It is finally sinking in: rather than groping fitfully upward out of the 2007-08 abyss, the real economy—the one that provides decent jobs, the only economy that matters to real people—is finding its agonizing way to a new bottom. For Black America, all the data point to the massive failure of four decades of non-movement politics brokered by a self-dealing Black misleadership class concerned more with image than substance.
The pseudo-sophisticates who smugly claimed that general Black empowerment and security could be achieved by individual infiltration into corporate power and its political formations are discovering, to their horror, that Big Capital gives no quarter. Where Wall Street rules—which means every square inch of the United States—only The Casino is deemed worth saving, “too big to fail.” Like dinosaurs on an evolutionary sprint to dominate their environment by sheer size, finance capital tramples underfoot all that it does not devour, especially the fragile structures of Black life and work.
The most recent numbers show Black unemployment creeping up two-tenths of a percent, to 15.6 percent, 17.8 percent for Black males, while white joblessness held steady at 8.6 percent. Unemployment among Black women jumped 1.1 percent, to 13.7 percent, compared to 7.6 percent for white women. One of out every four Black adults is unemployed or underemployed. Blacks remain out of work far longer than whites, and many more are “discouraged” from any longer actively seeking work in the formal economy.
Unemployment levels double that of whites have been the Black norm in the United States for two generations, so, relatively speaking, the current labor market may appear like a very sick version of normalcy. But twice as high joblessness after 40 years, plus 30 years of stagnation in Black household income compared to whites (at 61 Black cents to every white dollar earned), plus monstrous attrition of Black neighborhoods and entire cities through foreclosure, plus the centrifugal pressures of gentrification, plus astronomical Black incarceration rates, equals an African American national community whose ties to place and employment are more tenuous than at any time since Emancipation. A serious resistance movement must be mounted, while Black America is still capable of coherent political action.
In the face of unrelentingly dire economic news, the Black misleadership class and the institutions they dominate are compelled to respond, to do something, or appear to be doing something, on the jobs front. They are caught between the truth and a hard place. The truth is the Obama administration has no intention of supporting a direct government jobs creation program, the only measure that could begin to counter Wall Street’s decade’s-long jobs destruction policies. The White House failed to go to the mat even for the unemployment benefits extension, and invested not an ounce of political capital to move labor’s dearest legislation, the Employee Free Choice Act, or Card Check bill, off of square one. Obama’s team fought the Left of the Democratic Party tooth and nail over healthcare and, as chronicled by Matt Taibbi in the August 6 issue of Rolling Stone (“Wall Street’s Big Win”), stabbed Democratic would-be financial reformers in the back to spare Wall Street from any measures that might stop the “doomsday cycle.” Obama serves finance capital in every way that counts.
Established Black and labor leaders imagine they know the location of Obama’s heart—that it is in the “right place”—and are loathe to do or say anything that might sound like dissent. Yet, they slip further into irrelevance with every day of passivity. Therefore, they have scheduled joint Black-Labor demonstrations for August and October and are making noises designed to sound like demands on Obama and Democratic leadership.
The march for jobs in Washington, DC, backed by the NAACP and the entirety of Big Labor and scheduled for October 2, “is part of the broader civic engagement strategy to make sure we hold the people that they’ve elected accountable and making sure we get all the change that we voted for, including job creation,” said NAACP President Ben Jealous. Is that a demand worthy of the term? Not in Ben Jealous’ mouth. He quickly shifted to the amorphous opponents he would much prefer to fight than Obama: the white nationalists of the various Tea Party outfits. “It’s time to wake up the troops, to warn the people that racism and hate is still alive in America, said Jealous.” AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka manages to stay on the jobs point. “We believe it is only fitting to ask Wall Street to pay to rebuild the economy it helped destroy” by paying for a federal jobs program.
Reverend Jesse Jackson and the United Auto Workers have teamed up for an August 28 demonstration in Detroit, commemorating the 1963 March on Washington and demanding an end to “the practice that forces hard-working Americans from their homes while at the same time bailing out Wall Street executives and paying them million-dollar bonuses.” Of course, there could have been no bailouts without Barack Obama, who saved the first, Bush bailout from congressional defeat while still only a candidate, and as president oversaw the transfer of at least $14 trillion to Wall Street, among many other favors to the banks. A demonstration befitting the crimes against labor, and Trumka’s own rhetoric, must make firm demands of President Obama with the threat of action if not complied with.
Real progressives ought to take the NAACP, Jesse Jackson, and labor leadership’s words at face value, and participate in both demonstrations, in strength, loudly and with the proper signage. Make the demo into a genuine jobs march that demands Obama radically change his tune to support New Deal-like government job creation programs. Make it a real peace march, in line with labor’s call for “a reversal of national priorities from making wars to meeting human needs.” Pretend Big Labor, Reverend Jackson and Ben Jealous are serious about their own statements. Call their bluff. Dare them to transform the October 2 action into a rally for Wall Street’s president and Democratic congressional leadership. Make Obama’s Black and labor apologists act like men and women and own up to their own words, or retire from the scene.
We also suggest you ignore Reverend Al Sharpton’s August 28 demo in Washington. He’s practically an extension of the Obama apparatus, and thus less than worthless.
—Black Agenda Report, August 11, 2010