What will it take to pass a jobs program?

green jobs

The failure to enact a big enough economic stimulus in the early days of the Obama administration is perhaps the single biggest reason the country's in the mess it's in.

While the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act certainly helped ward off the worst effects of the crisis, official unemployment still rose to over 10 percent. Feeding on the resulting anger and disillusionment and adding an additional dash of racism, the GOP/tea party nightriders rode to victory in last fall's mid-term elections.

Sensible voices from the left and center, including the president himself, sought a larger spending package. The labor movement pushed for it, and sympathetic academics and talking heads made impassioned appeals. "You'll only get one shot at this," warned Paul Krugman, Princeton's liberal economist, time and again.

Powerful elements were opposed. After Wall Street and its corporate lobbyists called in their marks and the votes were counted, a smaller-than-envisioned stimulus was passed by Congress.

Was another alternative possible? Not according to former Obama advisor Larry Summers, recently interviewed by the New York Times Magazine.

Summers, who, ironically, helped during the Clinton years to implement policies that led to the crisis, argued that the Obama team supported a bigger stimulus package, but that the votes just weren't there: "It was entirely clear in the meeting where this was discussed that a larger fiscal program would have larger multiplier effects. The constraints were political, and indeed the seriousness of those constraints is demonstrated by the fact that the ultimate bill that passed was between 70 and 80 percent as large as what the president sought."

As Summers made clear, the president's initial plan was headed straight into a right-wing Republican gale. And even though the Democrats held a congressional majority, a monolithic Republican minority along with conservative elements among the Democrats themselves doomed larger spending proposals. Indeed, in the months after the bill passed, a deaf ear was turned toward calls for a second stimulus, calls that largely came from the labor movement.

Thus, way before the tea-party-led landslide last November, in fact a full year before, in the midst of the crisis and at the very height of the new president's popularity, the votes just weren't there. The newly-elected Democratic majority, many of whom had narrowly won election in Republican districts, couldn't muster the muscle.

The Obama coalition and the movement that led to his election were too young; the victory was too new and fragile. This could be seen much more clearly just two years later when many of these same Democratic freshmen, along with a number of veteran Blue Dogs, went down to defeat, some for voting for the stimulus in the first place.

What, then, are the prospects for the struggle for jobs after 2012? Even a centrist like Summers seems deeply concerned:  "I worry for the medium and long term about where the jobs are going to come from for those with fewer skills," he told the Times. Summers continued, "One in five men between 25 and 54 is not working, and a reasonable projection is that it will still be one in six after the economy recovers. It was one in 20 in the 1960s."

Summers, perhaps, precludes a government-sponsored public works green jobs program repairing and renovating the nation's infrastructure and providing valuable job training in new technologies. The Obama administration has stressed instead private sector initiatives focused on small businesses.

On the other hand, labor, community and civil rights groups clearly have not given up the idea of the need for the public sector to play a major role in job creation. Nor should they.

Clearly a precondition for moving forward along these lines is defeating the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and re-winning the presidency next year. In light of the blitzkrieg of anti-labor legislation this past winter and spring, state legislatures and governors' mansions are exceedingly important contests as well.

While much will depend on the size of the hoped for victory, it is likely, as suggested above, that a simple Democratic win will not be enough. 

For a meaningful jobs bill to pass in the next administration, the grassroots labor and community movement that is building across the country in response to the GOP attack on public workers will have to maintain its organizational strength and independence. It will surely have to fight like hell after the election for enactment of campaign promises.

How this is done is as important as the demand. Winning ever-wider sections of the people, including sections of the business community (particularly small and medium-size businesses) along with small towns and rural communities will be critical. Swing states and communities will be highly contested areas and even conservative areas cannot be written off. The working class and people as a whole are suffering from the crisis caused by the banking financiers.

It is worth recalling that in the battle over the Employee Free Choice Act, and the more recent attack on public workers, the president voiced support for labor and the right to organize. It would be a huge mistake to view this administration as an obstacle to progress on the jobs front.

In this regard, an eye toward unity when placing demands is an important consideration. As important is keeping focused on the far right and their corporate sponsors.

Only enormous public pressure will insure that a desperately needed public works green jobs program gets passed by the next Congress. Nothing less will stand a chance.

Photo: Takver // CC 2.0

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  • It all depends on building the movement, as Sims says. Right now, even though their are myriad small organizations advocating a jobs program, there is very little money and few votes behind it. Here in Texas, the movement for jobs may be loud, but it's quite small.

    Most progressive organizations, like anybody else, "go where the money is." Few foundations are supporting the call to end unemployment, if any. It's an essential element in the class struggle, and the enemy class seems to know it well.
    --jim lane in Dallas

    Posted by jim lane, 05/24/2011 3:20pm (4 years ago)

  • What will it take?

    First, a decent jobs program. HR 870 is good for starters.

    Second, two houses of Congress to pass it. Since some Dems are opposed, it takes more than a Dem majority. It has to be a majority for the bill in the House and a super-majority in the Senate. We're not even close. We have to elect progressives and defeat GOPers and Blue Dogs

    Third, a President who will sign it into law. Whether we have one remains to be seen. Get past one and two, and we'll find out.

    Fourth, organizations of the unemployed and under-employed willing to hit the streets as well as the ballot box around 1, 2 and 3 above.

    Posted by Carl Davidson, 05/24/2011 2:56pm (4 years ago)

  • This article is right "on the money" you might say. All the indications are that the severity of the jobs issue is deep and structural and can be solved only by massive government initiatives which prominently include public sector jobs. I recall seeing one study from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern U. in July of 2009 which argued that "a labor market nightmare has descended upon the nation's male teens; however the steep drops in male employment have not been confined to teens." The authors went on to say that deterioration in the job market was only marginally less for young women. This study offered not unemployment percentages but rather "employment" figures. During the summer of 2009 "only 29 out of every 100 16-19 year olds were employed in any type of job." This compared to 54% in June of 1978. And Joe is right: small towns and rural communities, as well as urban areas, are being hit by this crisis. So no part of the country or section of the working (or "would be" working) population should be written off.

    Posted by Ben, 05/19/2011 5:01pm (4 years ago)

  • This is an excellent and realistic article reflecting the balance of forces in Congress when Obama was elected. Too many compare Obama unfavorably and superficially to Roosevelt, but FDR had a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress and a mass movement in the streets that has only now begun to materialize. Hopefully this movement will grow and re-elect Obama with a filibuster-proof majority in 2012.

    Posted by Rick Nagin, 05/19/2011 4:33pm (4 years ago)

  • It is critically important to challenge the Obama administration on jobs,jobs,jobs-it is very accurate to assert as Joe does-"It would be a huge mistake to view this administration as an obstacle to progress on the jobs front"-as far as this administration goes.
    The communists, would as always, also take care of the future, working with the administration to be the victorious election effort in 2012, to get as large a public sector, green infrastructure public, massive jobs program, with the latest environmental,union and anti-racist emphasis,but also to open the production and consumption markets of China,Afghanistan,Cuba and Haiti for examples, to intelligent progressive U.S. labor, for the prosperity of the international working class.
    This would open intelligent, unionized labor in China,Cuba,Afghanistan and Haiti to U. S. consumption markets.
    The international working class is one. This dynamic we have to understand and fight for.
    U. S. labor, along with the oppressed of all British and Yankee former colonies(with strong influence,if not predominance), from Nigeria, to Ghana,from China to Grenada,has been lied to, exploited, vitiated and bludgeoned by British and U.S. imperialism.
    The electorate in the U. S. has proven it is sophisticated enough to win the kind of fight we face, both on the electoral and jobs,jobs, jobs-but that does not mean the fight would be narrowed-on the contrary it means that it would be broadened and that positives be connected.
    We need more and more comment and response to excellent articles like this by Joe Sims.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 05/19/2011 5:01am (4 years ago)

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