Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Putting America Back to Work

75 years ago, on April 8, 1935, Congress passed legislation creating the largest public works program in U.S. history. A month later President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order founding the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which created 8.5 million jobs during the Depression of the 1930s.

But the WPA didn’t just happen because of the kindness and concern of President Roosevelt. It was a response to a tremendous mass movement in the streets and workplaces all over the U.S. – from the World War I soldiers’ Bonus March and the Ford Hunger March of 1932; to the San Francisco general strike and large industrial actions in Toledo and Minneapolis in 1934; to later sit-downs in the auto plants of Michigan; to militant actions by Unemployed Councils in hundreds of cities. It was this pressure from below that got us the WPA which put millions of people back to work. It’s also what got us New Deal programs like Social Security, which many of us depend on for daily survival to this very day.

Today’s economic crisis is much worse than the media lets on. Unemployment in manufacturing is almost at Great Depression levels. What we have now is an economy based on permanent high unemployment and low wages… a political and economic system that provides Trillions of $ in bailouts for Wall Street, and Trillions of $ for war, but nothing for large numbers of workers and the poor, who face growing joblessness, foreclosures, evictions, layoffs, low wages, hunger and homelessness.

The money is there! It’s just a question of who gets it.

It seems the bankers and war profiteers are always first in line to get paid! But when it comes to money for jobs, or housing, or schools – anything that will benefit workers and their families – better forget it! I found a good explanation of this problem in a recent article by Fred Goldstein, author of the eye-opening new book, Low Wage Capitalism: Colossus with Feet of Clay. He points out that public education is being brutally cut back, and the reason given is that city and state governments face declining revenue due to the bad economy. Their reasoning: “Budget cuts must be made. It is a matter of arithmetic. You cannot spend what you don’t have.”

“But that is capitalist arithmetic,” Goldstein continues. “If you cannot spend what you don’t have, then how can the federal government write a $750 Billion check to the biggest banks, buy up their bad debts, and guarantee their loans to the tune of $10 Trillion while handing the Pentagon more than $700 Billion each year?

“Apparently you can spend what you ‘don’t have’ when it is going to the super-rich” [the top 1% of the population that owns 42.7% of all the financial wealth in the country**]. But the money is suddenly unavailable when schools are being closed, teachers laid off, class sizes are going up, and our children suffer. “Meanwhile, hundreds of Billions of dollars that these state and city governments owe to banks and bondholders in interest payments are going to be paid out on time,” writes Goldstein.

“So there is money. It is just a matter of who is going to get it.” His proposal? – spend the money wisely for real needs like schools, jobs, health care and housing, and cancel the debt to the banks and wealthy bondholders!

To get what we need, there’s no substitute for huge throngs of people in the streets, shaking the established order.

Yes, the money is there to put America back to work. But where is the mass movement that will be necessary to make this a reality?

The AFL-CIO has a worthy 5-point Jobs Plan, but unless we can generate a lot more “street heat” it’s going nowhere in Congress. Many local and state unions have proposed a massive labor/community march on Washington, and the October 2, 2010 “One Nation” march in the nation’s capital is a step in the right direction.

Look around you. Our infrastructure is falling apart. Schools and health care facilities are understaffed. Houses sit vacant while homelessness spreads. We need the same kind of bold, sweeping jobs program that people demanded – and got – in the 1930s.

There are between 20 and 30 million unemployed and underemployed people in the country today. We need a real WPA-type program that is big enough to ensure that those who need work get work – work that is socially useful and paying union wages and benefits – a real jobs program fully funded by the government.

Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated the final months of his life to starting a movement for the right of everyone to a job or a guaranteed income – and we need a movement like that now. The issue of jobs is on the front burner: all it needs is a flame. And as in the 1930s, only a massive movement in the streets and workplaces will bring about a real public jobs program like the WPA.

In this 75th anniversary year of the WPA, which created 8.5 million public jobs during the Depression of the 1930s, we need to call on community, church and women’s organizations, the AFL-CIO and all of organized labor to do two things:

1) Fight for a real WPA-type program that is big enough to ensure that those who need work get work – work that is socially useful and paying union wages and benefits – a real jobs program fully funded by the government.

2) Organize a massive labor-community march on Washington, and regular actions in cities and towns all over the U.S., with the urgent demand: Put America back to work!

DAVE WELSH is a delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council. He was a writer and Senior Editor for Ramparts Magazine in the 1960s; edited Soul on Ice, the prison essays of Eldridge Cleaver; and served for many years as Executive Vice President of the Letter Carriers Union in San Francisco.

** Source for the top 1% of the population owning 42.7% of all the financial wealth in 2007: the website of G. William Domhoff, author of Who Rules America?

 

WORDS THAT STICK

?

 

More articles by:

Dave Welsh, a delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, was a member of a Human Rights and Labor Fact Finding Delegation to Haiti in October, that reported on systematic voter suppression, violence and intimidation in the election process.

May 24, 2018
Gary Leupp
Art of the Dealbreaker: Trump’s Cancellation of the Summit with Kim
Jeff Warner – Victor Rothman
Why the Emerging Apartheid State in Israel-Palestine is Not Sustainable
Kenn Orphan
Life, the Sea and Big Oil
James Luchte
Europe Stares Into the Abyss, Confronting the American Occupant in the Room
Richard Hardigan
Palestinians’ Great March of Return: What You Need to Know
Howard Lisnoff
So Far: Fascism Lite
Matthew Vernon Whalan
Norman Finkelstein on Bernie Sanders, Gaza, and the Mainstream Treatment
Daniel Warner
J’accuse All Baby Boomers
Alfred W. McCoy
Beyond Golden Shower Diplomacy
Jonah Raskin
Rachel Kushner, Foe of Prisons, and Her New Novel, “The Mars Room”
George Wuerthner
Myths About Wildfires, Logging and Forests
Binoy Kampmark
Tom Wolfe the Parajournalist
Dean Baker
The Marx Ratio: Not Clear Karl Would be Happy
May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail