Fifty years ago, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. led a great March for JOBS and FREEDOM on Washington that demanded:
“A massive federal program to train and place all unemployed workers—Negro and white—on meaningful and dignified jobs at decent wages.“A national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living. (Government surveys show that anything less than $2.00 [$15.23 at May 2013 prices] an hour fails to do this.)”
Shockingly, most working people are worse off today than in the 1960s:
Employment statistics today are clearly worse. Thanks to the Great Recession, the national unemployment rate still hovers at 7.6 percent; in 1963 it was 5.7 percent. But that is only part of the picture. Part-time workers who want full-time work are on the rise. And even worse, the number of those who have completely given up hope of finding a job has increased precipitously: in 1954, 96 percent of U.S. men between 25 and 54 years old worked but today that number has dropped to 80 percent. When all these sectors of unemployed or partially employed are combined and only those men who are unemployed but want work are included, the unemployment rate jumps to 16 percent.
The 1963 March and other struggles of the 1960s by workers and unions succeeded in raising the minimum wage, along with other wages, so that in 1968, we achieved the highest minimum wage ever. Were it that high now, it would be $10.70 instead of only $7.25. The average hourly wage in the private sector reached a peak in the early 1970’s, not reached since, forty years later. Partly as a consequence of the declining strength of unions, wages have stagnated or even declined in relation to our ability to produce, with the lion’s share flowing to the very top income receivers. And most of those who have been lucky enough to find work since the Great Recession have been channeled into the low-wage sector of the job market.
Black workers continue to be unemployed at a rate that is twice that for white workers; Hispanic workers have a rate nearly 40% higher than white, non-Hispanic workers, and both suffer wage disparities.
In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the government instituted job programs and put millions to work. Today, President Obama has announced that it is not the government’s job to create the needed number of jobs. In fact, the Obama administration has advocated a totally inadequate plan that would provide less than two million new jobs.
Compounding these dire circumstances, social safety net programs, like food stamps and unemployment compensation, including for those suffering long-term joblessness, have been cut across the board on the national, state, and local levels and will likely be cut again, especially in light of the recent decision by the House to push through a farm bill without food stamps.
Whatever recovery there has been from the Great Recession has resulted in income gains concentrated at the top. This division in economic gains is not new. It extends and reinforces the trend toward Gilded Age inequality that has been going on for four decades. In 2010, 93 percent of all new income that was created went to the wealthiest 1 percent of the population.
The attacks on African Americans and people of color have continued unabated, as witnessed by the brutal murder of Trayvon Martin and the exoneration of his killer. This on top of the June 25 Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act.
It’s high time for all victims of austerity cuts, potential victims of further cuts in the near and long-term future — particularly low-income and poor people — along with communities of color, students, environmentalists and other sectors of the population reeling from the deteriorating conditions under which we live to come together to fight collectively for our rights and achieve a new wave of social progress.
We demand that the federal government create tens of millions of good paying jobs to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, protect the environment, and rehire laid-off teachers and other essential public workers.
These jobs will partially pay for themselves, because workers with decent jobs pay more in taxes and don’t need unemployment compensation or food stamps. But of course there will be some costs. that can be paid for by more tax revenues from corporations, banks and the rich, financial transfer taxes, and ending the 12-year Afghanistan war — which would save $10 billion a month — while saving tens of billions more by avoiding further unjust wars and occupations.
Join tens of thousands of people in Washington on August 24 to commemorate the ideals of Rev. King and the 1963 March. Renew the call for jobs, freedom, and economic justice, and work to make civil and economic rights a reality for all!
Labor Organizations Endorsing the March on Washington
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Laborers International Union of North America
Communications Workers of America
American Federation of Government Employees
Service Employees International Union
United Food and Commercial Workers
Farm Labor Organizing Committee
American Federation of Teachers
International Association of Machinists
District 1199C, National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, AFSCME, AFL-CIO
North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor (Cleveland, Ohio)
New Jersey State Industrial Union Council
South Carolina AFL-CIO
San Francisco Labor Council
Coalition of Black Trade Unionists
A. Philip Randolph Institute
Pennsylvania Federation Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees–International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Utility Workers Union of America Local 601
AFSCME New Jersey Council 1
Communications Workers of America Local 1082
Communications Workers of America Local 1081
Communications Workers of America Local 1080
Service Employees International Union Local 668
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 819
Amalgamated Transit Union New Jersey State Council
Savannah Regional Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO
Rutgers University American Association of University Professors–American Federation of Teachers
Council of New Jersey State College Locals, AFT, AFL-CIO
Labor Fightback Network