May 17, 2004
After the U.S. Labor Department announced that 625,000 jobs had been created in March and April, the news media, economists and, of course, George W. Bush proclaimed a jobs recovery. Their message was, jobs are on the way back.
Don't hold your breath. The job rebound is small. It is especially tiny compared to the collapse of the job market over the last four years. In that time, businesses destroyed 2.5 million jobs. They left another 4.6 million new workers entering the labor force without work. Thus, the real ranks of the jobless increased by over 7 million.
This is the longest most severe stretch of job losses since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
And it took place during a time when profits skyrocketed. Just since the last expansion ended at the beginning of 2001, corporate profits grew by 57%. Businesses are now raking in close to one trillion dollars in profits a year. One trillion dollars. This is a record.
The rise in profits comes directly out of the workers' hide. The latest government statistics show just how much has been stolen. Labor's share of the income from nonfarm business, the broadest measure of what workers gain from the economy, fell from 65% at the end of 2001 to 60% at the end of 2003. This measure of wages and salaries is at its lowest since the government started keeping such records in 1947! This is not the worst of it, since this figure includes not just workers, but managers and all kinds of professionals at bigger companies, whose salaries have been increasing. Subtract the big shots' increasing salaries, and the fall of the workers' share of what is produced is much greater.
Corporations are taking a much, much bigger part of the wealth that workers produce. And they are taking it at record levels. They have been allowed to carry on such an assault because the working class, for the most part, has remained quiet for two and a half decades. When the workers don't fight to improve their share of what's produced, they can't even defend what they once had.
Part of the responsibility for this abysmal state of affairs rests with top union leaders, who have been pushing workers to make ever bigger sacrifices for the companies – under the claim this would save jobs. Workers did agree to give up health and pension benefits for themselves and accepted two-tier wage and benefit schemes for newer workers. They didn't protect jobs. The opposite happened as the bosses pushed through ever greater speed-up and intensity of work – which stole millions of jobs.
The idea that we can defend ourselves by sacrificing for the company is complete garbage.
These companies are raking in a trillion dollars in profits a year. That belongs to the workers.
One trillion is more than enough to let us work much shorter hours – and for much higher wages and benefits. It's more than enough to guarantee that not one person should be jobless, not one worker forced to work for low wages.
But no one will give this one trillion dollars to the working class. We have to take it back.