November 9, 2015
By Richita Anderson
In my job as a Labor Services Representative for the New York State Department of Labor for over 30 years, I witnessed the unending loss of decent paying jobs. I saw too what this loss does to people—their struggles to support a family, get medical care, their inability to afford a college education for their children. Many people today are stuck in a minimum wage job with no future and very little hope.
The poor job market manifests itself in a controversial and cruel situation. Numerous sectors of the economy, including large retail stores like Target and Urban Outfitters and many fast food chains, subject their employees to grueling on-call schedules. With these a worker doesn’t know how many days and hours he or she will be called to work in a given week, or whether they will work at all. This makes being able to pay one’s bills and arrange child care all but impossible. In a market where jobs are plentiful, employers would never be able to get away with such exploitative behavior.
Why Aren’t There More Good Jobs?
In an article in the New York Times this past July 2, 2015, there was this telling headline: “The New Jobs Numbers Are Weaker than They Look.” Author Neil Irwin writes:
“With revisions that wacked 60,000 jobs off the April and May numbers, there is a modest downward trend evident in job growth in the last few months.”
This revising of job growth numbers downward has continued, and as the article also notes wages are not going up. This crippling stagnation of wages comes from an enormous loss of jobs over these last few decades.
As a job interviewer, I saw firsthand the agonizing loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs in every borough of New York City. There was, for instance, the A&P food packing plant staffed by United Food and Commercial Workers union members. The company left Brooklyn for upstate New York, where they got large tax breaks from Albany and paid wages considerably lower than in Brooklyn. Then, a few years later when the incentives expired, the company pulled out and relocated to a new area where persons were desperate for jobs. They received another round of government tax breaks which we, the taxpayers, paid for. As was described in an earlier post on this blog, A&P has declared bankruptcy. Today they are selling off their stores at auction, and the likelihood for its unionized workforce to get good paying jobs elsewhere is painfully uncertain.
The Cause of Unemployment & Economic Injustice
I’ve learned from the education Aesthetic Realism a clear explanation of this ongoing and massive loss of jobs and the resulting poverty wages now so current across the U.S. In an issue of the international periodical The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, writes: (TRO 1826)
“We should be very clear. The cause of unemployment is the profit system: the fact that you’re able to work only if some individual can make profit from your labor….I have written often about what Eli Siegel, in the 1970’s, was the philosopher, educator, historian, and economist to show: economics based on seeing people contemptuously, in terms of how much money you can get out of them, no longer works….Today, in order for profit economics to continue at all, people have to be made poorer and poorer….
“The increasing poverty in America is caused by the desire of certain persons to keep the profit way going when it is a mortally ailing thing. The situation can be described quantitatively. The wealth generated when something is produced is of a certain amount. Today, in order for owners and stockholders to get a lot of that amount, they must make sure less and less goes to the workers. That is why various persons are on such a ferocious, lying campaign to destroy unions: because unions fight for what workers deserve.”
A Vivid Instance in Sparta, Tennessee
A shameful instance of making people poorer and poorer while corporate executives and shareholders rake in profits is told of in an article titled Losing Sparta: The Bitter Truth Behind the Gospel of Productivity by Esther Kaplan, published in the Virginia Quarterly Review in 2014. Ms. Kaplan writes about a profitable factory in Sparta, Tennessee, which made lighting fixtures, produced by International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers members, who were skilled and turned out quality products as they earned wages that enabled them to support families and live with some decency. The factory, however, was bought by Philips, a multinational corporation which began laying workers off and outsourced the jobs to Mexico. There, workers doing the same jobs are paid as little as $9 a day, an obscenely pitiful amount clearly insufficient for anyone to support a family—or themselves, for that matter. The jobs lost as a result of the brutal layoffs in the Philips plant have not been recovered and those workers in White County, Tennessee, are still unemployed, or working part-time in whatever work there is to be found—which is mostly close to or at minimum wage.
What happened in Sparta, including the ultimate destruction of the union there, made me—a proud union member with PEF (Professional Employees Federation) for 25 years—more determined than ever to fight for justice to the working people of our great nation. The people of Tennessee and every state of the union deserve to have productive, useful, and happy lives. I passionately believe the study of what Aesthetic Realism shows about the economy and unions is the path to that happening!
The Viable & Urgently Needed Solution to Joblessness
What is the alternative to our profit driven economy which has ruined countless lives? Mr. Siegel put the matter succinctly and resoundingly. He said: “Jobs for usefulness, not profit.” And in issue 1348 of The Right Of, “Unions and Beauty,” Ellen Reiss writes:
“The question Americans now have to answer is one I have asked here before: What should be sacrificed—decent jobs for millions of Americans; or profits of individuals who didn’t earn them, so that millions of people can have decent, dignified lives? There can no longer be both. Another question is: If no one were making personal profit from the work of others, and everyone were making a good living and feeling expressed—would that be good? Would that be beautiful? ethical? truly American? The answer is yes!”
Richita Anderson grew up in Horseheads, NY. She graduated from SUNY Cortland with a degree in history and served as past president of the New York City subchapter of District 1 of the International Association of Workforce Professionals. Today she is the Aesthetic Realism Class Registrar and a consultations coordinator at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City’s SoHo.