“How bad is unemployment?” headlined the May 8 edition of the New York Times. “Literally off the charts.”
Axios reports as of May 30 that the real unemployment rate was at least 24 percent and likely above 30 percent.
It’s not getting better. “Unemployment rate expected to hit highest since Great Depression,” Yahoo Finance reported June 4, as nearly 2 million more workers applied for unemployment benefits.
“Nearly 43 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits during the pandemic,” says CNN. That’s not counting the many laidoff workers who’ve been unable to file their claims through overwhelmed state unemployment offices.
The long-brewing crash of the for-profit capitalist economy, sped up by the global COVID-19 pandemic, has left millions of working-class families hanging on by a thread.
Now Donald Trump, Wall Street and governors from both the Democratic and Republican parties are rushing to “reopen” while serious health risks continue. That means emergency measures to protect people from eviction and additional benefits for the unemployed will soon end. Many, if not most, of the jobs lost are not coming back.
“As people across the United States are told to return to work, employees who balk at the health risks say they are being confronted with painful reprisals,” reports the New York Times. “Some are losing their jobs if they try to stay home, and thousands more are being reported to the state to have their unemployment benefits cut off.”
You need a job to keep a roof over your head, feed yourself and your family, and pay the bills. Everyone needs a job or other source of income to survive.
Having a job is a basic necessity. It’s a simple human right.
In fact, the right to a job is a matter of law — and has been for 74 years!
The 1946 Employment Act and the 1978 Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act legally obligate the president and Congress to use all available means to achieve full employment.
Also adopted in 1946, the United Nations Charter on Human Rights declares, “Everyone has the right to work … and to protection against unemployment,” as well as the right to housing, education and health care.
The 1978 Full Employment Act provides for convening a National Employment Conference to discuss enforcement.
Yet no administration — neither Republican nor Democrat — has ever attempted to fulfill these obligations.
It’s high time the government was made to enforce these laws.
Gov’t power to ban layoffs and create jobs
Even before the usurpation of greater executive powers by George W. Bush after 9/11, the president was fully empowered to end unemployment and create jobs in response to an economic crisis.
The 1978 law allows the government to create “a reservoir of public employment” if private corporations are unable to provide enough jobs.
Every governor, mayor and county executive also has full authority to order an end to layoffs in an economic emergency.
New York state, for example, empowers the governor to take any action necessary to prevent or stop the suffering of people as a result of “a natural or man-made disaster.”
The same law requires “a joint effort” of public and private spheres to mobilize the resources of business, labor, agriculture and government at every level to prepare for and meet disasters of all kinds.
The boom-and-bust system of capitalism, which always seeks the highest rate of profit with the least number of workers, is the ultimate “human-made” disaster.
First comes the struggle, then comes the law
Worker unrest during the Great Depression of the 1930s, again following World War II, again during the Civil Rights era, and again during the recession of the 1970s forced the capitalist government to put these laws on the books.
The legal precedent goes back to 1937. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins stated then that workers had a property right to their jobs when she defended the right of sit-down strikers to occupy factories.
Perkins, appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was no revolutionary. She was putting into legal terms what the workers had already achieved by seizing the plants, establishing workers’ control and putting capitalist property rights into question.
It will take further struggle — a united campaign of mass action — to turn these words on paper into reality. The point is, there already exists a legal framework to do so.
How to begin
“The right to a job is a property right,” explained socialist leader Sam Marcy in his 1986 book, “High Tech, Low Pay.” “The right to seize and occupy the plants [which includes stores, hospitals, schools, etc.] is an accompanying right. Doing it will make it lawful if carried out in earnest and on a mass scale.”
What if labor unions, together with immigrant workers’ organizations, the movement against racist killer cops, community groups, the anti-war, women’s and LGBTQ2S movements, made these demands of 2020 presidential candidates Trump and Joe Biden:
- Issue an executive order halting layoffs and forcing the Fortune 500 companies to rehire;
- Call a special joint session of Congress to deal exclusively with creating a jobs program that will put 10 million people to work right away with union wages and benefits, with special attention to oppressed communities devastated by the coronavirus;
- End the raids against undocumented workers, ban foreclosures and evictions, make quality health care available to everyone and pass a big increase in the minimum wage.
What if we called upon the unemployed and underemployed to come and occupy Washington until the president and Congress meet their demands?
For a start, they can tax the rich, defund the police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Pentagon to provide jobs and income for all.