Social Forum: In jobs fight, America will find its soul again

DETROIT – “The fight for jobs is probably the most unifying struggle right now. It is the key struggle. It connects to every other struggle we face right now. It will allow America to find its soul again,” Nick Unger, from the AFL-CIO Strategic Campaign Center, told a packed workshop here at the U.S. Social Forum, June 23.

The AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, has a combined membership of about 12 million workers, led by dozens of international unions.

“We have to fight for jobs to get out of this economic mess,” Unger continued. “This is our shot. This is our time. Jobs is the issue.”

The workshop, titled “Good Jobs for All: Winning Full & Fair Employment & A New Economy,” brought together trade union leaders, community activists and youth from across the country to discuss the current economic crisis, unemployment and the struggle for good paying, union jobs.

According to Fran Tobin, Midwest field organizer for Jobs with Justice, “We are in an economic crisis worse than any other crisis since World War II.” JwJ is a national grassroots labor, community, faith and student coalition.

“Corporations have concentrated power and money into their hands” and are attempting to “redefine normal,” Tobin said. “They are attempting to redefine the narrative, to change expectations, to make good jobs with good benefits a distant memory.”

Around 15 million Americans are out of work and there are six job-seekers for each job opening. About 100,000 workers join the ranks of the unemployed every month. Nearly 3 million foreclosures are expected this year and public services for working people are being slashed due to recession-induced budget shortfalls.

Tobin declared, “Corporate greed and Wall Street recklessly started this crisis. They wrecked things. They are the evildoers. We need to get in their face. We need to build the movement.” 

“We need big, bold jobs creation programs,” Tobin added. “We have deep, serious and major problems, and we need a deep, serious and militant movement to turn this thing around.”

“We need to start talking about full-employment programs. We need to set the stage for a full-employment future,” he said.

James Mumm, director of organizing at National People’s Action, agreed, saying banks and big corporations are the problem and “we need to put direct pressure on them.”

“We need to reign in the big banks,” he said. “We need to hold them accountable.”

NPA is a national network of community organizations that work to advance an economic and racial justice agenda.

Moreover, Mumm said, “While we need to create 11 million jobs to relieve the suffering that ordinary people are facing, we also need a transformative struggle that will build a new economy. Financial reform legislation is just round 1.”

Julio Henriquez, an activist from Los Angeles who organizes community support for expanding mass transit, told the People’s World, any successful jobs campaign must include a “fight for sustainable and equitable access to mass transportation.”

Henriquez and other activists recently held an eight-day fast outside LA’s Metro-Transit Authority protesting fare hikes. They want to see more federal tax dollars going towards creation of a newer, more affordable mass transit system that would employ thousands of people while providing transportation to and from work for hundreds of thousands of community residents.

According to most workshop participants, coalition-building around jobs is the main task at hand, as it connects to every other struggle – from housing and foreclosures to corporate accountability and rebuilding our infrastructure, to public transportation and health care.

Unger summed up the thrust of the workshop when he said, “The AFL-CIO is in a dating mood right now. We want to make new friends, make partnerships and work with folks. But we need you to infuse the fight for jobs into your culture, into your organizations. We need ‘you’ to do your thing as a part of ‘us’ doing our thing.”

“Our country is in deep, profound trouble,” Unger added. “And this struggle for jobs can be the glue that holds us all together, that allows us to be more than we are. It allows ‘us’ to be ‘we.'”

Photo: At the opening march of the U.S. Social Forum, June 22. (PW/Libero Della Piana)




Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the president of the St. Louis Workers' Education Society (WES), a 501c3 non-profit organization chartered by the St. Louis Central Labor Council as a Workers Center. His articles have been published in the St. Louis Labor Tribune, Alternet, Shelterforce, Political Affairs, and Z-Magazine, among other publications. He is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA," and is available to speak at your community center, union hall or campus.