Exploiting the unemployed

Published on Socialist Worker.org, by , September 6, 2011.

The worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression is having a far-reaching effect on the whole of the U.S. working class–while Corporate America returns to record profits. In the second article in a two-part series, Alan Maass looks at who’s been hurt and who’s been helped by the jobs crisis–with additional reporting by Gary Lapon, Leela Yellesetty and Christine Darosa … //

… TWO CONCLUSIONS flow from all this: 

  • First, unemployment doesn’t just affect workers without jobs. The jobs crisis is being used against the entire U.S. working class–young and old, Black and white, private-sector and public–while the money flows to the richest corporations and individuals.
  • Second, if there doesn’t seem to be any urgency among U.S. political leaders to come up with significant measures to tackle the jobs crisis, maybe that’s because unemployment is so useful to the business interests that both mainstream parties–Republican and Democratic alike–cater to.

With the nightmarish consequences of this summer’s debt-ceiling agreement starting to set in, some politicians are talking about jobs again–but it’s hard to take them seriously after the U.S. government just committed itself to trillions of dollars in spending reductions.

President Barack Obama will speak to a joint session of Congress this week on the jobs crisis, and he’s certain to talk about the need for action on proposals to bring down unemployment.

But it’s an open secret that the Obama White House doesn’t expect any substantial economic measures to pass–and maybe not even previously uncontroversial ones, like a temporary cut in the payroll tax–because the Republicans will say no. Behind the scenes, Democratic operatives admit that Obama’s stern words about jobs are mostly designed to make the Republicans look bad so he can bring up the issue when he runs for reelection next year.

If the Republicans are confident enough to defy both Obama and the overwhelming public sentiment, expressed in opinion polls, in favor of government action on jobs, it’s because the Democrats have caved on every question since the 2010 election gave the GOP control of the House of Representatives. In fact, in the debt-ceiling agreement, Obama brought the biggest cuts of anyone to the negotiating table–a “grand bargain” that only failed because Republicans walked away from it.

According to Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, the “White House now sounds liberated” and “the competitive Obama is re-emerging” on the issue of jobs. But it’s too little and way too late after the president agreed to unprecedented spending reductions in the debt-ceiling deal. The Republicans have the weapon they need–with Barack Obama’s signature on it–to claim that any jobs program will break the agreement on cutting the deficit.

Of course, it’s not like there’s no clue about how to create jobs–and how to pay for the programs that would do so.

Liberal Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky recently introduced proposed legislation that would launch such programs as a School Improvement Corps and Park Improvement Corps to create 2.2 million jobs and decrease unemployment by 1.3 percent. The price tag of $227 billion over two years could be easily paid for by increasing taxes on households with incomes over $1 million, closing tax loopholes for corporations and ending subsidies for oil companies.

But if Schakowsky is honest, she’ll admit that there’s no hope of passing such a proposal in the current climate of mainstream politics–and that those standing in the way with their complaints about the size of the federal deficit include not only Republicans, but members of her own party, Barack Obama among them.


Anxiety: These are the feelings that plague Tom as he tries to navigate the left-out and left-behind economy.

Tom lives in Seattle, where he graduated from college in the early 1990s. After a dozen or so years at various jobs he mostly hated–and which weren’t related to what he studied anyway–he decided to go back to college and get a master’s degree in architecture.

“My purpose for going back to school was to have a job that I liked, and that would bring some financial security,” he says. “Now I’ve finished school at the time of another recession or worse, I’m strapped with $60,000 in student loans, and I have no prospects of a job at all. I now have two university diplomas that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.”

Just getting by from week to week is a battle, he says. “My wife and I struggle to stay in the black every month with the student loan payments, an additional $400 a month to have me placed on my wife’s insurance, mortgage payments, etc.,” Tom says. “And my wife works in the public schools, so she just had to take another pay cut, which won’t help. At our age, we should be saving for retirement, but we have no savings at all.”

The details are different, but the story is the same for millions and millions of working people today. They aren’t just the victims of a tough few years before things return to “normal.” The jobs crisis in the U.S. today is the sharp edge of a ruling-class offensive that will permanently redistribute wealth from workers to the rich.

Unless there’s resistance.

No one can expect any help from inside the Washington political system–not unless the pressure from Corporate America to impose austerity and cater to business interests is countered by pressure from struggle and protest from below. The possibility of an alternative lies with rebuilding a working-class movement–one that unites employed and unemployed workers in a fight that demands their interests be put ahead of corporate greed. (full long text).


A Review of Marx’s Capital: An Introductory Reader, on August 10, 2011;

Labor Day protestors demand jobs and fair trade deals, by John Bachtell, September 7, 2011;

Capitalism and the West’s Existential Crisis: An Interview With Terry Eagleton, by David Sessions, July 31, 2011;

Should Radicals Care About Unions? on New Socialist, on Patrol, by David Camfield, Sept. 6, 2011.

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