Jobs (8)

by Ben Famer in Kabul

Waste, mismanagement and poorly conceived projects mean the United States could have lost more than 15 per cent of the total given out in contracts and grants.

More could yet be lost as US troops pull out of Afghanistan, with the withdrawal risking "massive new wastes of money" because the Afghan government cannot finish costly projects already begun.

The unfinished report has taken three years to compile and offers the most detailed account yet of the magnitude of the contractor workforce which has mushroomed around the conflicts.

America will have spent £128 million on private contracts and grants by the end of September.

The administration's latest proposals flow from a fundamental misdiagnosis of the jobs problem we face.

By John Schmidt | AlterNet

In the run-up to his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama announced a "President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness" as part of efforts to demonstrate his laser-like focus on jobs. In an interim report in mid-June, the council made a set of "fast-action" recommendations, which the president trumpeted in a set-piece economic speech at a high-tech manufacturing facility in North Carolina.Unfortunately, it is not an exaggeration to say that even if fully implemented, the council's collection of small-bore recommendations would have no discernible impact on the current jobs crisis. The main problem is that the proposals flow from a fundamental misdiagnosis of the jobs problem we face.

We have over 14 million unemployed and almost 25 million "underemployed" workers because employers have no markets for their goods and services --and therefore no need for workers to produce them. The bursting of the housing bubble wreaked havoc on family finances, leading Americans to cut back their spending. In a chain reaction, businesses cut hiring and investment, and the economy went into a tailspin. The only thing that kept the economy from falling off a cliff were the efforts of the federal government to make up for part of the catastrophic drop in demand.

Monday, 06 September 2010 12:35

Labor Day and Unions: Making America Work

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by James Grady
This Labor Day, America's unions face a back to school autumn that will redefine their relevance in our river of politics and power.

The historic relevance of unions is easy to see: The country got a big boost through the success of union workers like public school teachers who, along with dog-hated mailmen, spend their middle-class paychecks and thus enhance our middle-class economy.

Now America's whole middle class is in trouble. Pick your set of statistics or ideological argument from the left or the right to back up what all of us know: If you're stuck in the middle, you're holding on by your fingernails and watching neighbors disappear behind foreclosure signs.

Those teachers are the workers for the other main force besides unions that expanded America's middle class: public education. President Dwight Eisenhower juiced up our public schools because the Communists who pledged to bury us shot a 184-pound steel ball of science into orbit around our lonely planet. America's children had to get smart to beat the bad guys. While that Cold War educational boom produced such wonders as cordless power tools and this Internet, those learn to think schools also birthed an unintended consequence: questioning baby boomers who rocked the ship of state before climbing on board as middle-class consumers. Now 53 years later, we're all sure those same public schools suck.

By Andrea Buffa | Solidarity Economy

July 22, 2010 - Tracy Hall of Munster, Indiana has been an electrician for 30 years. He is among the thousands of construction trades workers hit by the current recession, who have seen unemployment in the trades rise to almost 25 percent nationally. But Hall hasn’t had time to sit around getting depressed about the state of the economy. Instead, he’s spent the time when work has been scarce developing a new expertise. As the only union worker in Indiana who is certified as a solar photovoltaic installer by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, and a LEED Accredited Professional by the U.S. Green Building Council, he has become one of Northwest Indiana’s most knowledgeable renewable energy technicians.


“Tracy has single-handedly become one of the experts in the region on renewable energy—and not just the pros and cons of renewable energy, but the installation specifics and the technical aspects of how you build and install solar systems and wind mills,” said Howard Fink, the town administrator of Merrillville, Indiana, where Hall installed solar panels on the town hall building.

Hall’s story shows the positive impact that one determined individual can have on the adoption of clean energy practices by his workplace and local community. He convinced his labor union, Local 697 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), to offer a journey-level class in solar photovoltaics and then set about obtaining the skills he would need in order to be able to teach the class. Hall attended workshops offered by the Illinois Solar Energy Association, studied LEED green building standards at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago, participated in online courses offered by Solar Energy International and graduated from solar installation classes at the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. He also went to an IBEW training-the-trainer course on photovoltaics so that he would be prepared not only to do installations but also to teach about them.


By Robert Reich

America’s biggest — and only major — jobs program is the U.S. military.

Over 1,400,000 Americans are now on active duty; another 833,000 are in the reserves, many full time. Another 1,600,000 Americans work in companies that supply the military with everything from weapons to utensils. (I’m not even including all the foreign contractors employing non-US citizens.)

If we didn’t have this giant military jobs program, the U.S. unemployment rate would be over 11.5 percent today instead of 9.5 percent.

And without our military jobs program personal incomes would be dropping faster. The Commerce Department reported Monday the only major metro areas where both net earnings and personal incomes rose last year were San Antonio, Texas, Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. — because all three have high concentrations of military and federal jobs.

This isn’t an argument for more military spending. Just the opposite. Having a giant undercover military jobs program is an insane way to keep Americans employed. It creates jobs we don’t need but we keep anyway because there’s no honest alternative. We don’t have an overt jobs program based on what’s really needed.


BRONX, New York – In response to State Sen. Ruben Diaz, Sr.’s (D-Bronx) controversial bill calling for an immediate end to seniority-based teacher layoffs in New York City, Carlos “Charlie” Ramos is urging state legislators to find alternative solutions to a projected budget shortfall that would force the city to eliminate 8,500 teachers.

“The Diaz bill is an unacceptable compromise,” said Ramos. “We need our leaders in Albany to think outside the box. This is an opportunity to consider new methods of evaluating our teachers and invite them into this crucial conversation. ”

According to numbers released recently by Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, teacher layoffs would be heavily concentrated in one of the city’s poorest school districts – District 7 in the South Bronx where many young teachers begin their careers – would lose 21 percent of its teachers.
The Diaz bill has been blasted by UFT, the teachers union, and their supporters who are concerned that school administrators want to eliminate seniority protections so they can fire older teachers who are more expensive. Detractors also fear that without the security of the seniority system, school administrators will act on personal grudges in their firing decisions.

Ramos, who is expected to announce his political intentions at a later date, said that instead of turning this into a high-stakes battle with the teacher’s union, he would like to see a special task force created to develop a new, comprehensive approach for evaluating teachers. Ramos envisions a process that would encompass not only a teacher’s seniority, but their performance in the classroom.
Sunday, 13 December 2009 00:00

Wars or Jobs: Decide Now

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by David Swanson

Can you imagine the outcries of national shame from liberal commentators if George W. Bush had accepted a peace prize by advocating for war and announcing his right to launch wars of aggression?  What an embarrassment that would have been!

But Bush would have made such a speech with fewer troops in the field, fewer mercenaries in the field, a smaller war budget, a smaller military budget, bases in fewer nations, the imperial powers of the presidency less firmly established, and -- of course -- worse pronunciation.

And isn't that what matters?

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 17:56

A Factory Like a City

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Last month, Toyota announced it would close the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, California, after General Motors announced it was withdrawing from the partnership under which the plant has operated for over two decades. The plant employs 4,500 workers directly, and the jobs of another 30,000 throughout Northern California are dependent on its continued operation. Taking families into account, the threatened closure will eliminate the income of over 100,000 people.

 People have spent their lives in the NUMMI plant in Fremont, probably more time with the compressed-air tools at their workstations than with their families at home. The plant is like a city, thousands of jobs and thousands of people working in a complicated dance where each one's contribution makes possible that of the next person down the line. And like a city, it supports the people who work in it.

A NUMMI job brings the paycheck that pays the mortgage and the (now astronomical) tuition for kids in college. A NUMMI job makes possible the friendships that grow over years laboring in the same workplace. Working at NUMMI means being part of the union, with all the frustrations and infighting, but also the ability to pull together to get the contract that makes an industrial job bearable, and ensures that a kid's visit to a doctor or dentist doesn't bottom out the family bank account.

General Motors used to run this plant by itself, back in the '60s and '70s, when it was GM Fremont. It was a feisty plant with a feisty union, and a linchpin for years in the movement to stop concessions in union bargaining. When GM closed the plant the first time, in the early '80s, many thought it was revenge. Afterwards, autoworkers from Fremont became migrants. Many lived a lonely existence in motels in Oklahoma City or Texas, trying to hold onto seniority in a union auto job, sending money back home to families in California. Others lost their homes, and worse. In the wave of plant closures of the early 1980s, the Department of Commerce even kept a statistic of how many people committed suicide for every thousand who lost jobs when their plant shut down. No one in Washington has the courage to face that number anymore.

When GM and Toyota announced their partnership to reopen the plant, desperation was so great that people agreed to a union contract outside the national pattern before the lines even started moving. Big concessions to the "Japanese style of management" often pitted workers against each other and against their union too. It took years to fight those problems out with management.

When General Motors withdrew from its partnership with Toyota, everyone knew that spelled trouble. What sense did it make for GM to withdraw from a plant that consistently made vehicles that sold well, at a profit? But the GM bailout put the company under managers with no concern for keeping people working and plants open. Making GM profitable again meant getting dividends and profits flowing to a tiny group of bankers and investors, who already have more money than they can spend. And keeping production going at low-cost plants outside the US will bring that profitability back, although at the cost of the jobs and welfare of tens of thousands of people. Whose interest was our government serving with such a bailout? Even in France the conservative Sarkozy told French automakers they had to keep the factories running if they wanted a government subsidy. But here in the US, who was bailed out and who wasn't?

Without a GM partner, Toyota is moving to close the only plant it owns in the US with a union. And they just got a big taxpayer-funded present too. More vehicles sold under the Cash for Clunkers program were Corollas made at the NUMMI plant than any other model. The administration and Congress voted to throw three billion dollars at Toyota and the other auto giants to reduce car prices and increase sales. But there was no requirement that the subsidy come with a commitment to keep the people working who made the cars they sold.

Look at the photographs of the people of NUMMI. These experienced and talented people could make anything. If Toyota doesn't want to make cars in Fremont, why not put the plant to use making buses or the railcars for BART and local transit systems (for which taxpayers have already agreed to give up billions of dollars)? And if Toyota and GM don't want to give up the plant or put it to that use, then a true government commitment would be to use its power of eminent domain to take it over and ensure that the abilities of its workers don't go to waste, and that their families and the others depending on continued production there aren't plunged into misery and despair.

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