To create a world that protects workers, we need to break corporations’ hold at home. In America, the Congressional Progressive Caucus has taken a first step towards empowering American workers by proposing a $2 trillion dollar New Deal for Jobs.
A just global economy needs a strong international legal system that enforces global labor standards. But the vehicles of international law, including trade agreements like NAFTA and organizations like the IMF and WTO, are still created by national governments. By investing in labor at home, we can transform both the pro-corporate neoliberal ideology that dominates American political discourse and the material conditions that keep people from building power within and across borders.
Taking Back National Power
When neoliberal pro-corporate politicians like Reagan took power and transformed the economy in the 1970’s, they crafted a powerful narrative of individual responsibility and guilt for failure. Progressive government intervention was branded paternalistic, something for workers to be ashamed of. But after decades of suffering, Americans no longer believe that anyone who works hard will be rewarded by the market.
The failure of neoliberalism has created an opportunity to reshape the American narrative about work and the responsibility governments have to their citizens and workers. A national jobs program provides a strategic way to take advantage of this opportunity. Instead of fighting directly against American political ideology, a jobs program seeks to transform it. Put simply, if there are no jobs, no amount of merit or hard work will save someone from starving in a neoliberal capitalist system. If we value work, we need to value jobs.
Materially, a jobs program will improve the standard of living for our country’s most disenfranchised citizens. Right now, workers who are mistreated or underpaid face the threat of joblessness. Flooding the job market with new opportunities will disrupt this imbalance of power. Workers who are able to find a different job have the power to say no to employers and to bargain for higher wages and better working conditions.
By giving workers economic power, a jobs program will create the conditions necessary for them to exercise significant political power. In the United State, election participation is strongly tied to income. Voters in higher income brackets almost always have a higher participation rate. In the 2012 election for example, 80% of the richest Americans participated, while only 46% of the poorest did. To organize and mobilize people need to have enough time, energy, and resources to get by. A jobs bill will create a lot more people who do.
If we want to take back the power of the U.S. government to negotiate and enforce global labor standards that protect workers, we have take back national politics. A domestic jobs program is a strategic goal that we can win in the current political climate and that will lay the foundation for a broader and more fundamental transformation of American national and international politics.
Taking Back Global Power
Only global labor power can resist global corporate power. American workers can only maintain domestic economic power through solidarity across borders. A jobs program that strengthens the economic and political power of American workers can lay the foundation for this kind of solidarity.
Economically empowering American workers directly combats one of the primary narratives of international poverty told in the US. We are told that our standard of living is only possible if others in the world are kept in abject poverty. But this is simply untrue. Workers who make more can afford to pay more for goods. Reducing the pressure for the absolute cheapest goods will in turn remove a primary justification for U.S. imperialism and neocolonialism. And this is a necessary step to build solidarity between American workers and low-wage workers in other countries.
A jobs program that massively alleviates poverty and improves working conditions in the United States, will make clear that similar programs can succeed in other countries. Demonstrating the power of progressive politics to build domestic labor power will give us the tools and strategies to support and organize alongside progressive organizations in other countries. Instead of relying solely on a top-down approach in which international legislation rescues workers from pro-corporate domestic politics, we need to support national progressive movements that lay the foundation for a global legal system that is by and for workers in all countries.
A New Deal for Jobs
In America, the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ New Deal for Jobs budget is a strategic way to transform our domestic political terrain right now. The NDJ proposes $2 trillion of infrastructure investment in the United States over the course of 10 years, creating jobs for 2.5 million Americans in its first year. Importantly, the budget recognizes the way that structural inequalities have affected different groups of people more than others. The NDJ targets its jobs programs at deindustrialized urban and rural communities and focuses on reinvesting in long neglected infrastructure, such as schools, housing, transportation, water, and broadband.
These communities have been dramatically cut off from the political process and their interests are often played against each other to the benefit of the corporate class. One need only think of the importance of racism and xenophobia in Trump’s campaign. Targeting these groups under shared programs will lay the foundation for working class solidarity in America across geographic and racial borders.
These same groups are also played against workers in other countries. Economically empowering them will remove one of the major obstacles to American internationalist progressivism: the fear of outsourcing. This fear is based on a misunderstanding of neoliberal globalization, which has automated far more jobs than it has outsourced. But it still a powerful narrative in American politics, often weaponized against Mexicans and other latinx people. Providing Americans with secure jobs can remove a lot of that fear and with it the political power of racism and xenophobia.
Crucially, this is a fight we can that we can win right now. Already, 108 out of the 187 Democratic members of the House have voted yes on the New Deal for Jobs. Our job as organizers is to get all Democrats in both chambers of Congress support the program. This means identifying Democrats who are vulnerable to challenges from the left and making clear that not supporting the NDJ will be core issue in their primary campaigns.
Progressives already have a lot of power in this fight. Obviously, the Congressional Progressive Caucus is already on board (though it should be noted that Rep. David Cicilline, a caucus co-chair, and Rep Matt Cartwright, the caucus whip, are not). The caucus structure of the Democratic party can help us here. By convincing a few caucus leaders to get on board, we can we can move entire caucasus to the left, making support for the New Deal for Jobs a standing position for all Democrats.
Trump’s right-wing nationalist administration has already shown that it will let down the American worker. Progressives have a critical opportunity to step into the gap with our vision of a better future. Now is the time to press the attack. To win a better world for all of us, we need to secure safe and stable jobs for everyone. The New Deal for Jobs is just the start of that project, but it will lay a strong foundation for the next steps.
The Campaign: Coming Soon in 2017
Justice Is Global is gearing up to provide the tools and resources we need to build a powerful progressive internationalist movement. Just some of what we have planned for 2017:
Tools to lobby your representatives for the Justice Is Global jobs and progressive trade platform.
Translations of our resources into multiple languages.
A series of analyses from progressive internationalist leaders on how we got where we are and what we need to do now.
Social media toolkits to spread the campaign online.
A platform that unites local and global action by connecting leaders and groups around the world.
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