August 2011, Week 3


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Wed, 17 Aug 2011 23:02:59 -0400
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Protest Needed to Enforce Full Employment Laws

By J. P. Green 
The Democratic Strategist 
August 13, 2011


Marjorie Cohn, immediate past president of the National
Lawyers Guild, has a post up at Op-Ed News, "Lost in
the Debt Ceiling Debate: The Legal Duty to Create Jobs"
addressing the federal government's failure to comply
with existing job-creation legislation.

Cohn focuses primarily on The Employment Act of 1946
and the Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978, noting also
mandates for job-creation in 1977 reforms requiring the
Federal Reserve to leverage monetary policy to promote
maximum employment. She ads that the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights sets a global standard of
employment as an important right, which, not
incidentally, some major industrialized nations have
actually tried to honor.

Cohn's review of the two jobs acts provides a timely
reminder of the moral imperative that faces every great
democracy, the responsibility to take action to help
insure that every family has at least one breadwinner
who earns a living wage:

    The first full employment law in the United States
    was passed in 1946. It required the country to make
    its goal one of full employment...With the
    Keynesian consensus that government spending was
    necessary to stimulate the economy and the
    depression still fresh in the nation's mind, this
    legislation contained a firm statement that full
    employment was the policy of the country.

    As originally written, the bill required the
    federal government do everything in its authority
    to achieve full employment, which was established
    as a right guaranteed to the American people.
    Pushback by conservative business interests,
    however, watered down the bill. While it created
    the Council of Economic Advisers to the President
    and the Joint Economic Committee as a Congressional
    standing committee to advise the government on
    economic policy, the guarantee of full employment
    was removed from the bill.

    In the aftermath of the rise in unemployment which
    followed the "oil crisis" of 1975, Congress
    addressed the weaknesses of the 1946 act through
    the passage of the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment
    Act of 1978. The purpose of this bill as described
    in its title is:

    "An Act to translate into practical reality the
    right of all Americans who are able, willing, and
    seeking to work to full opportunity for useful paid
    employment at fair rates of compensation; to assert
    the responsibility of the Federal Government to use
    all practicable programs and policies to promote
    full employment, production, and real income,
    balanced growth, adequate productivity growth,
    proper attention to national priorities."

    The Act sets goals for the President. By 1983,
    unemployment rates should be not more than 3% for
    persons age 20 or over and not more than 4% for
    persons age 16 or over, and inflation rates should
    not be over 4%. By 1988, inflation rates should be
    0%. The Act allows Congress to revise these goals
    over time.

    If private enterprise appears not to be meeting
    these goals, the Act expressly calls for the
    government to create a "reservoir of public
    employment." These jobs are required to be in the
    lower ranges of skill and pay to minimize
    competition with the private sector.

    The Act directly prohibits discrimination on
    account of gender, religion, race, age or national
    origin in any program created under the Act.
    Humphey-Hawkins has not been repealed. Both the
    language and the spirit of this law require the
    government to bring unemployment down to 3% from
    over 9%...

This legislation only requires the federal government
to take action. The private sector, which employs 85+
percent of the labor force, would be indirectly
influenced by monetary policy, but would not be
required to do any hiring. Still, full enforcement of
existing legislation could substantially reduce
unemployment by putting millions of jobless Americans
to work in public service projects rebuilding our
tattered infrastructure.

The '46 and '78 full employment laws have been winked
at and shrugged off by elected officials for decades as
merely symbolic statutes, despite the fact that they
actually do require the President, Congress and the Fed
to do specific things to create jobs.

Cohn points out that Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has
introduced "The Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full
Employment and Training Act" (HR 870), to fund job-
training and job-creation programs, funded by taxes on
financial transactions. But the bill has no chance as
long as Republicans control the House.

Cohn urges President Obama to demand that the Fed
"...use all the tools relating to controlling the money
supply...to create the funds called for by HR 870, and
to start putting people back to work through direct
funding of a reservoir of public jobs as Humphrey-
Hawkins mandates." Imagine the political donnybrook
that would ensue following such action, legal though it
apparently would be. It's an interesting scenario that
needs some fleshing out.

The best hope for full employment remains electing
strong Democratic majorities to both houses of
congress, while retaining the presidency. Under this
scenario, full enforcement of the '46 and '78
employment acts is certainly doable. But it's a very
tough challenge, given the Republican edge in Senate
races next year.

There are signs that the public is tiring of the tea
party obstruction of government, and therefore hope
that at least some Republicans may have to move toward
the center to survive. It's possible they could be
influenced by energetic protest and lobbying campaigns
by their constituents.

Like other groups across the political spectrum, we
progressives are very good at blaming elected officials
when they don't follow through on their reform
promises. But too many progressive Dems fail to realize
that finger-pointing, while necessary, is only part of
our responsibility. If we really want to see
significant progressive change, especially full
employment, we simply must escalate our protest
activities to compel our elected and government
officials to act.

At a white house meeting, FDR reportedly told the great
African American labor leader A. Philip Randolph "Make
me do it" in response to Randolph's appeal for racial
justice and economic reform. Roosevelt was not being a
smart ass; He was underscoring an important law of
politics, that elected officials need protest to
galvanize them to act, and progressive politicians
welcome it because it provides cover, as well as

Regarding protest leadership, we have a great role
model, whose 30+ foot stone image will be unveiled not
far from the Lincoln, Jefferson and FDR Memorials on
the National Mall in the capitol August 28th. The
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial will not only honor
the historic contributions of a great African American
leader; It will also inspire -- and challenge -- coming
generations of all races to emulate his strategy of
militant but dignified nonviolent protest to achieve
social and economic justice.

Let's not forget that the Great March on Washington MLK
and Randolph lead in 1963 was not only about racial
justice. The twin goals were "Jobs and Freedom," a
challenge that echoes with prophetic relevance for our
times. It was FDR who said "make me do it," and MLK
showed us the way, not only with one demonstration, but
with a sustained commitment to mass protest. Now let's
make them do it.


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