Workers face desperate jobs crisis

["You have to work to live, and then they want to deprive you of your work."]

By Tom Eley and Lawrence Porter

An abandoned Ford factory; jobs were shifted to Mexico to take advantage of cheap labor there, and concomitantly to break labor unions in the United States. [Please see our article, "Jobs Flying Faster from the US."]


PREFACE

It is the great curse of all PAST elites that they fail to perceive (until it's too late) the "disconnect" between themselves and the great bulk of "ordinary" people, and the resulting loathing and disgust they eventually elicit from those over whom they rule. This is what happened between the French Aristocracy and the French people on the eve of the French Revolution; it's what happened between the Russian Aristocracy and the Russian people on the eve of their revolution. It's what I call the "Versailles Phenomenon."

Versailles is located just outside Paris in a beautiful expanse of French countryside; it was built by Louis XIV as an exquisite and very sumptuous hideaway (really, "playground") for the French Aristocracy who wanted to escape the mean, narrow streets of the vast slum that was Paris in those days, and the filthy, evil-smelling and nauseous rabble which populated those streets. The lawns and gardens which surrounded Versailles were supposed to be (and were in fact) the most magnificent in all world, and were filled with exotic plants and animals from all over the earth.

It is reputed to have been the most beautiful place in Europe - indeed, it was much more than a simple palace (like Buckingham in England or Potsdam in Germany), but was instead a magnificent and lavish series of apartment complexes where the whole of the French Aristocracy could meet and entertain itself without ever having to be concerned with (let alone see) the poverty which was everywhere apparent throughout France in the years preceding Louis XVI and the French Revolution.

Versailles as it appeared just prior to the French Revolution

So completely cut-off was the French Aristocracy at Versailles on the eve of the French Revolution, that when Marie Antonette, the French Queen, was told that the rabble in Paris had no bread to eat, she was reported to have said, "Let them eat cake."

Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain [i.e., Babylon - meaning the United States], saith the LORD, which destroyest all the earth: and I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee a burnt mountain. (Jeremiah 51:25)

What most people do not realize today is that she did not mean that as a cynical jest; she said it as one who - when told that a neighbor had run out of a particular brand of coffee - would tell them that they should drink tea instead (which she would have reason to presume they had on hand). She had no idea that what was meant here was that the people had NOTHING to eat. This is how great the "disconnect" between the French Aristocracy and the French people had become in France on the eve of the Revolution; neither had that self-same aristocracy any real idea of how hated they were by the French people.

And so it is today insofar as the American elites and their lackey elites around the world are concerned. Please see our articles, What's Happening Now in Egypt," "A Permanent 30% Unemployment Rate" and "2010 Sets US Home Foreclosure Record."]

They seem to be totally ignorant of the misery they are causing — so isolated are they in their lavish apartments in New York City, in the Hamptons, and in various other "playgrounds" scattered around the country and in the world at large. This ignorance (really, this hard-hearted attitude) towards the plight of ordinary Americans is amply demonstrated by the "coverage" that Fox News is giving to the "worker rebellion" in Wisconsin.

The Bible tells us, however, that this present elite — the one that now rules in Washington and in the corporate board rooms of New York City - will survive the wrath of the people by creating a police-state against which the battered masses will hurl themselves in vainTHAT IS, UNTIL THE LORD OF GLORY COMES AND PUTS AN END TO IT. [Please see our article, "American Police State."]

- Antipas

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Nowhere in the US is the unemployment crisis more severe than in Detroit and its metropolitan area in Southeast Michigan. Once the hub of the US auto industry and home to some of the best working class jobs, Detroit is now the poorest big city in America. [Please see our article, "Dying Detroit: The Impact of Globalization."]

Detroit residents face a desperate situation—continued mass unemployment, the cutoff of extended federal benefits, the ever-present danger of having their utilities shut off or their homes seized. Whatever jobs are available pay poverty-level wages, hardly adequate to keep food on the table.

The unemployment rate in the metropolitan area is 13.4 percent, down two percentage points in one year. However, this decline is largely attributable to the long-term unemployed falling out of the workforce. The real unemployment rate may be 20 percent or higher. In Detroit proper, real unemployment—including those involuntarily working part time and those who have given up all hope of finding work—is estimated at 50 percent. [Please see our article, "A Permanent 30% Rate."]

By refusing to extend unemployment benefits, Congress and the Obama administration are condemning the population of cities like Detroit to mass impoverishment.

NOTE: Since this report, long-term unemployment benefits have been extended another two months. Whether these benefits will continue beyond the end of February is anyone's guess, especially given the fact that Republicans now control the House of Representatives.

Reporters from the World Socialist Web Site recently went to an office of the Michigan Bureau of Workers' and Unemployment Compensation to speak to workers about the consequences for themselves and their families.

The unemployment center

The office is located, with historical irony, in the old headquarters of General Motors, once the biggest private employer in the world. The expansive size of the building, Cadillac Plaza—once the largest single-occupant office building in the world—and its vaulted ceilings and marble, granite, and limestone construction, stand in sharp contrast to its present purpose. In addition to the office for unemployment, the building holds a state lottery claims center and other state offices.

The benefits office was busy; there were perhaps 150 workers waiting in line for assistance. However, this is still a small fraction of the unemployed in Detroit. Most claims and filings now happen on-line or by telephone.

All sorts of obstacles are set up to keep workers from accessing unemployment benefits. There are strict requirements related to the length of steady employment prior to being unemployed. Workers are also required to prove they are actively seeking employment. If benefits can be secured, they are kept low as a punitive means of "encouraging" the unemployed to seek work. In Michigan, weekly benefits are low even relative to the rest of the country and are generally equivalent to the levels prevailing in the Deep South.

Nikita Johnson and husband Sylvester Strickland

The WSWS spoke to Nikita Johnson and her husband Sylvester Strikland. Nikita lost her job in October 2010 following an injury. She worked as a medical technician in an apartment complex for senior citizens. Despite her recovery, the company refused to hire her back.

Nikita said she understood what the long-term unemployed were going through. "I feel that it is wrong to cut off the extension," stated Nikita. "Even though they were given extensions, they still need the income. What is going to happen if they are cut off? Many of those people will lose their homes and become homeless. A lot of people will lose their families. They don't understand that people wouldn't be asking for it if they didn't need it. It's like they don't care." [Please see our article, "Making a Crime out of Being Homeless."]

Nikita said that a lot of the jobs these days are paying $7, $8 maybe $10 an hour without benefits, and people just can't live on it.

Sylvester, self-employed as a mechanic, said working people face a terrible jobs situation. "This government should be ashamed," stated Sylvester. "If they cut off people, and we are talking about 2 million people, what are they going to do for money? It's going to be a bad situation for everybody."

"A lot of people are doing whatever they can to get by," Sylvester continued. "Some people are becoming self-employed like what I am doing. You just can't find a job." [Please see our articles, "No Escape from Poverty" and "Working Two Jobs and Still Underemployed."]

Looking at his wife and child with him at the center, Sylvester said, "I know a lot of people are moving in with their families. It is not unusual now to have three families living in the same house hoping that someone is going to get a job."

Sylvester said he is convinced that the census count in Detroit is skewed because of the number of people living together.

"A lot of people are living with illegal utility hookups, and with ten or more people in a house. It's tough, but what are people supposed to do?"

Levon

Eric Quick is unemployed with children. He is not eligible for benefits because he has been out of work for too long. The decision to allow unemployment benefits to expire is "just going to run the crime rate up," Quick said. "People are going to steal, rob, and kill to try feed themselves and their families."

"Not too much has changed with Obama," Quick said. "Nothing has changed for the poor. Maybe things are better for the rich."

Levon has been out of work for a year since being laid off from the Thompson Group, a Detroit-area manufacturer. He now gets $300 every two weeks in benefits, with two kids to support.

 "There are no jobs. When I put in applications, they say I'm either not qualified or over-qualified," Levon said. "You have to work to live, and then they want to deprive you of your work."

Jose

"You get into the situation that you can't afford your heat and gas, you're not sleeping at night because of the cold, and you're not eating square meals."

Levon asked the WSWS about the Wall Street bailout. "What's going on with all the money the banks have been issued?" he asked. "Why aren't they issuing that money to people?"

Jose is an out-of-work construction worker, born in Mexico. "There are no jobs. I did asphalt construction, but it's over," he said. "I'm hoping that in the spring jobs will come back. Somebody's got to pay the bills"

Francisco, 31, has been laid off from a landscaping job for seven months. He gets checks every other week for $400. He must support three kids on that income, plus the money his girlfriend earns as a nurse. Francisco hopes to get a job with a friend clearing snow for the winter. He is also considering moving out of Detroit to the suburb of Southfield because he believes insurance will be cheaper.

Francisco

Francisco is angry that funding for the jobless benefit extension was ended, even as Congress works on extending tax cuts for rich. "That's what I hate," he said. "They always look out for the rich people."

"Obama hasn't done anything," he continued. "The only thing he's done is take us to war. He's no different than any other president we've had."

"I got arrested and put in prison when I was 18. I was young and dumb. That was 12 years ago, and I can't get a job because I was a convict. But I was only 18. I've tried everything. Nobody's hiring."

Francisco says he knows many households that live without utilities. Some of them make "little bonfires" inside their houses to keep warm on cold days, he says. "One of my girlfriend's friends just got her gas cut off for being $2 short on a bill. She owed $117 and she accidentally sent in $115, so they cut the gas and lights." He worries about "innocent little kids dying in house fires because they're in homes without heat or lights."

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God bless you all!

S.R. Shearer,
Antipas Ministries

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