LaborTalk for March 18, 2011

AFL-CIO Downplays its Fight for Jobs
For the Present and the 2012 Elections

By Harry Kelber

It was a little more than a year ago, when AFL-CIO leaders were chanting “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” and the Federation was giving top priority to its campaign to create jobs for millions of unemployed workers, to be paid for by the Wall Street crowd that had caused our economic crisis.

Then something happened. The AFL-CIO lost interest in the jobs campaign There was only rare, uninspiring mention of it on the AFL-CIO web sites and news outlets. Top labor leaders offered no hopeful comments about the jobs campaign. Their “demands” that Congress and the Obama administration create millions of “decent jobs immediately” was a piece of “rhetorical nonsense” that made them look silly.

So what had gone wrong? The answer, simply put, was that a jobs campaign was a “loser.” The unions had to come out of the clouds and be “pragmatic,” concluded many labor leaders. A massive jobs program, somewhat like the WPA during the New Deal years, would cost countless billions of dollars. How would it be financed, with the country struggling to climb out of huge budget deficits?

It would be laughable to expect the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives to approve a major jobs bill, since they were busy cutting, rather than creating, new jobs. And the Obama administration would not approve large-scale spending on work projects for fear that it would hurt them as “big government spenders” in the 2012 elections.

Employers Have Sole Control of Hiring Decisions

The only hope workers had for being re-employed depended on the employers and the state of the economy. But employers are in no hurry to hire people until they are absolutely sure that any new hire is needed and affordable. That could be a slow process, with decisions completely in the hands of the employers.

Economists estimate that it will take at least until 2017 for the jobless rate to decline to the five percent that it was when the recession is said to have begun in December 2007. That’s a long time to return to normalcy, when we are not sure what “normalcy” will be for the millions who are desperate for a job.

Paradoxically, while job prospects are bleak for most of the 13.7 million who are still officially classified as unemployed, unions and their members are enjoying an extraordinary revival of enthusiasm and vigor in their efforts to fight back against Republican attacks on their collective bargaining and other basic union rights. Whether this new-found vitality will have any positive effect on labor’s role in the 2012 presidential election remains to be seen.

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As the economy, though admittedly still “fragile,” continues to improve, there is a tendency in the media to overlook what is happening to the unemployed. They are easily forgotten by the media in the excitement of today’s newsworthy stories. Lest we forget, there are at least six million people who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. What happens when the UI benefits of the unemployed expire?

Is there really nothing the labor movement can do to give them some measure of hope? Or to make their lives less miserable? — Harry Kelber

LaborTalk will be posted here on March 22, 2011 and on our two web sites and on