by Marshallby Marshall
I really felt sorry for the Social Service representatives. They had attended the recent meeting of the North Carolina Hunger Network with the intention of painting the happiest face they could on the question of why thousands of people in North Carolina are hungry. It didn't wash. The convocation of current and former social service clients (none of them conforming to the depraved caricature that demagogues have constructed of "welfare mothers") were not having it. They explained to us that hunger is not the result of flawed distribution, or the churches' lack of skills at service provision. Hunger is a consequence of poverty, and poverty is not an accident. Most of all, the poor do not choose to be poor.
The Social Services representatives had been sent to explain to these people, mostly women, that North Carolina's WorkFirst was the golden opportunity for them to regain their "lost dignity" and launch down the path to prosperity.
These women (both dignified and intelligent) were veterans of the system, and the Ritalin of patronization was emphatically rejected. Where are the jobs? There are 14 applicants for every burger-flipping job in my county. Minimum wage can't even pay the rent, much less the babysitter.
I went off welfare, and worked in a chicken factory, and now I'm disabled, can't work anywhere. The bus doesn't run where I live. Where do I find the money for a reliable car? WorkFirst has me working 30 hours a week as a volunteer, just to get my check. It comes to two dollars an hour when you figure it out. I thought slavery was abolished. I went on welfare to keep an abusive husband from killing me, and they wanted me to go back to him until I saved enough money from working to support myself. If I stay at home with my kids, I'm a parasite...if I leave to go to work when there's a six month wait for child care, I'm a negligent mother. Where are the jobs that pay enough money? They cut us off from educational benefits. They don't want us to have good jobs. I hear Greenspan raises interest rates if unemployment is too low just to get rid of jobs. If the government is keeping people unemployed on purpose, how can it tell everyone they gotta work? Looks like the big contributors to political campaigns want a steady supply of cheap labor. Where are the jobs? Where are the decent jobs?
A petition was circulating around the conference. Every person there, social services stakeholder, activist, advocate, clergy, signed the petition. The petition was for one of the best ideas we have seen in quite some time. It was demanding the passage of a federal bill, HR950, entitled the Job Creation and Infrastructure Restoration Act. It was introduced at the request of the National Labor Coalition for Public Works Jobs, by Congressman Matthew Martinez (D-CA), and has been nicknamed the "Martinez Jobs Bill." The slogan of the coalition is "It's the welfare reform that should have happened!"
Modeled somewhat on the New Deal's Works Progress Administration, the Martinez Bill is designed to create public works jobs at union level wages for the purpose of repairing and restoring our crumbling national infrastructure; schools, hospitals, bridges, parks, libraries, roads, environmental cleanup, etc. It is a direct challenge to the cynical, dead-end "final solution" of so-called welfare reform. Public works projects and community improvement projects are prioritized for areas of highest unemployment, and jobs are prioritized as well for those most in need. Of the $250 billion for implementation over the next five years, $225 billion would be earmarked for communities in crisis. $45 billion would be designated for repair and restoration of schools. It is also the first bill to ever include Building Trades Council project agreements as an integral component.
The Martinez Jobs Bill, now with 60 congressional co-sponsors (and we might ask our own representatives to do the same), would cost one fifth of what we spend for "defense." This is legislation that puts people before arms merchants' profits, before corporate subsidies, and before tax breaks for the rich. The increasing gap between the rich and poor in this country, and the increasing insecurity of the middle class, are not illusions, and can not be corrected by tinkering. This is precisely the kind of bold legislation that can put America back to work with dignity and security, putting the communities' needs ahead of the obscene expansion of corporate profits.
One percent of America now controls over 40 percent of our wealth, while 80 percent of America is left to fight over 20 percent of our wealth. The resources are there, let there be no mistake. Tell your representative to co-sponsor the Martinez Jobs Bill.
Information on the bill is available at 310-806-9928, or Jobs Not Jails, PO Box 671, Carrboro, NC 27510-0671.
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