for the rich and powerful champion. We need to stop Fighting Back against what they want. We need to Fight Forward, for what we actually want.


1 comment

  1. H H January 17, 2015 5:55 am 

    A major cut in working hours is long overdue. We went from 60 to 40 hours per week in the 1930s. Since then, the productivity has skyrocketed. I believe this is the only sustainable way of solving the problem of unemployment and falling real wages. It would effectively be a reduction in the supply of labor, which should force the wages (the cost of labor) to rise. Trying to grow the economy to achieve the same result worldwide with 7 billion people on the planet would be an environmental suicide.

    Furthermore, is it possible that if all people suddenly earned 25% less, there would be no significant reduction in buying power? The prices of many expensive items such as housing are set to be as high as the market can bear, which in many areas is significantly more than the actual construction costs. If everybody, and it must be everybody, suddenly earned 25% less than before, the prices of real-estate would quickly fall.

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