“My dad was a hard working coal miner as a young man, and a hard working steel worker for most of his life, and I’m sorry, but I will never believe what I heard from the titans of industry in my early years of practicing law, as to who was responsible for the loss of the steel industry, was my father.” -Pat Cassidy
Thank you all for coming tonight.
I know this is not great timing. Seven o’clock on a Thursday evening. But I appreciate your response. This is really the kickoff of a discussion series but I’m a little sorry to say that my presentation tonight will largely be in a lecture format, because I don’t know how to introduce this idea of the jobs first agenda without doing it this way. And those of you who know me know that my other career choice, up that road I did not go down, was a desire to be a philosophy professor. And so I still feel I’m somewhat of a frustrated old philosopher at heart. And I’m not going to read to you. But I do have to follow my notes closely because, unlike some other people you might see on TV who are able to speak without teleprompters, I don’t want to get into that kind of trouble. And so I have to refer to my notes from time to time.
But I do want to leave a little time at the end for some questions comments and I promise, along with our executive director Sean Duffy, that the rest of the series will not be in a lecture format, it will be more of a discussion group with the panelists. One of the moderators representing WALS will introduce the panelists and briefly pose some questions and then we’ll ask the panelists and you know we want input from the community. And we hope you’ll stay with us throughout the series or at least attend as many as you can because we want and need your feedback.
The jobs first agenda is an experimental idea we have been studying at our foundation for a number of years and are still studying. We want to know if it can work. If it can help solve or lessen the myriad problems and maybe even some crises facing our community and our nation today. And I don’t expect everyone to agree with what we are calling a Jobs First Agenda. That’s OK too. But we want to hear from you as we go along in this series, especially if you think our ideas are based on observed and experienced facts and not just opinions. So you may have some alternatives to our ideas that might be either incorporated in the agenda or even cause us to scrap it in favor of your ideas. And we want our discussions to be engaged in in a civil manner, which I know all of you people will do. And we do want to set one standard, and that is, I will quote Daniel Patrick Moynihan, our late great senator from New York, who said that, and you’ve heard this, I’m sure, before: “everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts.” So we hope to have a discussion based on facts, not political reasons, not political ideology, either from the left or the right, because we want this to be a non-partisan thing. We think that we can incorporate the best ideas from the left and from the right, and still come up with a workable solution — really a revolutionary solution–revolutionary, but a quiet revolution, one without guns, one without discord necessarily pitting people against each other. In any event the ideas underpinning our jobs first agenda have been plucked and borrowed from many sources: people — historical personages, institutions.
We didn’t think them up. They’re not original. People like Eleanor Roosevelt is a great source because, little known today in some quarters, she was largely responsible for drafting the Universal Declaration of Rights which was enacted by the United Nations in 1948 right at the end of World War II. The sole purpose of enacting that was to prevent another bout of fascism. In the industrialized world that was the reason for it. What can we promise or what can nations of the world do in order to prevent fascism like Hitler’s like Nazism, like Mussolini from ever coming to power again?
And you know what all the countries of the world signed onto in 1948 that they agreed was necessary was? Oh yes things like free speech, things like freedom of religion, we all know that. We hear that all the time. But also economic rights — minimum economic rights, like everyone should be entitled to a decent paying job. Every citizen of every country should be entitled as a matter of right to a decent paying job. Number two, every citizen should be entitled to universal health care. And number three, every citizen should be entitled to free public education throughout their adolescence.
It didn’t necessarily say college as I recall. We have a copy of it in your pocket or in front of you and you can check that out. But our proposal includes, either If you want to work you should be entitled to a job at a decent living wage. Not at a minimum wage. You should be entitled to universal health care, and you should be entitled to free public education through college, at a public institution or a vocational school, if you choose to go that route. That’s what we learn from the Universal Declaration of Rights and what we supposedly learned from the horrors of fascism from the Holocaust — the big lesson we supposedly learned that when people get in economic dire straits. They become pitted against each other. They look to things like race, nationalities, religions, like the Jews during World War 2 — they become the scapegoats. Everyone fights and divides against each other’s identity groups. And it’s all because the people at the top and the structures-that-be allowed this to go on because it’s good for keeping power at the top. That’s not a political opinion, that’s observed experience and why the UN came up with the Universal Declaration of Rights in the first place. It’s all over the founding documents. This is why we’re doing this. And every industrialized nation in the world signed on to this, except Belarus and the USSR, or Russia. And so it took awhile to accept the proposition, of course, through the years, it was only looked at as aspirational. No one ever really took took the issues to make it a reality. Everyone had their own way of doing it while England and Great Britain started a universal health care service mainly because of the Universal Declaration of Rights.
Their health system — their universal health care system — started right after 1949, I believe. And it’s been a great success ever since then. Despite what you hear about long lines and things. I know, because my daughter went to school in Scotland. And just because she was going to school there she wasn’t a citizen. She was entitled to the public health system and they had clinics. If you get sick, you go to a clinic, and they’re government employees. But they still have private doctors too, and private doctors still work privately and do what they want to do, and charge what they want, but for basic medical care, every day care, if you need it, you can go to a government clinic free of charge. It works. And yea, there are lines for elective surgeries. Maybe if you have to have that knee replaced you might have to wait awhile, just like in the United States. You wait here too for that kind of surgery until the doctor can see. Anyway, that was their response to the Universal Declaration of Rights. Ours was, you know, we were coming off the Depression, and so we had a narrative we told ourselves that there’s no way we could get our employees to have at least a living decent wage.
This brings up a little bit about the false narratives we say we believe about ourselves that are really not true. Call them fake news if you want — fake narratives that we have believed about ourselves. One is that we have a public policy for collective bargaining to promote and encourage collective bargaining because we have said as a government, employees should have equal rights, bargaining rights with employers that would cut down on the burdens to interstate commerce. That strikes the brain, in that we have as one of our points the declaration of policy from one of the labor laws we see all the time. The National Labor Relations Act findings and declaration of policy — this was enacted in 1935.
The height of the Depression, or soon after, as it was. And read some of this. It says that it’s the public policy, just like the Universal Declaration of Rights. It’s our policy — we’re going to give everyone — make sure they have a decent job. It says that experience has proved that protection by law and the right of employers to organize and bargain collectively and having equality of bargaining power, demonstrates that it reduces substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions and to eliminate low wages. So here’s our country’s telling everyone the narrative and you know the narrative hasn’t changed. We still say, oh yes, we’re all for collective bargaining and yet less than 10 percent of the private sector employees in this country belong to unions. So why is that? How is that a public policy? If it’s a public policy, it sure hasn’t been implemented, because most employees don’t have the benefit of a union contract. Ninety-percent of private employees do not. And although you may hear from time to time that, oh the only thing unions get is better wages, the main difference of a union contract and people that don’t have one is the bulwark of job protection it gives you by requiring that the employer have a good reason to terminate your job. That for centuries has been the biggest benefit of unionized workers — that they had what we call a good cause clause in the contract, which means they couldn’t just be treated or dismissed arbitrarily.
And what about the public policy in our country for people who are not in unions? Our courts have actually looked at this — what is the policy? And for you people who are getting a CLE for this CLE program, I’ll cite the cases for you so you can go look at them. The lead cases in West Virginia are Harless, you all know about Harless vs. First National Bank, a 1978 case, and Miller vs. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance, a 1995 case. In Harless, and he was a great justice we had — a West Virginia Justice Tom Miller. He looked at this issue of whether or not our state should adopt a rule that said it is every employment relationship should be imbued with a covenant of fair dealing. Well that’s not been the law for hundreds of years. In fact, we like to call it the king’s law that we borrowed from England when we became a country was “at will” employment. You all have heard of that. Of course they cut off the pleasure part because that sounds a little too royal–“you serve at my will and pleasure.” Well we don’t say pleasure any more but we still say it’s employment at will, meaning an employer can treat an employee arbitrarily. And Justice Miller was confronted with the case — are we going to change that? Well, he looked at other jurisdictions across the United States. There were only three or more maybe a few more. Some said under a dozen. The decision talks about two for sure — New Hampshire and Massachusetts — who did adopt this idea of good faith and fair dealing in the employment relationship, meaning that, OK, if your employer is unfair to you, you might have a claim against them.
But for the most part that’s not been the law, it’s not been the law for hundreds of years. And so Justice Miller said well we’re going to make an exception but we’re not going to go all the way to say employers have to be fair in every instance. But when there is a substantial public policy at stake — in that case it was someone who got terminated for complaining about the bank’s violation of laws — the court said, well that’s an exception to the “at will,” when a substantial public policy was involved. But it didn’t go far enough to say employers have to treat employees fairly. Did not go that far, and in fact, that Miller case that came in 1995 looked at it squarely again and said that’s not our public policy in West Virginia. It’s not our public policy in West Virginia to treat employees fairly. That’s what that case stands for. It doesn’t stand for it’s our policy to treat them unfairly, but it certainly does not either say that an employer has to treat employees fairly. And that’s law that’s status quo, the law that has… lawyers don’t even think of challenging it, because it’s been with us from time immemorial. Except it’s changed in a few states in our union. And, it’s part of the king’s law just like sovereign immunity. You know, sometimes when you hear people complaining about the government, you know, they’re going to take more taxes and, you know, what good are they anyway? What they’re really complaining about is that the government’s not doing their job, they’re not accountable to anyone. It’s because of this other idea of the king’s law — sovereign immunity, which we borrowed from Great Britain. And it means that you know the government can do no wrong and we’ve had some reform we’ve had some statutes passed. You can still sue the government up to a certain amount if they have insurance. That doctrine is still alive. It’s still alive. So when you see politicians go out and getting rich because they’re politicians and using their offices for abuse. You know, no one is accountable. You’re not allowed to file a lawsuit and get back the money from you know some big drug company your family may have made because of your position of power or whatever, because of sovereign immunity. These things go unchallenged because they’re just part of our old narrative, narratives that, you know, we need to challenge, because we’re at a crisis point, in our institutions, in our divisiveness as a country. And in what people, you know when people talk about fake news, I think it’s less about things like whether or not the Trump administration is colluding with Russia. Frankly I think a lot of people might say that’s fake news just don’t care whether he is or not, or whether he did or not.
But what they do think is fake news is all the promises this country has made to them over the years. Promises like to coal miners, for example, that you are in a a job of high national security. That’s what they told them, that’s what they told my father. You don’t even have to go to war if you don’t want to. He did. But he knew he’d have his job when he got out of war, see? So he is willing to give up that coal mining job in order to go off and fight Hitler and then come back because he knew he would be guaranteed a good job. But how about our present coal miners? You know we’re asking them to buy into the climate change problem. And they would. They would sacrifice if they were assured that they had a job to go to, alternately, at the same pay. And why shouldn’t they? Because we promised to them over the years that your job is essential to the national security. So we’ll talk about that with the jobs first agenda also.
But in any event, it’s these narratives that we have been studying, and maybe how to change the narrative. A lot of it we learned from working people and union officials I’ve spent more than 40 years representing as a lawyer, and I’m not just talking about coal workers, coal miners, steel workers, construction types, but public employees, teachers, doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, even some lawyers along the way, because they’re all working for a livelihood to support their families to make it in our society. These are all working people. There are not divisions among them. Some do better than others, but they’re all working for a level living and trying to have a fair living for themselves and their children.
So, let me start… I guess I had already started. But getting back to my notes. I said I was going to start with a little philosophy, being the frustrated philosopher that I am, because from time immemorial, philosophers, educators have taught that the promotion of justice — what I prefer to call fairness — is the most important reason that states, governments are formed in the first place: the administration of justice, that is, the ensuring of fairness and justice among people. And, a lot of people have defined what that was in a number of ways. Samuel Gompers, you heard of him, that famous labor organizer of the late 18 hundreds. He had a famous quote: “What does Labor want.?What does Labor want? We want more school houses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge. In fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful, and childhood more happy and bright.”
Well OK, a little sexist on that beauty thing but…
But my father, who was a union official, just locally for his local union in Weirton, he said it a lot, fair, a lot simpler to me growing up. He said, “What really working people really want is to be treated fairly.” Treated fairly. That’s all. So, you know, like, we don’t have a public policy for that, in our state or country in general. What he didn’t say, that we’ve all experienced in life, is that it is perceived unfairness. When you perceive yourself being treated unfairly, that makes us angry. Whatever your color, race, creed — that perceived unfairness, whether real or not, and sometimes it’s very real. Some of our peoples in our country have been treated very unfairly. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes people who’ve had privileges will still feel they’re being treated unfairly. But it’s enough to cause divisiveness, this perception. It’s basic, and not just because we have a notion of it as children, human beings. But we’re also naturally self-interested. Philosophers have said that. And so we have to live — work out how to live — in our communities without doing others harm.
We know societies in general naturally approve and reward acts that benefit society and disapprove and punish acts that harm it. But sometimes we’re not sure just what policy, what efforts, actually benefit society. And so, we are led astray. Take the economic structuring of our narrative, our philosophy of economics.
We claim, as our big champion of free enterprise, an otherwise obscure professor from Edinburgh by the name of Adam Smith. You remember him. He’s the guy that taught us about that “invisible hand,” that if you have a collection of self-interested people all going after their own interests –well, you know, it all works out in the end. So you can have laissez-faire and you know, not government. That’s what we’re told. Adam Smith taught us about free enterprise. But, you know, no one mentions Adam Smith’s other book that he thought was more important than the Wealth of Nations. It was called the Theory of Moral Sentiments. And it was about empathy. How empathy was a necessary correlate to the natural self-interest of human beings. You have to have both to have a functioning society. Not that you did not need any regulation, like that which has become the gospel. Deregulate. Less regulation. Less government involvement. Sell it off to the private sector. That’s not what Adam Smith said. The more complex society, he said, the more rules you will need to require those self interested people working towards an economy to not harm others. This is a part of Adam Smith we don’t talk about, because we only adopted half of his philosophy, and we made it our narrative. Half. I once had a chance to visit the grave site of Adam Smith over in Edinburgh Scotland, and you know, I walk into the middle of a courtyard–a very modest plaque in the ground — but you know the ground is a little ruffled. And I thought, “I’ll be damned, I’ll bet that guy’s been rolling over in his grave for the last 200 years because he’s been poorly read, especially in our country. But that’s Adam Smith. That’s just one narrative we tell ourselves.
Here’s another. Greed is always good for capitalism. And, that one we talked about with Adam Smith. Regulation. And here’s another one. Workers of every stripe should work for us, for our businesses, at the lowest possible wage the market will bear. Gospel truth. We hear, even the president of the United States, “Well I’m a business man! Of course I’m going to go to China. You know because I’m a businessman. It’s good business to get workers to pay or to work for dirt cheap.” That’s what we tell ourselves. That’s our narrative of our economic system. What has been our actual experience with this opinion?
Shuttered manufacturing plants. Great cities like Detroit in bankruptcy. Smaller communities, including Wheeling, working hard to come back from many years of decline. Many more cities across the country in disarray. All because, what started out as an opinion has assumed the role of conventional wisdom, philosophy, our narratives. And who do these holders of these opinions blame for the loss of economic competitiveness of American workers? They blame the American workers. They blame the steel workers for their supposed wages in the 70s and 80s, and I remember, because my father was one. And they blamed the teachers. And they were out of control pensions. Or even those summer vacations they’re taking. No wonder they are not entitled to be paid a living wage. They don’t even work a year around. You’ve heard that. Those are assumptions we’ve sort of built into our our belief system. My dad was a hard working coal miner as a young man, and a hard working steel worker for most of his life, and I’m sorry, but I will never believe that what I heard from the titans of industry in my early years of practicing law, as to who was responsible for the loss of the steel industry, was my father, and his middle class pay that, you know, was good enough to educate one of his three children through college. Me I was the lucky one. And, you know, we always had food on the table, and you know what? We always were able to pay our doctor or a hospital visit because he had good health care back then. And thats thanks mainly to people like Walter Reuther, which we’ll talk about just briefly here in a little while.
So, when you speak of working Americans, here’s the supposed narrative — and then there’s the real, the real narrative. Here’s another narrative that goes unchallenged today: “lower taxes for the wealthy creates jobs.” How about that? Talk about fake news. Some take it as gospel truth and I say gospel because they’re good Christians otherwise, they say. We called it “voodoo economics” under Reagan. And yet it has never proven to be a fact. It’s just a political opinion. There’s no evidence that it works. And whether or not (another thing that is annoying) is whether you listen to Fox News or MSNBC– either on the left or on the right — rarely does anyone distinguish between tax cuts and tax reform. Everyone says Trump wants to get to tax reform. Well just last night I see someone finally saying well that just means tax cuts. But usually they don’t even make the distinction. Tax reform under our narrative is just assumed to mean tax cuts. Well when we all know really, don’t we — that reforming our government, repairing our infrastructure, saving our cities from climate change, severe weather events like we had recently in Houston, and we had in Katrina, and we’re going to have a lot more — may require tax increases, at least among big businesses corporations and CEO types that have been granted historically favorable tax treatment when they don’t need it. I don’t know about you, but even billionaires that we admire, like Bill Gates gives away a great deal of money to charity. Elon Musk, who can spend billions on a private space program. They don’t need tax reform if it’s just about another tax cut. Even Warren Buffett agrees with that. And he’s one himself. And we have learned that in fact when our corporations have been able to garner huge cash surpluses as a result of favorable tax treatment it has not meant that they have gone out and hired more employees or significantly raised the average employees pay. But because a nonpartisan jobs agenda is willing to look at ideas from both left and right, maybe the Supreme Court was right. I’m saying that tonight in its decision on Citizens United, that corporations are people for the purposes of contributing to political campaigns. OK. We’ll buy that — so long as they should be considered people when it comes to them being allowed a preferential tax treatment. We have a much lower rate for corporations. And all this talk we have a tax reform is to lower it for corporations more. What about equal protection for all persons under the 14th Amendment? You know that the state ratified in this room. That says that every person should be treated equally under the law. So why do corporations get a break?
Legally and historically corporations — the only reason they were allowed to be set up in the first place and considered anything like a, quote, “person,” was to shield liability. It wasn’t to get favorable tax treatment. That wasn’t the purpose. But that’s been the narrative we’ve been telling ourselves, and it ties right into the idea about how, “Oh just so long as the corporations are doing well, it’ll trickle down.” The same thing as the old saying, you know, “what’s good for General Motors is good for America.” But that’s not how we have seen it play out. But that is the old narrative.
The old narratives are unsustainable, for a number of reasons. Most importantly because climate change presents an existential threat to the future. Climate change is already wreaking widespread destruction and death, and it’s just getting started. I know because I’m married to a scientist, a climate scientist, that scientists in general are a little hesitant to tie things like what happened with Harvey, what may happen with Irma, into the changing climate, the warming oceans. We will talk about that. Because hurricanes have been around for time immemorial. But all the scientists say it’s going to get worse because of the warm oceans, the hurricanes that would have been minor hurricanes 50 100 years ago are going to be ferocious. How long can we afford…you know I looked it up because I didn’t know, I just saw they passed a bailout package for Houston and the number was seven point eight billion dollars. That’s got to be just an initial payment, because, do you know what we spent on Katrina? One hundred and twenty billion dollars. And this is another one time event. So we’re going to spend another hundred twenty maybe, on Houston, and help out Irma. Florida maybe next week. How long is it sustainable, our system, just to keep people in their homes from flooding, which is which is predicted by all reasonable — ninety nine percent of the reasonable scientists in the country — is going to be a recurrent, recurrent, recurring problem. That’s one reason it’s not sustainable.
The second reason the old narratives are not sustainable is because our infrastructure is a mess. You don’t have to drive through Holland Tunnels. I did recently and was marveling about how it was falling in. A great wonder of engineering, but all you have to do is when you leave and I look at the under under-steel girding of Route 70. It’s rusted. They haven’t even painted it, in probably 20 or 30 years. It’s rusting. Looks shabby. It’s like that all over the country.
I heard Ed Rendell on the news the other night. You remember him. He was the former governor of Pennsylvania. He’s a good Democrat. He said that, you know, we’ve got to — the Democrats have to stand for something. And instead of just, you know, being anti-President Trump. So what is it that the Democrats are going to stand for? And what he told me the interviewer was, “Yeah, we we need to focus on minimum wage and infrastructure.” Well, I hear the same thing from the present president. And how is what the Democrats are saying any different from the Republicans? And how, let me ask you, is a country twenty trillion dollars in debt as of August, just tipping 20 trillion — nineteen trillion nine hundred whatever. I can’t even figure out those numbers. How does anyone propose we pay for a vast infrastructure program, whether the program is offered by Republicans or Democrats? And who is this program going to help? The last time we tried an infrastructure program, the stimulus plan under President Obama, it helped construction workers fixing our highways. Remember? There was a lot of money put into the economy. But what does that do for unpaid, underpaid teachers, health care providers, clerical and retail employees, let alone janitors and even coal miners, without changing the structure of our economic narrative?
The third reason our old narratives are unsustainable is because we are literally selling our country to the highest bidder. The assets of our country.
We hear from time to time this idea of quantitative easing. I don’t know if you get into the economics, but you know we’ve been printing money, just churning out money to keep up, to keep the economy going, to keep things growing, and what we do with that money? I mean, you know, we lend it out — banks get it pretty much for free. And then of course they charge you 25 percent on your credit cards, with that free money. But a lot of bonds are sold to pay for it. Places like China, and it’s kept the economy floating, and it’s kept inflation under control, surprisingly enough. But where is all that money the government has printed going? Has it gone to fix the infrastructure? Has it gone to guarantee living wages for Americans? Provide universal health care? No. It’s gone to China and other creditors of the world be they the Chinese officials or Russian oligarchs. And what’s happening with that money? They’re buying up U.S. assets. Everywhere. you see it every time in the paper. Who’s connecting the dots? Even our highway systems are for sale in most places now. Foreign governments are buying our highways systems. Running the polls booths. What happens when the majority of American businesses are owned by foreigners or China even? When we’re all working for China? Will we still be Americans?
Fourth reason why the old narratives are unsustainable is because of our declining place in the world. At one time we were everybody’s friend. We stretched out our hand. We realized we were a positive force for the international community after World War II. We did not hesitate to spend billions on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe and build a strong alliance with Western democracies.
And now we ask ourselves, are we giving up on those post-war alliances? If so, I’m not talking about tomorrow. We still have a lot of military might. We know that. But what’s to prevent the countries of the world, if we keep on the present path, from putting the United States on its hate list? And if we ignore our allies — if we become no better than Russia — who in our world would care if North Korea lobs a nuclear missile on one of our cities? Won’t it be better for the rest of the world to be done with that U.S. carbon footprint? For God’s sake, we’re using most of the energy in the world. Other countries of the world might find it nice to be rid of us for a change. As the rest of the world stands alone to combat climate change. It’s unsustainable, the old narrative, because the present narratives lead to fascism.
And all the talk these days of making, quote, “America great again,” let me quote an early observation of America by an astute foreigner, Alexis de Tocqueville, a name you remember from history, a French guy visiting America soon after its founding. And this was his quote: “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good America will cease to be great.” 1700s. Late 1700s. And that brings us to the present narrative of the politics of fear and anger. Even the Wall Street Journal for God’s sake, recently, had an article, an editorial called, “What Truman can teach Trump.” And. And the question was: “What can be done now by those who continue to believe that the policies and institutions created after World War 2 have served our country well, and remain necessary today? And the answer? Well, like Truman did, you have to meet the populists on their own turf and engage them. Well foreign policy officials are often guided by hope. They recognize that the public at large seems more focused on fear. And when the public do not think their leaders are doing anything about their fears, that they turn to populist rage. Today Americans’ fears are more complex, and in their words, a national strategy that addresses those concerns can succeed both domestically and internationally.” Again, in the words of The Wall Street Journal editorial, “Connecting strategic goals with public fears was the key to success post-war.” We have a lot of fears in this country: fears of immigrants and fears of Mexicans and the fears of Muslims, and does it have an economic component that can be alleviated by a Jobs First Agenda? That’s what we are pursuing. Yes, Mary Ellen? OK. Are you telling me to wrap it up? OK.
Are the fears of continual war related to economic woes of a society based on a fossil fuels economy? Are our perpetual wars in the Middle East related to our worn out narratives and our addiction for oil? Fears of others? Fears of races?
I quoted Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Let me now quote a contemporary political activist, a man by the name of Stephen Bannon. “So long as Democrats stick to identity politics and we stick to economic nationalism, we will win.”
Another narrative we had in our country was slavery. It was based on a narrative. Brian Stevenson the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative of Montgomery Alabama has spoken eloquently about this narrative. “The great evil of American slavery was the narrative of racial difference that we created to legitimize slavery — white supremacy. And he spoke of how laws can only go so far. The 13th Amendment talks only about involuntary servitude and forced labor. It did not change the narrative of racial difference. And decades of narrative of lynching terror and violence following emancipation, has not been quelled until the civil rights movement of the 1960s.” And, it goes on to say that since the 60s the civil rights law has not largely changed the status of African-Americans in this country, or Hispanics for that matter. He points out that we’ve gone from 300,000 people in jails and prisons in 1972 — think of this — to two point three million people today. We are the most punitive country in the world. Six million people on probation or parole. The percentage of women going to prison has increased 646 percent in the last 20 years, 70 percent of whom are single mothers with minor children. And though we have the Voting Civil Rights Act of 1965 based on the 15th Amendment, which was ratified by the state in this building. Stevenson points out that 30 percent of the black male population has permanently lost the right to vote in Alabama because of criminal convictions. 30 percent. The Bureau of Justice predicts that one in every three black male babies born in this country is expected to go to jail or prison during his lifetime. Hey folks, that was not true in the 20th century. That was not true in the 19th century even with slavery. That has become true in the 21st century. The statistics for Latino boys is 1 in 6.
New York Times article of the end of July. Last month. “White economic privilege is alive and well.” Notes that “the income gap between black and white working class Americans at every income level remains every bit as extreme as it was five decades ago.”
It’s true also of Hispanics. Ever since … none of the civil rights laws that have been passed have changed that basic inequality. It’s still there. So the narrative that we’ve come a long way. It’s a false narrative.
OK. I’m going to skip over, and, although I did want to say another article by Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times here at the end of the month, “Motherhood is deadlier in America.” This goes to our health care system. We say we love mothers in our country. That motherhood is as American as apple pie. But that is a false narrative. “In the United States of America, a woman is five times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than a British woman. In Texas, it’s ten times more likely than in Spain or Sweden. One half of pregnancies in America are unintended and almost one third of American girls would become pregnant as teenagers. Worldwide the maternal mortality rate has plunged by almost half since 1990 but that the US is a rare country in which maternal deaths have become more common in recent years.” Fact, not opinion.
Alright. Let’s get to the ideas in the brochure. We set out. The top ten elements, for what we want to study. Would it change, could it change these myriad problems. And it’s on the Top Ten Features of a Jobs First Agenda. Briefly. Amend the United States constitution to guarantee living wage jobs for all Americans who want to work. Free universal health care and free public education. I talked about that before. An old idea. Time to maybe put it in the Constitution. Number two: Change state employment laws to require good faith and fair dealing in all employment relationships. Fairness. Simply changing the law to say you have to treat your employees fairly. Number three: Get rid of this side concept of employment at law, and provide for job security based on a doctrine of good faith. All that means is every employee should have the benefit of what they used to get under a union contract. You have to have a good reason for terminating someone. It should be a matter of law. It’s the king’s law. That we’ve been borrowing for hundreds of years without thinking about it. Number four: Make the government the employer of last resort, rebuilding the national infrastructure like the Civilian Conservation Corps did during the Great Depression. I want to jump first to six before I talk about four. Reform the tax code using incentivized tax rates and multiple deductions as a reward for hiring employees at a living wage, while eliminating favorable treatments for corporations as special interests. The idea here is real tax reform. Get rid of all the corporate welfare. Get rid of all the fossil fuels deductions. Get rid of just about every benefit that big corporations get. Except one. Except one. And it’s still going to do you good if you’re a big company, to do well by employing employees at a living wage, because if you hire them at a living wage, you’re going to get a triple deduction. For what you spent on them. Or a quadruple deduction. I mean, you have to have the economists determine what is feasible. And it may be that Exxon-Mobil still won’t have to pay any taxes, on the bottom line. But at least, at the end of the year, they will have employees, incentivized employees working at a living wage. And those people now are making a living wage, so they will be paying taxes. Presumably, and we have a few economists on the panel. They are going to be looking at, can it work? Would we get enough for in revenues? And no one’s forced to hire anyone. Private employers are not forced. If they want to continue to hire people at a minimum wage or, or whatever, they can do that, and they’ll get their standard deduction like they always say. But if they really want to do well with the tax code they will…And you know, this isn’t, this isn’t so revolutionary. I just saw that Sherrod Brown. We’ve be talking about this for several years. Sherrod Brown just introduced legislation last week called “The Patriot Corporation Act,” in Congress. I don’t know that it’ll go anywhere all on its own, but the idea is incentivising a tax rate for hiring of employees at a living wage. Same idea. It’s not revolutionary. But the idea here is to put it all together, do it all at once, stir the imagination, get people talking about change of the whole narrative.
And so, assuming you’re going to have full employment with all this incentivizing, you’re still going to have people who can’t find jobs because employers are not going to be required to hire anyone. But once they hire them, they’ve got to be fair to them. Makes sense. All right, so those people who can’t find jobs elsewhere? Put them to work, on the infrastructure. It worked during the Depression. The Conservation Corps was a huge success. Even artists, we put artists to work. Rebuilding all the stuff that we need to build instead of just waiting for private business to you know get contracts to do highway improvement projects. We need infrastructure work all over the country. Maybe paying for your daughter’s nanny would be an infrastructure job. And maybe the government would have revenues sufficient to do it, as long as the tax code were improved.
Change to a new green energy economy in response to the threat of climate change and offer more jobs than the dying fossil fuel industries in the process. We have a special class on this.
I mean the statistics are phenomenal. Coal mines as much as we talk about coal mining and coal jobs, they’re on the decline. They are going to be gone over the years. Very few coal miners left as compared to people already working in the green energy industry and other more technologically advanced programs.
All right. Why Wheeling?
Why do we have the right to talk about something like this I mean — sounds like pie in the sky, huh, for a few of you maybe? A revolutionary change. Why do we Wheeling people think we have a right to even talk about it?
Well I tell you, and I I asked, specifically asked, for some people who’ve been some political leaders and candidates of ours in the area to hear this because, you know, Wheeling has a heritage of being on the cutting edge of, not only ideas but actions. You know, you go back to the idea of resistance, for example. It was Wheeling — not all of West Virginia — it was Wheeling that started the movement to secede from Virginia during the Civil War, because they could not brook secession from the union.
It was a Wheeling, some might argue, that save the Union in the Civil War by being able to secure the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and National Road for the Union, against Confederate excursions. It was Wheeling, that in the early nineteen hundreds, celebrated their immigrant sons and daughters, some of whom became historical personages. People like Walter Reuther, the son of an immigrant German. Augustus Pollack, another German immigrant family. We have a memorial to both of them down on the waterfront, because Augustus Pollack’s relationship with his employees was unheard of in the country. Unheard of. They loved him so much they built a monument to him– the biggest monument to an employer by workers ever. And Walter Reuther, by the way, is the first person — Wheeling roots — the first person to advocate publicly, nationally for universal health care for all people. Walter Reuther.
Walter Reuther stood with Martin Luther King at the Great March on Washington in 1963. He was one of the organizers of that. And Walter Reuther knew that you could not just tackle racial tensions in the country by just talking about the rights of whites or African-Americans. It had to be an economic solution. And you know what that great march was called? People sometimes forget. It was the Great March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. 1963. Walter Reuther spoke alongside of Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King most would say, was most eloquent. That was the genesis of his “I Have A Dream” speech — but Walter Reuther was there, from Wheeling West Virginia. So Wheeling really has a great history, I think, of coming up with ideas to push statewide, nationally. And we want to talk about it. Maybe we’re wrong. Maybe these ideas aren’t going to go anywhere. But we sure think they’re important enough to discuss over the next several weeks, hear from some experts. and I hope you’ll join us along the way.
Read part two here.