Friday, October 10, 2014

The Jobs Thing

Tireless, under-appreciated Anita Beaty, executive director of Atlanta’s Task Force for the Homeless, had a spirit-lifting column in the Journal-Constitution yesterday morning. Anonymous donors had come up with the half-million dollars to pay the water bill run up by the Task Force’s shelter at Peachtree and Pine, and the city’s unrelenting effort to close down the facility had been thwarted once again. Celebrating this “miracle,” Beaty invited the folks of Atlanta to come downtown to take a look at the many programs and servie shelter offers—the rooftop garden, the computer lab, GED classes, the art studio and gallery, food service training, along with the basic counseling and recovery programs. She ends with “Please come and see!”
            I’m guessing that one of those who won’t be showing up for a visit is John Albers, the Republican state senator from Roswell, who wrote the rejoinder beneath Beaty’s column, predictably entitled “America should promote hard work, not welfare.” No Reaganesque cliché is too insipid for Albers: “a hand-up, not a hand-out,” “but teach a person a fish,” blah, blah, blah. Believe me, it’s not easy reading. Surprise: Albers and his wife worked seven jobs when they were first married, many of them minimum-wage, and it’s Albers’ opinion that “minimum-wage jobs are critical to provide stepping stones for career growth.”
            Albers does not fail to chant the great Republican mantra: “Some have called for dramatically increasing the minimum wage, but this argument is flawed and will decrease available jobs while increasing costs for working families.” You know what? The minimum-wage earners who, according to Albers’ theory, might lose their jobs if the wage were raised are not out there protesting against the pay hike. Who is? I think it’s reasonable to assume that the people who don’t want to see the minimum wage go up are the business leaders who don’t mind increasing profits by exploiting workers and who—just being frank here—don’t give a rat’s ass if their employees live in poverty. They are certainly the people who could raise wages if they wanted to.
            The “jobs” argument is a blunt tool, but widely popular, and used for much more than defending indefensibly low wages.  The idea is that you’re either a job creator (a heroic American, free and unregulated), or a job killer (a big-government liberal). To be pro-earth, for example, is to be anti-jobs. Consider mountaintop removal mining, which has become the preferred way to mine coal in the Appalachians. Over and beyond permanently disfiguring a majestic landscape, MTR pollutes and defiles the land, water, and air in surrounding communities, to the point that mining ghost towns now dot the West Virginia mountains. But what are you going to do? Gotta have those jobs. (The truth is that MTR, because it requires far fewer miners than underground mining, has killed thousands of jobs in the industry, and the jobs it saves happen to be those of non-union heavy-machinery operators.)
            Or take logging in the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. Or drilling for oil off the Atlantic Coast (which our “environmental” president recently approved). Or draining the Everglades, or developing fragile coastal lands. Just think of all those jobs. Or take the Keystone XL Pipeline, the fate of which our president will probably decide after the mid-term elections. He might be tempted to kill the pernicious pipe, but, wow, imagine the jobs clamor. (The many reasons President Obama can and should say no to KXL will have to be our topic another day.)
            It would be great if everybody who wanted one had a job that could pay the bills. But let’s not be deceived. The captains of global capitalism want profit, and they pay their peons in high office and low to blather on about jobs.
            When her West Virginia town of Marfork Hollow was rendered uninhabitable by MTR giant Massey Energy in the 1990s, Judy Bonds became an anti-MTR activist and ultimately the executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch, the preeminent environmental organization in the coal mountains of Appalachia. Her family had mined coal for six generations, but Bonds had no truck with the “jobs” shibboleth. As she put it, “If coal is so good for us hillbillies, then why are we so poor?”  

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