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Protest Needed To Enforce Full Employment Laws

Marjorie Cohn, immediate past president of the National Lawyers Guild, has a post up at Op-Ed News, “Lost in the Debt Ceiling Debate: The Legal Duty to Create Jobs” addressing the federal government’s failure to comply with existing job-creation legislation.

Cohn focuses primarily on The Employment Act of 1946 and the Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978, noting also mandates for job-creation in 1977 reforms requiring the Federal Reserve to leverage monetary policy to promote maximum employment. She ads that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets a global standard of employment as an important right, which, not incidentally, some major industrialized nations have actually tried to honor.

Cohn’s review of the two jobs acts provides a timely reminder of the moral imperative that faces every great democracy, the responsibility to take action to help insure that every family has at least one breadwinner who earns a living wage:

The first full employment law in the United States was passed in 1946. It required the country to make its goal one of full employment…With the Keynesian consensus that government spending was necessary to stimulate the economy and the depression still fresh in the nation’s mind, this legislation contained a firm statement that full employment was the policy of the country.As originally written, the bill required the federal government do everything in its authority to achieve full employment, which was established as a right guaranteed to the American people. Pushback by conservative business interests, however, watered down the bill. While it created the Council of Economic Advisers to the President and the Joint Economic Committee as a Congressional standing committee to advise the government on economic policy, the guarantee of full employment was removed from the bill.

In the aftermath of the rise in unemployment which followed the “oil crisis” of 1975, Congress addressed the weaknesses of the 1946 act through the passage of the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978. The purpose of this bill as described in its title is:

“An Act to translate into practical reality the right of all Americans who are able, willing, and seeking to work to full opportunity for useful paid employment at fair rates of compensation; to assert the responsibility of the Federal Government to use all practicable programs and policies to promote full employment, production, and real income, balanced growth, adequate productivity growth, proper attention to national priorities.”

The Act sets goals for the President. By 1983, unemployment rates should be not more than 3% for persons age 20 or over and not more than 4% for persons age 16 or over, and inflation rates should not be over 4%. By 1988, inflation rates should be 0%. The Act allows Congress to revise these goals over time.

If private enterprise appears not to be meeting these goals, the Act expressly calls for the government to create a “reservoir of public employment.” These jobs are required to be in the lower ranges of skill and pay to minimize competition with the private sector.

The Act directly prohibits discrimination on account of gender, religion, race, age or national origin in any program created under the Act. Humphey-Hawkins has not been repealed.  Both the language and the spirit of this law require the government to bring unemployment down to 3% from over 9%…

This legislation only requires the federal government to take action. The private sector, which employs 85+ percent of the labor force, would be indirectly influenced by monetary policy, but would not be required to do any hiring. Still, full enforcement of existing legislation could substantially reduce unemployment by putting millions of jobless Americans to work in public service projects rebuilding our tattered infrastructure.

The ’46 and ’78 full employment laws have been winked at and shrugged off by elected officials for decades as merely symbolic statutes, despite the fact that they actually do require the President, Congress and the Fed to do specific things to create jobs.

Cohn points out that Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has introduced “The Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act” (HR 870), to fund job-training and job-creation programs, funded by taxes on financial transactions. But the bill has no chance as long as Republicans control the House.

Cohn urges President Obama to demand that the Fed “…use all the tools relating to controlling the money supply…to create the funds called for by HR 870, and to start putting people back to work through direct funding of a reservoir of public jobs as Humphrey-Hawkins mandates.” Imagine the political donnybrook that would ensue following such action, legal though it apparently would be. It’s an interesting scenario that needs some fleshing out.

The best hope for full employment remains electing strong Democratic majorities to both houses of congress, while retaining the presidency. Under this scenario, full enforcement of the ’46 and ’78 employment acts is certainly doable. But it’s a very tough challenge, given the Republican edge in Senate races next year.

There are signs that the public is tiring of the tea party obstruction of government, and therefore hope that at least some Republicans may have to move toward the center to survive. It’s possible they could be influenced by energetic protest and lobbying campaigns by their constituents.

Like other groups across the political spectrum, we progressives are very good at blaming elected officials when they don’t follow through on their reform promises. But too many progressive Dems fail to realize that finger-pointing, while necessary, is only part of our responsibility. If we really want to see significant progressive change, especially full employment, we simply must escalate our protest activities to compel our elected and government officials to act.

At a white house meeting, FDR reportedly told the great African American labor leader A. Philip Randolph “Make me do it” in response to Randolph’s appeal for racial justice and economic reform. Roosevelt was not being a smart ass; He was underscoring an important law of politics, that elected officials need protest to galvanize them to act, and progressive politicians welcome it because it provides cover, as well as encouragement.

Regarding protest leadership, we have a great role model, whose 30+ foot stone image will be unveiled not far from the Lincoln, Jefferson and FDR Memorials on the National Mall in the capitol August 28th. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial will not only honor the historic contributions of a great African American leader; It will also inspire — and challenge — coming generations of all races to emulate his strategy of militant but dignified nonviolent protest to achieve social and economic justice.

Let’s not forget that the Great March on Washington MLK and Randolph lead in 1963 was not only about racial justice. The twin goals were “Jobs and Freedom,” a challenge that echoes with prophetic relevance for our times. It was FDR who said “make me do it,” and MLK showed us the way, not only with one demonstration, but with a sustained commitment to mass protest. Now let’s make them do it.


By: J. P. Green, The Democratic Strategist, August 13, 2011

August 14, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Capitalism, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Equal Rights, GOP, Government, Human Rights, Ideologues, Ideology, Income Gap, Jobs, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Small Businesses, Teaparty, Unemployed, Unemployment, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Decimation Of Democracy: Protests In Benton Harbor Follow Martial Law Enforcement

The stripping of all power of the local government in Benton Harbor, MI has brought the national spotlight to the tiny town on the shores of Lake Michigan. The first city to be declared in a “financial emergency” by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, CMDreported that Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) Joseph Harris was assigned to the city back in 2010 by then-Governor Jennifer Granholm. But it wasn’t until March of this year that Harris essentially disbanded the local government and boards.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. responded to this takeover while on a tour of the state, calling for a rainbow coalition to organize against the EFM bill and others that Snyder and the Republican-led Senate has passed. At a protest in Benton Harbor, Jackson said that he, along with Michigan Congressman John Conyers, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and Benton Harbor Mayor Wilce Cook will file a lawsuit to challenge the law’s constitutionality.

Governor “Decimates Democracy”

WNDU in South Bend reported on Jackson’s speech to members of Benton Harbor: “It simply decimates democracy and gives dictatory powers in someone who does not live here but has the power to sit down officials and cancel contracts, but have power over assets selling off the properties of the city and its assets, that’s un-American” says Jackson.

Jackson also wrote an op-ed piece for the Chicago Sun-Times calling for an “uprising” in Benton Harbor and around Michigan. The town’s poor, mostly African-American population has been highlighted by Jackson and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC.

“Benton Harbor, Mich., is a town of nearly 11,000 people, about 90 percent of whom are African American. It is a catalogue of the misery of the industrial Midwest,” said Jackson in the Chicago Sun-Times. “It was the headquarters and manufacturing center of Whirlpool, but the last Whirlpool plant closed years ago. Now Benton Harbor has a per capita income of about $10,000 a year. And it is plagued by the ills that accompany poverty in today’s America: high unemployment, broke government, failing schools, crime, drugs and despair.”

Community activist Rev. Edward Pinkney  in his blog, Blanco, notes: “there is nothing to stop the state from abolishing democratic governance in any of Michigan’s cities, if an emergency can be declared or created. On April 15, the mostly black city of Benton Harbor, the poorest jurisdiction in the state, was placed under total financial martial law, its citizens suddenly made more powerless than blacks in Selma, Alabama, prior to the civil rights movement.”

A Developer’s Dream – A Corporate Coup?

The take over of Benton Harbor has been linked to a commercial development plan, backed by Whirlpool and the very legislator who introduced the EFM bill, Rep. Al Pscholka. Pscholka is a former aide to the grandson of Whirlpool’s founder, Rep. Fred Upton, and former vice president of one of the companies involved with the Harbor Shores development and also on the Board of Directors of a non-profit involved with the development. The plan is to build a high-end lakeshore housing development and golf course, taking over the city’s sprawling public park and beach, Jean Klock Park, gifted to the city in 1917.

The latest protest on April 27th saw hundreds of people march through the streets of Benton Harbor with signs and chants decrying the takeover.

Business Insider, however, wrote that “Benton Harbor’s finances are indeed a mess – the result of mismanagement, poor accounting and too much spending.”

But Rev. Jackson doesn’t see it that way. He holds fast to the belief that the problems in Benton Harbor, as in other previously-industrialized cities in the Rust Belt, are a symptom of the resulting poverty that followed the end to factory jobs in these areas. The solution, he says, is to invest in the very people that have all but been forgotten by the Governor Snyder’s office.

“They’ve shut down the jobs, and taken over the schools. Now they want to shut down the democracy and turn the public parks into a rich man’s playground,” said Jackson. “But in Benton Harbor, as in Selma and Montgomery, they forget even the poorest people have a sense of dignity…. In Benton Harbor, it is time for the good people to make themselves heard.”

By: Jennifer Page, Center for Media and Democracy, May 3, 2011

May 4, 2011 Posted by | Corporations, Democracy, Government, Governors, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, State Legislatures, States, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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