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Youth call for jobs program to curb violence

While young people at loose ends roam Chicago’s streets, some of them causing trouble, elected officials continue to do little about crisis-level youth unemployment.

Nearly 100 Chicago area youth calling for funding for a summer jobs program were turned away today after they announced plans for a 24-hour sit-in at the Thompson Center to demand an emergency meeting with Governor Quinn.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘We Are One’

Thousands of Chicago workers will rally in Daley Plaza tomorrow (Saturday, April 9, 1 p.m.), the culmination of a week of activities around the state and part of over a thousand events nationally spearheaded by the AFL-CIO to “defend the middle class.”

The “We Are One” actions mark the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination while leading Memphis sanitation workers striking for union recognition, and links it with the recent upsurge of resistance to efforts in Wisconsin and elsewhere to roll back union rights for public workers.   Read the rest of this entry »

Manufacturing jobs go temp

Over a hundred workers at a manufacturing plant in Cicero are being replaced by temporary labor, according to Chicago Workers Collaborative.

They were abruptly laid off with a severance package of two weeks’ pay – including workers who had over 20 years on the job – when packaging material manufacturer  Innerpac was bought out.  Jobs are being shifted to a plant in Hillside, where temporary staffing agencies will supply at  least some of the workforce.

They’ll be protesting at the Innerpac plant, 1942 S. Laramie in Cicero, Thursday, February 24 at 2 p.m., demanding a fair severance package and an end to temporary labor in Cicero.

New mayor — new Chicago?

Community organizers are hoping Rahm Emanuel will open up to their ideas now that his mayoral quest has ended in what he called “a humbling victory.”

Facing the first open mayoral election in decades, community groups across the city hoped for a broad debate on the future of the city and held candidates forums across town.

But the candidate who won yesterday – fueled by an enormous fundraising advantage, favorable media treatment, and tacit support from  City Hall and the White House – was the one who skipped out on almost all the community events.

“Emanuel didn’t come to the forums with the communities, so there hasn’t been an opportunity for a dialogue,” said Jane Ramsey of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, part of the New Chicago 2011 coalition.

“Our challenge as advocates who care about communities and the issues that have been neglected – housing, jobs, schools, health and safety– is to get the attention of the new mayor and get a process on track to address those issues,” she said.

Judging from the turnout, Rahm Emanuel won with less than overwhelming enthusiasm from Chicago residents.  That may have reflected the inevitability with which his election was treated from the very beginning.

In a remarkable analysis, Chicago Muckrakers touted up the number of times candidates were mentioned in the city’s two daily newspapers and it lined up almost perfectly with their poll rankings.  In the first three months of the campaign, Emanuel was mentioned 447 times, while Gery Chico got 227 mentions, Carol Moseley Braun got 210, and Miguel del Valle (a citywide elected official who was the first to announce his candidacy), 146.

Chicago Indymedia has a concise summary of Emanuel’s political career, from a highly critical perspective.

“Hopefully he’ll run Chicago with a little more grace, wisdom and competence than he displayed in the Obama White House,” commented a blogger at Firedoglake.

As the city and the new mayor struggle with a looming budget deficit – not to mention reorganization of a new City Council, with fourteen races headed into runoffs – New Chicago 2011 represents one major change in the landscape.

The coalition brought together dozens of community and advocacy groups to press a progressive neighborhood agenda. At a massive mayoral forum held by the group in December, one could imagine that the vibrant political culture and popular engagement of pre-Daley Chicago could be reborn.

With New Chicago, “there’s been a major shift in how organized communities work together,” said Amisha Patel of Grassroots Collaborative, which helped organize the coalition.  “Communities are coming together in a way that was not the case four years ago.

“They’re coming together across racial and ethnic divides for an economic and racial justice agenda,” showing that “we don’t have to be set up against each other,” she said.  “The possibility of organized communities coming together with organized labor to move the city forward is exciting,” she said.

With the budget crisis, “the question to us is what is the best use of available resources, and how can you use those resources to create some prosperity for the residents of the city,” Patel said.

“We understand resources are limited.  The question is whether community folks will have a seat at the table when the decisions are made so we can be sure the benefits aren’t concentrated downtown” while the pain is spread far and wide, she said.

Patel points to the Sweet Home Chicago ordinance, which would dedicate 20 percent of TIF funds to affordable housing, as an opportunity “to move available dollars into neighborhoods to create housing and create jobs.”

At one point the measure had the backing of a majority of aldermen, but Mayor Daley opposed it strenuously, and this month the council tabled it.

“There are a lot of construction workers who don’t have jobs because of the housing market – and there’s an even more serious need for affordable housing,” Patel pointed out. “And the money is there.”

One budgetary silver bullet will generate opposition: a city-owned casino, which was endorsed by Emanuel and the other candidates.

“We’re going to fight it,” said Ramsey.  “We know that casinos exploit the most vulnerable people, they prey upon low-income and elderly people, they’re counter to economic development, they drain away from local businesses and they drive down property values.”

Doug Dobmeyer, spokesperson for the Task Force to Oppose Gambling in Chicago, doesn’t think it’s politically feasible.  “It’s been introduced in Springfield every year for 22 years, and it’s been defeated every year for 22 years,” he said.

Dobmeyer thinks a city income tax has a better chance of passing than a casino.

He also likes the idea of a financial transaction tax, which could be small enough and targeted to products that wouldn’t disrupt the Chicago trading industry.  But for Emanuel to back that – he’s a former Chicago Mercantile Exchange board member and a top recipient of financial industry largesse – would be like Nixon going to China.

Still open is the question of whether a reform bloc will emerge in the City Council.  In 2007, labor donated heavily to help elect a dozen independent aldermen. “Expectations were high, but it was a mixed bag,” in part due to attention immediately diverted to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, said Patel.

In fact there were dramatically fewer contested votes in the current council than in previous councils under Daley, said Dick Simpson, a UIC professor and former alderman. “That may well change,” he said.

“It seemed possible that a reform bloc would emerge” but “it never came together on any kind of general reform agenda,” said political analyst Don Rose.   “Daley was quite willing to coopt and buy people up.”

Emanuel “will not have the clout that Daley had, and he’s facing a huge deficit,” said Simpson.  “He’s not going to have the resources to offer that Daley had.”

“We don’t know what he’s going to do,” Rose said.  “For all we know, he could come up with ideas that get the support of everybody.”

King Day: Hazel Johnson, jobs crisis, public workers

On more than one Martin Luther King Day, Chicago columnist Vernon Jarrett wrote columns highlighting the role of E.D. Nixon, the local organizer who recruited King to lead the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955.

His point was that while history focused on King–  the way it always focuses on great leaders — the vast grassroots movement he shepherded was far more than a mass of aggrieved followers.  It included hundreds of local leaders, deeply rooted in their communities, many of them maintaining struggles over decades with remarkable tenacity and determination, often at great risk, and far outside the limelight.

A longtime Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters organizer and president of the Montgomery NAACP, Nixon had led a march of 750 African American men to the Montgomery County courthouse to register to vote – in 1940.  He not only recruited King, he also recruited Rosa Parks, another long-time activist, for the campaign against segregation on city buses.

So it’s more than fitting that on this King Day, Mary Mitchell’s column memorializes Hazel Johnson, who died Wednesday at age 75.

Johnson shared the stage briefly with another great leader, Barack Obama, who worked on a campaign for asbestos abatement at Altgeld Gardens in the late 1980s, before heading on to law school and broader horizons.

Johnson began researching toxic contamination of the far south CHA development after her husband died of cancer in 1969 at the age of 41. She contacted public agencies and demanded information about the toxic waste dumps, landfills, incinerators and refineries that ringed the community, and when she didn’t get answers, she kept demanding.

Johnson – who also pioneered green jobs with training for Altgeld residents in environmental remediation — is the precursor of Van Jones and Green For All, Jerome Ringo (of Louisiana’s Cancer Alley) and the Apollo Alliance; and locally, of groups like Blacks In Green and Little Village Environmental Organization.  And People for Community Recovery continues its work under Johnson’s daughter, Cheryl.

Also part of her legacy is the ban on landfills on the Southeast Side, a long process initiated by Mayor Harold Washington after he toured Altgeld with Johnson in 1986.  In 2004 Waste Management was barred from accepting refuse in the last active landfill in the area.

Jobs crisis

When Martin Luther King Jr. launched the Poor People’s Campaign shortly before his assassination in 1968, it was in response to economic conditions that would look good today.

Unemployment in 1968 was 4 percent, 7 percent for African-Americans.  It’s double that or worse now, writes Isaiah J. Poole of the Center for America’s Future.

Poole calls for reigniting King’s drive for economic action, offering quotes from a sermon delivered by the civil right leader days before his assassination – quotes that ring true today.

Citing the Declaration of Independence, King declared that unemployment threatens its core commitments: “If a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness. He merely exists.”

To a political establishment that has abandoned action on the jobs crisis while it funds overseas wars, King declares: “On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?”

Poole rejects “the constrictions on today’s political debate, which limit our horizons to variations of the discredited conservative notion that giving business what it wants — few rules to follow and even fewer taxes to pay — will lead to a revitalized middle-class America, when in fact we’ve already done this for more than a decade and what we have gained is a shrinking middle class caught in a race to the bottom.”

The Poor Peoples’s Campaign was necessary, King said, “because it is our experience that the nation doesn’t move around questions of genuine equality for the poor and for black people until it is confronted massively, dramatically in terms of direct action.”

Today, “we could use a massive, dramatic confrontation on behalf of the more than 27 million who are unemployed or underemployed today,” Poole writes. “The spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. would certainly be in its midst.”

Public workers

A year ago we noted King’s final campaign was on behalf of public service workers in Memphis.  A year later, attacks on public workers and their unions have ratcheted up considerably.

The Progressive points out that this shifts the blame for the nation’s economic problems away from the powerful and further weakens the meager recovery now underway.

Labor Notes argues it’s based on a number of myths –that public employees make more money than their private sector counterparts, that private enterprise is more efficient, that taxes are too high (the problem is really that tax system is unfair, with working families taxed more heavily than the very rich).

It’s the latest phase of a largely successful, decades-long drive to neutralize unions by severely limiting workers’ right to organize.

The latest manifestation in Illinois is what Labor Notes describes as a billionaires’ attack on teachers unions.  In a sign of bad times, Democratic leaders like Mayor Daley and Rahm Emanuel have endorsed limits on teachers’ strikes, though the last strike in Chicago was decades ago.  Emanuel also wants to cut pensions for existing city workers, although the state constitution bars such action.

Mike Klonsky points out that Emanuel’s “I’ll Hammer Teachers” program ignores the real problems facing Chicago schools and makes it much tougher to attact good teachers. (Miguel del Valle has spoken up forcefully in defense of teachers.)

Ambitious candidates may chase the latest wave of political opportunism, but Martin Luther King – who once vowed to “fight laws which curb labor” — would advise them to get on the right side of the arc of the universe, the one that bends toward justice.

Long-term jobless ‘out in the cold’

Disappointing job creation numbers – about two-thirds of what’s needed to keep up with population growth – along with a drop in the unemployment rate.  What’s going on?

It’s “an indication that the long-term unemployed are simply exhausting benefits” – and dropping off the charts, says Chicago Jobs With Justice.

The pace of job creation is so slow that it will take decades to get back the 8.5 million jobs lost following the 2008 crash, the group said in response to new jobs numbers.

Calling the jobs report “shockingly dismal,” Bill Barclay of the Chicago Political Economy Group said the numbers show that “this administration and Congress need to get to work immediately to develop a federal jobs program.”  Barclay spoke at a JWJ gathering to respond to the jobs report today.

An estimated 25 million workers have fallen victim of the jobs crisis – including 15 million officially unemployed and millions more who are discouraged or are working part-time or temporary while seeking full-time work.

Of the 15 million jobless, over 40 percent have been out of work for more than six months, and more than 1.6 million have exhausted their unemployment benefits, according to a recent report in Slate.

JWJ says nearly 40,000 Americans are running out of unemployment benefits every day.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently added a new category to its population survey, which formerly listed “99 weeks or more” as the top limit for time-out-of-work; this month interviewers will have the option of checking “260 weeks or more.”

The long-term unemployed can access a thin patchwork of public benefits – food stamps, heating assistance, TANF for parents – but are increasingly subject to bankruptcy and foreclosure.  Diet and health decline.  Suicides increase – especially when unemployment benefits are cut off.

Studies show that the longer someone is out of work, the harder it is to find a job, Slate reports.

“We are being left out in the cold,” said Randy Moe, whose job was outsourced to China nearly two-and-a-half years ago.  “We are out of work, out of benefits, and many of us are being thrown out of our homes.”

Moe lost his job of 27 years in August 2008, when auto parts supplier Federal Mogul shifted production from its Skokie plant to a new facility in China.  His unemployment ran out after 99 weeks, and now he’s living on his savings, which are also running out.

Just a few weeks from turning 60, he says he’s” trying to make it to 62,” when he can apply for Social Security.

Last year his hands locked up – it turned out to be osteoarthritis – and with no health insurance, he now faces a $25,000 bill for two ER visits. He’s afraid the hospital will come after his home.

“There’s no concern, no attention, no outreach” to long-term unemployed, he said   “Nobody talks about 99ers except 99ers themselves.  The Obama administration refuses to use the term.”

He’s active with JWJ’s Unemployed Action Center, where jobless workers organize and get support.  He’d “like to see” a federal jobs program, “but we have these Republicans running around yelling about stopping spending.”

“During the ’30s the government did create jobs,” he points out.  “People built infrastructure, built roads and bridges.  Today we have roads falling apart, bridges collapsing – and an internet infrastructure that’s woefully lacking” compared to other advanced nations.

The Unemployed Action Center helps break down the frustration and isolation that can beseige the long-term unemployed.

“We have to band together and work for something better,” he said. “I wish we could get more people to stand together and make some noise.”

Unemployed respond to jobs report

An expected uptick in employment figures is far from what’s needed to allay concern over the jobs crisis, say unemployed activists.

Unemployed workers mobilized by Chicago Jobs With Justice Unemployed Workers Council will gather tomorrow to respond to the monthly jobs report and demand a federal jobs program (Friday, January 7, 12 noon, State of Illinois building, Randolph and Dearborn).

Susan Hurley of CJWJ points out that 150,000 new jobs are needed each month just to keep up with population growth –”just to keep unemployment from rising.” And with 15 million unemployed and another 10 million discouraged or underemployed, there’s a long way to go to reach pre-recession employment levels.

“The private sector cannot create enough jobs for all those out of work,” she said.

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that “even if [the recent] strong pace of job growth continued, it would still take 15 to 20 years to return to full employment” without a major federal effort.

Hurley said unemployment benefits have run out for up to 6 million unemployed.

“The people who caused the financial crash in 2008 are rebounding splendidly – their profits are up, their bonsuses are up – but the rest of us are still dealing with the fallout from their recklessness,” Hurley said.

In Illinois, 350,000 unemployed face loss of benefits during holiday season

More than 350,000 Illinois residents could lose their unemployment benefits over the holiday season if Congress fails to extend federal support, according to a Public News Service report.

Public opinion strongly supports extension of benefits, and recent studies emphasize its importance to economic recovery, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Voters backed extending benefits over deficit reduction by 73 to 24 percent in a recent survey for NELP.

The group cites recent studies by the Department of Labor and the Congressional Budget Office which highlight the “multiplier effect” of spending by unemployment insurance recipients; such spending has saved 1.6 million jobs per quarter since 2008, according to the DOL.

Cancellation of emergency benefits programs during the holiday season would constitute “a major blow” to the retail sector, according to an NELP briefing paper.

Since unemployment insurance was created during the Great Depression, Congress has never cut jobless benefits when unemployment levels were above 7.2 percent, the group says.

Instead of a series of stop-gap extensions, we should renew benefits for a full year and “end the game of chicken Congress has played with America’s unemployed workers and their families,” said Christine Owens of NELP.

At, NELP has a petition calling on Congress to extend benefits for 2011 – and a video contrasting the voices of unemployed workers with those of pundits and politicians who have blamed and insulted them:

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