How Virginia could benefit from the Millions of Jobs Campaign
A good infrastructure program could help tackle the problem of rising sea levels in Virginia's tidewater region (marked in red on the map). | Wikipedia (CC)

As the midterm elections approach, and after them the 2020 presidential election, a huge amount is at stake. One thing that is certain is that the Republicans will continue to claim that they are the party of “jobs” for working people.  This is false, but without counter proposals to create good quality jobs, their demagogic approach can convince some workers.   But Democrats could counter that.

One is the idea of creating large numbers of well-paid unionized jobs through the renovation of our country’s decrepit infrastructure.  This has been proposed in the past by Senator Bernie Sanders and others in recent years.

Representative Ted Lieu (D-California) has introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives (H Con Res 63) which calls for a massive federally funded infrastructure program that would create a very large number of new jobs in the United States.  One hundred fifty seven House members signed onto this resolution, all Democrats.  This amounts to 81 percent of the House Democratic Caucus.  Meanwhile, a large number of organizations are backing the “Millions of Jobs” campaign which dovetails with this congressional resolution.  These include major labor unions and workers’ organizations. Among them are the AFSCME, the Communications Workers of America, the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, the National Education Association, and the Service Employees’ International Union. On board are also environmental organizations such as Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Food and Water Watch, Greenpeace, League of Conservation Workers, the Sierra Club, as well as many other organizations, including the Communist Party USA.

The aim of these two initiatives is to use the country’s crying need for infrastructural renovation to create well paid, unionized jobs while dealing with problems in housing, green energy generation, public transportation, and the country’s many other infrastructural needs.

How could this work?  Perhaps the best way to look at this is to go community by community and state by state, with local residents assessing both their infrastructural needs and the potential for creating good jobs by infrastructure renovation.  Let’s take a quick look at Virginia, where I live.

In Northern Virginia, the Washington D.C. suburbs and exurbs, there are several situations that lend themselves to this approach.  Arlington, Virginia, right across the Potomac River from the capital, is competing with Montgomery County Maryland and Washington D.C. itself to attract a major Amazon facility.  There is opposition to this, organized by progressive organizations including Our Revolution in Virginia.  The arguments against the Amazon project are that it would be environmentally destructive, would create monster traffic jams in an area that is already impossibly congested, and also that Amazon is playing jurisdictions off against one other by demanding concessions that are not good for ordinary people. The argument of Amazon and its supporters are that it would create “jobs, jobs, jobs.  Amazon, however, has a horrible labor relations record, so we must ask how good these jobs would really be?  The “jobs through infrastructure” approach would be much better.

One of the problems we have in Northern Virginia is school overcrowding, with children studying in temporary trailer-like structures because school construction has not caught up with the increase in the population of the greater Washington area.  To deal with this, money would have to be found from local taxes, which sets up a conflict over priorities.  A federal jobs through infrastructure program of the scale anticipated would provide money to renovate existing school buildings and construct new classroom space.

In Northern Virginia, also, as in many areas of the country, skyrocketing housing costs, especially for rental housing, forces working class families to choose between paying the rent and other needs such as dental care.  Exploitative developers promote aggressive gentrification in the whole D.C. metropolitan area, which pushes working class families further and further away from jobs and other vital resources. The construction of a large amount of public housing would help greatly, both directly by providing large amounts of affordable housing to lower income workers, and by exercising a downward pull on the private rents.

Also in Northern Virginia, public transportation, including the very troubled DC Metro, is a serious problem for working people.  The Metro has a chronic maintenance and safety problems which have affected the ability of people in D.C., Virginia and Maryland to get to their jobs.  Conservative Virginia politicians have tried to “solve” these problems on the backs of public transportation workers.  The millions of jobs through infrastructure approach could solve the physical problems of the Metro and extend high speed rail commuter transport to new communities in the region, with concomitant environmental and traffic benefits.

As in other parts of the country, Virginia recently has seen big struggles over environmentally dangerous pipeline construction.  There are currently two major pipeline projects underway, which have been the focus of protests, including civil disobedience, by environmental protectors. The corporations involved and the politicians and others who support the pipelines justify them in terms of the “jobs” that their construction are supposedly creating. However, a strong case can be made that more and better jobs can be created through approaches like millions of jobs through infrastructure.

Very important in the Appalachian region of Virginia is the question of what to do about the declining coal industry, and that decline’s impact on jobs and communities.  The right wing locally and nationally, including Donald Trump, has made this a focus of a demagogic promise to “bring back coal” and restore coal miners’ jobs.  “Environmentalists” are blamed for destroying the coal mining industry by means of their meddling regulations.  This is false, but it has its impact in some of the poorest areas of the state.

In fact, the decline of Appalachian coal has not been caused by environmental regulations, but by market factors such as the lower cost of natural gas energy.  Also, coal mining is not only environmentally destructive (wreaking havoc in the area where the mines are located, and contributing to global warming), but terrible for the health and safety of miners and their families. Even with reduced coal production, the rate of illness for black lung disease, caused by inhaling coal dust and a scourge of miners, is up. But if coal communities are offered nothing better than flipping hamburgers at McDonalds, they become susceptible to the “bring back coal” propaganda.  Millions of jobs via infrastructure renovation, especially via environmentally sustainable and clean sources of energy, can counter such arguments.

In the Tidewater area of Southeastern Virginia, rising sea levels caused by global warming are causing considerable infrastructural damage.  Work to repair this damage and to stave off more damage in the future will entail pricey infrastructural investments. Here again, the millions of jobs through infrastructure renovation approach could be of very great help.

Virginia is home to many military bases and other facilities; every time someone talks about reducing military expenditures, politicians here yell that this will “cost jobs”.  But more jobs could be created by shifting military expenditures to civilian infrastructural renovation.

And of course, the perpetual scapegoating of immigrants for “taking our jobs” could be combatted by creating more and better jobs for all.

The millions of jobs through infrastructure approach would benefit all sections of the working class, but most of all minorities and low income workers, as well as working class young people who could be provided with high quality training for entry into the workforce that is often denied to them today.  The general public would benefit from improvements in housing, schools, public transportation and new sources of renewable green energy, to name just a few things.

Even President Trump has demagogically called for a jobs and infrastructure plan, which, on close examination, is nothing more than a giveaway to big business interests, and won’t solve either the jobs or the infrastructure problem.

But none of this can be accomplished without rolling back the huge tax cuts that the Republicans gave to the corporations and super-rich last year.

That, in turn, requires a massive electoral defeat for the Republicans, starting with the Midterm elections in November.


CONTRIBUTOR

Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.

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