James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Friday, March 18, 2011

Unemployment feeds the war machine

By Lydia Howell

High unemployment is good for war.

Whether it’s debt-ridden college graduates working as baristas or small town youth with only fast-food and Wal-Mart as post-high school career options, high unemployment keeps "volunteer" military ranks full.

Underemployment, whether the problem is low wages or part-time hours, makes the National Guard and military reserves attractive for essential cash for (the promised) one weekend a month. Unfortunately, more and more weekend warriors are finding themselves in combat when they thought they'd be helping with disaster relief in their local communities.

In spite of the current parroting that “only the private sector can create jobs,” government plays a critical role directly and indirectly. Building roads, bridges and other major infrastructure, running public transportation, creating community-based services from daycare to clinics and schools, investing in new technology such as clean, renewable energy or research, such as the National Institute of Health -- all such government spending includes contracts to the private sector that create jobs. Cut the spending and, inevitably, you cut jobs.

So, debates about the federal budget (as well as state and local ones) are labor issues. That includes debating what gets a priority and what does not.
When seemingly endless wars and weapons-makers are given sacrosanct status in budget discussions, workers lose.

Corporations like Lockheed Martin have made sure that bombers and the parts needed for them are made in as many states as possible, in order to make sure no cuts are made in their bloated, no-bid contracts. When the newest high-tech plane doesn’t work or there’s no real need for a particular Cold War-era weapons system, the cry of “You’re cutting jobs” can always be raised to defend funneling billions into what President Dwight Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex."

Saying “Just put it on the charge card!” for the longest war in U.S. history (Afghanistan) and the latest war-based-on-a-lie (Iraq) has escalated the federal deficit. The Tea Party mantra “cut spending” means, to the politicial right, cutting other (non-military-related) jobs. The “trickle-down” economics produces federal aid cuts to states, then local government aid gets slashed, too, leading to…more job cuts.

This is a downward spiral that hurts workers, families and communities -- while not only not contributing to our security but, instead, creating more enemies. How many Americans wake in the middle of the night, worrying about terrorists as opposed to the millions who’ve lost jobs or had their home foreclosed?

War is good for Big Business.

Corporations like Haliburton/KBR and Parsons have made out very well with their “cost-plus” contracts to “rebuild” in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are guaranteed profits -- whether they finish the job or not. Often, they do shoddy work or simply fail to do what they were hired for, but there’s been little accountability. The Associated Press reported $5 billion wasted in just this way in Iraq.

Wouldn’t the money have been better spent at home with contracts going to small businesses that actually create 75 per cent of all new jobs? Fraud-prevention and oversight of small, local businesses would be a lot more possible -- as opposed to huge multinationals working in a country thousands of miles away while deploying their armies of lobbyists and “consultants” in Washington.

With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other rightist governors and Republican legislators assaulting workers’ rights to union representation and bargaining rights, another kind of war is heating up at home.

Actually, the war on workers has been going on (sometimes covertly) for more than thirty years: Since the late 1970s, corporations have been reversing the gains of the post-World War II American middle-class, largely created by the unionization of one-third of workers in the 1950s.

For the first time in the nation’s history, more everyday people than ever could have a fair share of the profits their labor produced. For African-Americans, unionized private sector and government jobs have been the primary way they’ve made economic gains in the last 50 years. Exporting factories and government budget cuts have a disproportionate impact on them.

But, when 75 percent of American workers who make $46,000 or less, have lost health insurance, had pensions turned into 401k accounts that are vulnerable to Wall Street speculators, an old saying has new truth: we came over here in different ships but, we’re all in the same boat now.

When workers’ leaky row boats are struggling to stay afloat in choppy economic waters, does it make sense to build more warships to attack other countries -- or for that matter to give more tax breaks to the richest 400 people so they can have bigger yachts?

The war being waged on American workers could (finally) open a debate about the wars being waged in our names. Instead of shoveling the annual hundreds of billions to weapons makers, overseas bases, occupations and the who-knows-how-much in corporate welfare and tax-giveaways, national priorities are in desperate need of re-thinking.

In a time where the catch phrase used by both President Obama and the Republicans is “shared sacrifice,” working people have already sacrificed too much: jobs, homes, college educations, healthcare -- and for some, a son or a daughter on battlefields they should never have seen.

A national call for local protests is happening on the eighth anniversary of the second U.S. invasion of Iraq, this Saturday, March 19, In St. Paul, Minnesota gather for a march at 1 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Center, 270 North Kent, rally at 2:15 p.m. at the State Capitol.

Hear Kim Doss-Smith, executive director of Women Against Military Madness and Barb Kucera, editor of Workday Minnesota, talk about the economics a of war and the war on workers, Thursday March 17, 9am on KFAI Radio 90.3fm Minneapolis 106.7fm St. Paul ONLINE: live-streaming and archived for 2 weeks after broadcast on the Catalyst page at http://www.kfai.org
Lydia Howell is an independent Minneapolis journalist. She is producer/host of “Catalyst: politics & culture” on KFAI Radio at http://www.kfai.org.