Many of you were there when UE members at Serious Energy occupied their factory in February and won an agreement that the company would keep the plant open 90 days and look for a buyer of the business to save these good jobs. It was a great victory for the workers and our movement.
Well, a buyer emerged- New Era Windows, a worker-run cooperative founded by some of the former Serious and Republic Window workers. But despite being willing to buy the factory, Serious Energy told New Era this week they were out of the running to buy the place because it would be easier to liquidate. And they plan to do it by Friday July 6th!
So we have put a movement in motion again to save these jobs. Please join us tomorrow to visit a principle investor and Serious Energy board member who works for Mesirow Financial- Thomas Gulahn. And sign on to the petition- http://www.change.org/petitions/help-save-green-tech-jobs-in-chicago in the half day its been up its gone viral with over 1,600 of signers!
What: Rally and delegation at Mesirow Financial to save good Chicago jobs.
Where: 353 N Clark Street, Chicago
When: Thursday July 5th, 12pm Noon
If all you heard about the September 2011 Employment Situation released this past Friday from traditional media and stock market reports that the market closed up you would conclude that the employment situation was just hunky dory. But if we were given some context about September’s job number we would realize that it’s just another weak report and another indication that the ‘New Normal’ will be very painful for most families.
Context matters particularly in terms of economic data. Bureau of Labor Statistics released the September Employment Situation last friday. The main story from the report were 103,000 jobs created in September and 9.1% unemployment which was unchanged from August. Sounds positive but there is more information - troubling information that was excluded from most traditional media’s analysis of the release. One huge omission from news reports was that 103,000 jobs included 45,000 returning Verizon workers who were on strike in August so if excluded those jobs then the economy only generated 56,000 new jobs. Oh, but there’s more.
Economic Policy Institute has been providing some very important analysis and context for the monthly job reports. This is what they said about Friday’s report:
The U.S. is currently 6.6 million jobs below where it was when the recession started. But because the working-age population grows as the population expands, in the three years and nine months since the recession started we needed to have added around 4.5 million jobs to keep the unemployment rate from rising. Putting these numbers together means the current gap in the labor market is roughly 11.1 million jobs. To ﬁll that gap in three years—by Fall 2014—while still keeping up with the growth in the working-age population—would require adding around 400,000 jobs every single month. To ﬁll the gap in five years—by Fall 2016—would mean adding 280,000 jobs each month. By comparison, over the last three months, the economy added just 96,000 jobs per month on average. At this rate, the unemployment rate will not come down.
Wow, 400,000 jobs per month! We’re not even close to that. The jobs hole is very deep and weak job growth as reported on Friday will help very little. Even future prospects for significant job and economic growth appear very bleak especially with more talk of austerity at federal, state and local levels.
Oh, but wait there’s even more context that was missing from traditional media reports:
Not to mention that the unemployment rate held steady at 9.1% - a relatively high number.
Want more context? Let’s not stop with just the employment situation. What household incomes? High unemployment provides downward pressure on wages and incomes. So it should not be a surprise when we read or hear about reports like this:
Between June 2009, when the recession officially ended, and June 2011, inflation-adjusted median household income fell 6.7 percent, to $49,909, according to a study by two former Census Bureau officials. During the recession — from December 2007 to June 2009 — household income fell 3.2 percent.
Welcome to the New Normal! This is going to be painful. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are alternatives/solutions to this New Normal.
There is hope for positive changes to our economic system. Positive changes that challenge the economic status quo. Changes that many of us so desperately need.
We’re talking real hope not some campaign slogan. We’re talking hope we can believe in. No question that the economic situation for many Americans is pretty grim. The numbers confirm it. First, the Pew Charitable Trust released a report called “Downward Mobility from the Middle Class:Waking Up from the American Dream.” Next, the Census Bureau released its 2010 report on income and poverty in U.S. Both are very important reads but let’s cover just the highlights:
Downward Mobility from the Middle Class
This report addresses a few of the drivers for downward mobility - mostly educational reasons and marital status of parents. But this translates into something bigger - an economic system that suppresses family incomes and provides much fewer opportunities, particularly through education, to achieve upward mobility. It used to be that a person could reach the middle class with a high school diploma but today it seems highly unlikely. It’s really the nature of our economic system today.
Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010
Can you see how both reports are related? Again no opportunities for upward mobility for millions of Americans. It’s the nature of our economic system today.
Some people would argue that the above facts show that we need a stronger social safety net or in short-term more fiscal stimulus. Sure, those things would help but they are only treating the symptoms and not the disease. The disease is our economic system itself. A system based on redistribution of wealth and income upward through suppression of wage growth and increased profit margins. Where economic benefits accrue to those who really don’t need any more. A system that substitutes debt for real income.
But there is hope. Real hope and possibilities to challenge our current economic status quo by conducting business through a different business model. A business model that has been around a long time but has been underutilized in the U.S. A business model that puts people before profits. Here are a few examples:
Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives - a network of six worker-owned bakery cooperatives that began in 1997. In this worker cooperative, like most others, workers are the owners and decision makers for the business. Here is good story about Arizmendi from Media Roots:
The central aim of the Arizmendi Cooperative Association is to create a truly democratic economy – one in which everyone has a say in the decisions that affect them on a day-to-day basis. The biggest challenges to achieving this goal, explains Tim [Huet], are raising money (they do not take government or foundation grant money) and more importantly, living in a society that actually teaches people to be powerless.
Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES) a not-for-profit organization operating in San Francisco Bay Area. WAGES’ mission is to build worker-owned green businesses that create healthy, dignified jobs for low-income women. WAGES launches cooperatives where women develop personal and professional skills, become leaders, and gain economic security. WAGES has developed five eco-friendly cleaning cooperatives.
Isthmus Engineering & Manufacturing - a worker owned cooperative from Madison, Wisconsin. Since 1980, Isthmus has been delivering thousands of high performance automation machines and systems. Fun little fact about Isthmus - they were featured in Michael Moore’s documentary, “Capitalism: A Love Story.”
Union Cab - a worker owned cooperative from Madison, Wisconsin. Union Cab has a very interesting history. Union Cab may be the only taxi cab company in the U.S. that pays a living wage plus 100% of health insurance premiums of worker-owners.
Evergreen Cooperatives from Cleveland, Ohio. Evergreen Cooperative Laundry is the first in a network of green cooperatives centered around ‘anchor institutions’ such as hospitals, universities and hotels in Cleveland, Ohio. Evergreen cooperatives are worker-owned and democratically managed.
Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) from New York, City. CHCA is the largest worker owned cooperative in the U.S. with 1,600 members and revenue upward of $40 million. CHCA provides quality home health care and above industry average wages and benefits to its worker-members.
Green Worker Cooperatives from the South Bronx, New York. Green Worker Cooperatives helps develop environmentally positive worker cooperatives in South Bronx. It also has developed a very popular Coop Academy where it provides an intense 16 weeks of training and support for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start a green cooperative business.
Again, these are just a few examples of hope but we need more. Particularly if want to make positive changes to the gloomy poverty and downward mobility data. We need figure out ways to change this economic status quo. We can no longer expect nor can we wait for Washington to address the dire economic situation. We have to do this on our own. We have to find new solutions and new ideas. Worker cooperatives can be one solution.
But change will only happen when we decide to make change. Otherwise we will continue at best to languish or at worse to economically degrade. It’s really up to us.
What will it take for people to say enough - we need a new way of doing things?
Facts are showing a broken economic system. High poverty, high unemployment, low job growth, stagnate wages, growing income inequality, no economic mobility. It’s all there. We have an economic system that is providing very very few opportunities for people and providing a bleak future for younger generations. Yet hardly a peep from most people. Why?
Is that people are scared to demand change? Or is that people are just too complacent - content with a bleak future as long as we get our 500+ cable channels and internet access? What is it?
We have people who can’t afford to retire. We have families who either can’t afford or going into massive debt to send their children to college. We have people working not one but two or three jobs just pay the bills. But no protests. Why?
Is it that people are not aware that there are alternatives to current economic system and related bankrupt institutions?
We have a political system that’s controlled by those who can contribute the most money. We have a financial system that is incredibly destructive. We have business models that prioritize short-term profits at any cost - costs which are typically hoisted on the public or workers.
What will it take for people to wake up and realize how screwed we are under this current economic system?
Many talking heads and the stock market are celebrating the Personal Income and Outlays data for July 2011 that was released this morning by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Was the data positive? Sure, but certainly one month is not an indicator of long term trends. Our economy has some deep issues and one month of positive numbers won’t make these issues disappear.
Maybe it’s best to show the data in pictures. Now, instead of just showing totals for personal consumption expenditures, disposable personal income and the like, I will show changes from previous year. This should give a better perspective on the situation.
1) Personal Consumption Expenditures.
2) Personal Income
3) Disposable Personal Income
Not surprisingly personal income and disposable income (personal income minus taxes) are kind of flatlining. Oh, I digress.
There are several deeper issues to all of this. We had what economist Richard Koo called a “balance sheet recession”. Basically, families and businesses took on a lot debt based on inflated asset prices. Then sometime in 2007 the House of Cards came tumbling down. Families and businesses turned to paying down massive debt loads instead of buying stuff or consuming. For an economy driven by consumption (over 70% of GDP) having families paying off debt instead of consuming or investing is bad.
One deep issue is what has actually changed from the beginning to the Great Recession until now that will positively impact our economy? I suggest nothing. Sure, Wall Street and corporate profits have bounced back nicely and there was a weak fiscal stimulus the effects of which have worn off but now the emphasis is on deficit reduction. High unemployment will continue to suppress family incomes and debt loads are still high.
Another deeper issue is whether families will continue to pay down debt or even have the means or incomes to do so? Are families essentially still tapped out and still struggling with stagnate wages and higher living costs? We will see. One month of good numbers won’t provide answers to these questions.
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