Jobs for America Now can be catalyst for mass action

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Build the fight for jobs - Part 1

First in a series of three articles

Rick Nagin also co-authored this series.

In the name of a wide coalition of people's organizations, Richard Trumka, the new president of the AFL-CIO, has called for a massive campaign to fight for jobs. This effort, to be kicked off in January, is badly needed and long overdue. It brings the power, resources and fighting experience of the labor movement, both the AFL-CIO and Change To Win, together with the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, the United States Student Association, Jobs with Justice and other major civil rights, religious, environmental, women's, youth and other people's groups, to bear on this critical issue and can be the catalyst to mobilize millions of suffering and angry people into needed action. This should be the center of activity in the coming period for the entire labor and people's movement.

Fight for jobs and relief

The new coalition, called Jobs for America Now, has issued a five-point program, aimed at shifting the nation's priorities toward creating millions of jobs, relieving suffering and revitalizing our economy. It calls for the federal government to:

* Extend expiring unemployment, social service and continuation of health benefits for another year.

* Rebuild the nation's infrastructure and schools. Invest in mass transportation, green technology and energy efficiency.

* Provide aid to state and local governments and school districts to maintain vital services and jobs.

* Directly fund federal employment with competitive wages targeting distressed communities when the private sector fails to provide necessary jobs.

* Use TARP funds for Main Street to create jobs with loans to local banks and businesses.

This is a solid progressive program that would turn our nation around if enacted. However, programs mean little unless translated into mass movements to win their enactment. It is urgent for union activists and their progressive allies to begin organizing grassroots committees in every community to support the goals of this broad, labor-led coalition.

With organized labor in the lead, efforts are needed to involve local public officials, leaders in the faith and academic communities, community organizations and local businesses. This is especially the case in communities of the racially oppressed where the unemployment and despair are the greatest. The Congressional Black Caucus has already served notice it will make jobs the top priority in 2010.

Environmentalists can play an important role, identifying green energy projects that can be carried out with union labor. Peace forces can also help in showing how much more productive it is to fund jobs instead of war.

It is critical that the unemployed themselves are integrally involved at all levels. That will assure that this becomes a self-sustaining movement, where the direct victims of the crisis can express their experiences and concerns, voice their anger and help organize the fight. Social service agencies should be brought into the campaign to help involve the unemployed.

The campaign needs to be flexible and comprehensive in its tactics, including town hall meetings, lobbying, phone campaigns, petitions and, especially, mass public protests to develop a new level of militancy and reflect the anger people feel toward the corporate criminals that created this depression. Local coalitions can not only promote the five-point program but also monitor the scope and integrity of whatever stimulus programs are currently under way.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of such a movement at this time. After over a year of obstruction by congressional Republicans and conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats, with corporate-funded right-wing thugs attacking health care meetings, and with insufficient mobilization by labor and its allies, the progressive agenda that swept the Obama administration to power is largely unfulfilled. There is growing anger, cynicism and frustration. There is justifiable concern that the stalemate could lead to a setback in the 2010 midterm elections.

In fact, building a mass movement for jobs could be decisive in preventing this from happening. Generating street heat on this issue will dramatically expose the dangers of a Republican resurgence and mobilize positive election results. It will encourage Democratic candidates to voice the desperation of their constituents. The Jobs for America Now campaign can be the catalyst to turn our political fortunes around and get the progressive agenda back on track.

Part 2 of this series: Confronting corporate ideology in the fight for jobs
Part 3: Challenging anti-government ideas

Photo: PW/Jose Cruz