by Bob Roman
After a year of damage control following the disastrous 1994
Congressional elections, a counter offensive is beginning to take
shape around economic issues of immediate concern to working people
across the nation. If Clinton is inclined to paste a smiley face
on the current situation, labor and the democratic left have not
forgotten Carville's reminder: "It's the Economy, Stupid!"
Across the country, DSA has been holding town hall meetings
on "Economic Insecurity" to packed rooms. The University
of Chicago Youth Section's first town hall meeting in February
attracted an audience of over 300. In Boston, a coalition effort
led by DSA brought almost 1,000 people together.
The Progressive Caucus has decided to hold a series of monthly
hearings on Capitol Hill and in the Districts on the theme of
"The Silent Depression - The Collapse of the American Middle-Class."
The first of these hearings, was held in Washington, DC, on March
Caucus chair Bernard Sanders (I-VT) said, in calling for the
hearings, "The most important economic issue facing our country
is that 90% of the American people since 1973 have seen their
standard of living stagnate or decline. The reality is that the
average American, whether white-collar manager or blue-collar
factory foreman, today is working longer hours for lower pay and
in constant fear of a sudden pink slip. Meanwhile, the richest
people in America have never had it so good."
Future hearings will be held around the country and will address
issues ranging from whether we need a new national jobs policy,
how to offset the impact of corporate downsizing to the creation
of jobs that pay a living wage. Later in the years hearings will
provide an opportunity to explore untried ideas for keeping and
creating more good-paying American jobs and achieving more economic
justice and security in the context of sustainable economic development.
The AFL-CIO has adopted a strategy similar to DSA's Activist
Agenda. The campaign links its legislative, organizing, bargaining
and political efforts under the slogan "America Needs a Raise".
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney announced in February the labor
federation would hold a series of town hall meetings from March
through May to hear from workers on the impact of stagnant wages
on their families. Organized labor will also support the Jobs
and Living Wage campaigns in states and cities around the country.
The AFL-CIO will hold a town hall meeting in support of an increase
in the minimum wage on Wednesday, May 29. At press time, the venue
and program were to be determined.
The campaign begins in Chicago with a rally on April 24th in
support of the Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance and the Minimum
Wage bill (HR 620). The event will take place at 5 PM in downtown
Chicago in conjunction with SEIU's national convention. At press
time, the exact venue for the rally had not been finalized, but
the initial plans had it located at the band shell in Grant Park.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney will be a featured speaker.
The Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance will be formally introduced
into the Chicago City Council at the May meeting of the Council.
The measure, patterned after similar ordinances introduced in
major cities around the country, provides that companies contracting
with or subsidized by the city pay a living wage. The Chicago
ordinance also has provision for community based hiring halls
for non-construction employees.
The campaign for the Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance is led
by Chicago ACORN and SEIU Local 880 under the auspices of Chicago
Jobs with Justice. The campaign is very well organized and it
brings together a broad coalition of labor and community groups.
Nearly every Alderman has a group assigned to lobby in favor of
the Ordinance. A video has been produced to popularize the issue.
Economic research is being done to investigate the effect on business
and the city's finances.
But opposition to the Ordinance is also organizing. The Ordinance
has been attacked by CANDO, the Chicago Association of Neighborhood
Development Organizations, on the grounds of "business climate"
and paperwork. They also do not like the hiring hall idea. Some
of CANDO's arguments could have merit. The quality of the debate
is demonstrated by the lack of any effort by CANDO to get these
concerns addressed prior to the introduction of the ordinance.
In Congress, the counter offensive is mostly centered on two
"wedge" bills, the Corporate Responsibility Act (HR2534)
and the Income Equity Act (HR 620). Neither of these bills have
much chance of passing in this Congress, but the campaign in support
of them frames the issues of economic insecurity and budget priorities
in ways that are awkward for conservatives; they bring issues
of class to the forefront.
The Corporate Responsibility Act was part of the reaction to
the conservative victory in the 1994 elections. A relatively large
and complicated bill, it raised the issue of "corporate welfare"
at a time when social programs were under increasing attack. The
bill closes a number of a number of tax loopholes favored by corporations
and the wealthy. It also ends a number of Federally financed research
and development projects that are viewed as being primarily corporate
Unfortunately, this approach to the issue runs into the ambiguities
of the Federal budgeting process and the issue of industrial policy.
There is no way to distinguish between "handouts" and
"investments" in the current Federal budgeting process
and there is no way to track the performance of "investments"
even if there were agreement on which is which. Under the current
Federal budgets, one person's "welfare" could easily
be another person's "investment".
The Income Equity Act is simply a bill to raise the Federal
minimum wage from $4.25 an hour to $6.50 an hour. It also has
an interesting provision which closes a tax loophole that rewards
employers that pay their most highly paid employees more than
25 times their lowest paid employee. This bill also dates back
to 1995, but it has attracted the majority of its cosponsors in
this session of Congress.
Your support for these two bills is important. Legislators
need to understand that the balance of power and wealth needs
to begin tilting toward the working people. Enclosed with this
issue of New Ground is a postcard, courtesy of Share the
Wealth, to send to your Congressman. The address is: U.S. House
of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515. Don't forget to include
your name and return address. Don't delay! Do it today! (And it
only takes a 20¢ stamp!)
Chris Riddiough contributed the portion about the Progressive
Caucus to this article.
by Albert R. Verri
A generation ago, one might have heard of the word "downsizing"
to mean a slimming down of some sort. Today it is used as an euphemism
for the reduction and restructuring of workforces and such other
situations that could lessen cost to a company's operations.
Reduction of non-personnel costs is usually a regular function
of management. Extraordinary reductions of workforces, on the
other hand, have broader significance because of the social consequences
they bring in their wake.
A company decides to "downsize" in the hope that
its leanness will enable it to remain competitive and to be more
profitable. The American Management Association has reported that
less than 50% of the downsized firms had realized better profits.
In their frenzy to downsize, many firms have neglected to consider
the consequences of their actions. A host of mainstream publications,
such as the Wall Street Journal, U.S. News, Time,
The New Republic and others, have expressed some misgivings
about the downsizing process as being a form of "...anorexia
- dumbsizing - neglecting future growth - loss of employee morale
- reduced productivity - making workers feel insecure - causing
disruption in workers' families...", etc.
Recently CBS-TV's 60 Minutes demonstrated how downsizing
was now affecting the higher levels of management structure with
testimonials of insecurity and bleak promises of future employment
in their former higher-paying professions. Downsizing is now affecting
the ranks of middle management, not just the entry-level jobs.
The downsized worker today has hardly the job options of a
generation ago. In 1994, for example, 45% of the 3.5 million new
jobs created were in the service sector. The proliferation of
jobs in the service industry has created a devastating "cliff
effect" from a worker's former wage to drop precipitously
to low-paying service occupations.
A downsized workforce is the twin of an economic equation that
we must posit and not ignore. Our own economic history reminds
us that a healthy economy has to have a viable consuming population.
Can we forget the obvious economic deficiency of the 1930's Great
Depression that made it clear to the nation that consumer demand
had to be restored?
The departure from the laissez-faire economics of the 1920's
and the advent of the New Deal ushered in the Civilian Conservation
Corps, the Home Owners Loan Corporation to stop evictions and
farm foreclosures, guaranteed savings accounts, and mammoth programs
of public works that put millions of our "downsized"
workers back on paying jobs that resulted in increased demands
for goods and services.
Should "downsizing" be the option of individual entrepreneurs
along? To paraphrase a famous quote, each company is not an island
unto itself where it can make its own decisions without regard
to the impact their actions have upon the whole of society.
Massive layoffs of workers inevitably have their effect on
the level of consumption: the part of the equation that must always
balance and synchronize with available products and services.
It was Will Rogers who said a century would have to pass before
we could determine whether the first Henry Ford had hurt or helped
us. Ford did come forth, however, with an economic principle that
is still basic to any economic system: that workers have to have
the power of consumption. Raising his workers' wages to $5 a day
and then to $7 a day during the 1920's was a phenomenal event
that won no plaudits from the business community.
Ford's dictum still prevails today as it did in the 1920's.
Unless his workers had adequate and steady wages, they could not
buy the flivvers they made and he could not have realized his
own profits. Had all the entrepreneurs followed that advice in
the 1920's, perhaps, the catastrophic depression of the 1930's
might have been averted or ameliorated.
Unemployment and public buying power must be faced directly
and meaningfully as a question of national policy. An exaggerated
"natural rate of unemployment" departs from the reality
that exists. We need to learn from the pitfalls that occurred
in the 1920's that brought us an historic and catastrophic depression.
Creating aggregate demand to increase workers' buying power
needs to be a top priority of public policy. Ignoring this great
social need can only mean serious social consequences for our
By Christine R. Riddiough, DSA Political Director
The National Rainbow Coalition and Education Fund held its
annual meeting in Chicago at the beginning of March. The two themes
of the meeting were Target '96 and setting a new education agenda.
The convention was interesting in several respects. Perhaps most
striking was the participation on panels by key Democratic and
labor leaders who had not previously been particularly friendly
to either the Rainbow Coalition or Jesse Jackson.
Jackson, who ran for President in 1984 and 1988, has often
been seen by Democrats as too radical to include in many party
activities. At times he has been vilified as a splitter who has
weakened the party and provided fuel to the right. But it seemed
clear from the presence on Rainbow convention panels of such prominent
leaders of the party as House majority leader Dick Gephardt and
Democratic National Committee Chair Don Fowler, that Jackson is
now seen as the one person who can mobilize the African American
vote; this vote is understood to be crucial to Democratic victory
Party leaders perhaps recognize that failure to mobilize these
voters (and many white women) in 1994 led to the resounding triumph
of the right in that election.
The labor breakfast drew some 600 people. It featured a keynote
address by John Sweeney, the new president of the AFL-CIO and
a DSA member. Sweeney is the first AFL-CIO leader to speak at
a Rainbow meeting and this was yet another signal of changes in
direction for the labor movement.
While the involvement of these leaders hints at the potential
for change in American politics, the meeting as a whole also hinted
at some problems. Although the labor breakfast and a sports dinner
both drew large crowds, overall attendance at the event was relatively
small - only about 300 people, most apparently from the Chicago
area. The weakness of the grass roots base of the Rainbow is an
indication of the need for stronger organizing efforts. Jackson's
presence was overwhelming; he spoke at almost every panel, as
did newly elected representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. This suggests
that leadership development is also weak.
The Rainbow Coalition continues to have enormous potential
as part of the movement to rebuild the American Left, but the
challenges it faces are also great.
by Gene Birmingham
Harold Wells, A Future for Socialism?
Political Theology and the Triumph of Capitalism, Trinity
Press International, Box 851, Valley Forge, PA 19482, 1-800-421-8874,
This book is for everyone interested in socialism's future,
even though addressed directly to Christians. The author has solid
credentials for his subject. He was active in the New Democratic
Party of Canada and its predecessor organization, the Cooperative
Commonwealth Federation. As a young minister in Saskatchewan he
witnessed the first "socialist" government in North
America produce universal, government sponsored medicare. He maintained
a connection with the New Democratic Party after moving to northern
He taught Theology and Ethics and served as chaplain at the
National University of Lesotho in southern Africa, 1976 - 1981.
There he encountered a combination of Marxist and Christian thought
struggling with apartheid. He offered courses on Christian Faith
and Marxism and Liberation Theology. Wells is now Professor of
Systematic Theology, Emmanuel College, Toronto School of Theology.
Part I of the book, "What is Political Theology",
is for Christians looking for a connection between theological
and socialist concepts. One example is the similarity between
the terms "kingdom of God" and "utopia". Wells
does not rule out a contribution from other religions but emphasizes
Christianity because that has provided his orientation and has
been the focus of his professional life.
Part II of the book, "The Triumph of Capitalism?",
deals with the rise and fall of Soviet communism, the problems
of North American capitalism, and the issues arising from capitalism
in the Third World. A major problem for socialists is that many
transnational corporations have more power than some governments.
It will, therefore, take more than electing new governments to
make a difference. That holds implications for socialist strategy.
In Part III, "What Is Socialism?", Wells takes the
reader through a brief, but pointed, history of socialism from
the Industrial Revolution to the present as a background for defining
socialism and looking at its various contemporary expressions.
The final section, "Concluding Theological Reflections",
ties in with explicitly Christian thought with which he began.
After an attempt at definition, Wells points to contemporary possibilities
for socialism and leaves the reader with enough hope to be optimistic
in pursuing a socialist agenda.
I found helpful his distinguishing between broadly stated goals
of socialism and the need to decide on methods and strategies.
Socialists often agree on the former but disagree on the latter.
His other main point, that socialism is not one clearly defined
system but a continuum along which various kinds of socialist
thought have emerged, is also helpful.
There is no place in the world where either socialism or capitalism
exist in pure form and probably never will be. The goal for socialists
is to settle on achievable goals consistent with their ideal or
utopian visions and to find ways to bring them about in practice
in a changing world.
This book would serve well for small groups or individuals
who lack knowledge of the history of socialism and its concepts
and who seek to try to create a socialist practice in the face
of contemporary capitalist power. It offers incentive for Christians
who want some relevance between political and theological concepts.
Wells acknowledges the lack of socialist answers at present but
reminds us that the present practice of capitalism is going to
lead increasingly to calls for an alternative vision. His book
provides a springboard for that search.
A Labor Activist/Midwest Activist conference
will be held in Chicago on May 4 at Roosevelt University, 430
S. Michigan. It will follow the annual Chicago DSA Debs - Thomas
- Harrington dinner to be held Friday evening, May 3, at the Congress
Hotel at 520 S. Michigan. Tentative agenda for the conference
8:30 am - Registration (Room 232)
9:00 am - Opening Plenary - Overview
of Labor Today
10:30 am - Workshop Session I
1:30 pm - Workshop Session II
3:00 pm - Mini-plenaries/Meetings
4:30 pm - Closing Speaker/Panel
Registration for the conference is $5
to help cover costs. For more information contact the DC DSA office
at (202) 829-6167.
Three out of four candidates endorsed
by Chicago DSA in the March primary election won. Only Willie
Delgado lost in his effort to win nomination for 3rd General Assembly
District; he received only 43% of the vote. Danny Davis walked
away with the nomination for the 7th Congressional District; he
also had no trouble defeating two candidates for 29th Ward Democratic
Committeeman. Patricia Martin's race for Judge of the Circuit
Court (7th Subcircuit) was more of a cliff-hanger as she won by
only 3%. She will have no opposition in November's General Election.
Barack Obama won nomination to the Illinois Senate with no opposition.
He will have no opposition in November. The 49th Ward non-binding
referendum in support of the Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance won
with 3,164 votes against 576 "no" votes and 1,140 "abstentions".
Among other election results of interest, Marc
Loveless, candidate for the Harold Washington Party nomination
for Circuit Court Clerk, lost the election to Philip Morris, which
leads to some interesting speculation. Mr. Loveless did win election
as 32nd Ward HWP Committeeman.
Michael Chandler, Alderman of the 24th Ward, was elected
in the non-partisan Chicago City Council election last year with
support from the New Party. In March, he was elected 24th Ward
Democratic Committeeman, easily defeating Jesse Miller, Jr.