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Why we say A JOB IS A RIGHT

Published Apr 12, 2008 9:40 AM

“Jobless claims highest since Katrina,” declared CNN on April 3. “Food stamp use at record pace as jobs vanish,” noted the March 31 New York Times.

Eighty thousand jobs vanished in March, the biggest drop in five years. Revised Labor Department figures show that the U.S. economy lost 76,000 jobs in both January and February. The unemployment rate jumped from 4.8 percent to 5.1 percent in the span of a month.

A serious recession is underway. Unemployment is pounding at workers’ doors—for those who haven’t already lost their doors (and homes) to the ever-deepening mortgage crisis.

You need a job to keep a roof over your head, feed yourself and your family, and pay the bills. Everyone needs a job or other source of income to survive.

Having a job is a basic necessity. It’s a simple human right.

In fact, the right to a job is a matter of law—and has been for 62 years!

The 1946 Employment Act and the 1978 Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act legally obligate the president and Congress to use all available means to achieve full employment.

Also adopted in 1946, the United Nations Charter on Human Rights declares, “Everyone has the right to work ... and to protection against unemployment,” as well as the right to housing, education and health care.

The 1978 Full Employment Act provides for convening a National Employment Conference to discuss enforcement.

Yet no administration—Republican or Democrat—has ever attempted to fulfill these obligations.

It’s high time the government was made to enforce these laws.

Gov’t power to ban layoffs and create jobs

Even before George W. Bush’s usurpation of greater executive powers, the president of the U.S. was fully empowered to end unemployment and create jobs in response to an economic crisis.

The 1978 law allows the government to create “a reservoir of public employment” if private corporations are unable to provide enough jobs.

Every governor, mayor and county executive also has full authority to order an end to layoffs in an economic emergency.

New York State, for example, empowers the governor to take any action necessary to prevent or stop the suffering of people as a result of “a natural or man-made disaster.”

The same law requires “a joint effort” of public and private spheres to mobilize the resources of business, labor, agriculture and government at every level to prepare for and meet disasters of all kinds.

The boom-and-bust system of capitalism, which always seeks the highest rate of profit with the least number of workers, is the ultimate “man-made” disaster.

First comes the struggle, then comes the law

Worker unrest during the depression of the 1930s, following World War II, during the Civil Rights era, and during the recession of the 1970s forced the capitalist government to put these laws on the books.

The legal precedent goes back to 1937. Labor Secretary Frances Perkins stated then that workers had a property right to their jobs when she defended the right of sit-down strikers to occupy factories.

Perkins, appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was no revolutionary. She was putting into legal terms what the workers had already achieved by seizing the plants, establishing workers’ control, and putting capitalist property rights into question.

It will take further struggle—a united campaign of mass action—to turn these words on paper into reality. The point is, there already exists a legal framework to do so.

“The right to a job is a property right,” explained Sam Marcy, founding chairperson of Workers World Party, in his 1986 book, “High Tech, Low Pay.” “The right to seize and occupy the plants [which includes stores, hospitals, schools, etc.] is an accompanying right. Doing it will make it lawful if carried out in earnest and on a mass scale.”

What if labor unions, together with immigrant workers’ organizations, community groups, the anti-war, women’s and lesbian/gay/bi/trans movements, made these demands of the incoming president:

* Issue an executive order halting layoffs and forcing the Fortune 500 companies to rehire;

* Call a special joint session of Congress to deal exclusively with creating a jobs program that will put 10 million people to work right away with union wages and benefits, with special attention to rebuilding poor and working-class areas of New Orleans and the Gulf region;

* End the raids against undocumented workers, ban foreclosures and evictions, make quality health care available to everyone, and pass a big increase in the minimum wage.

What if they called upon the unemployed and underemployed to come and occupy Washington until the new president and Congress met their demands?