Guaranteed Employment in Charlottesville!

Imagine a world where — instead of unemployment, under-employment, and poverty; instead of wages so low that people can’t afford to live where they work; and instead of 60-hour work weeks — everybody who wanted to work had a decent job, a living wage, prosperity, a 30-40 work week, and extra leisure time.

Sounds pretty good, right? How do we make it happen here?

Hint: It won’t be through tax breaks, or “business friendly” laws.

Another hint: It will be through an approach that puts human needs over the needs of business.

We do it by guaranteeing through law and by action the right of all residents to a job that pays a living wage.

First, a short analysis:
Our current economic system maintains a permanent level of unemployment and poverty. This is how a labor “market” works, simple supply and demand. Those who reap the benefits produced by a worker — the business owner — have a great incentive to keep labor costs down. But that’s not the only incentive. A more encompassing incentive is
built into a system based on having a market in human labor.

When workers go to work, they produce or perform work for a certain amount of money. They don’t call it a day and go home once what they’ve been producing brings in enough to pay for their needs.
Workers produce a profit, that profit is the excess of the work they perform. Owners keep that excess and decide what to do with it. When there is a shortage of labor, the market demands that workers get paid more. When there is an excess of labor, wages go down and there is more unemployment.

Right now in this country, including Charlottesville, there is an excess of workers. This has happened for many reasons, but the bottom line is we have unemployment, under-employment, and people working 2 or 3 jobs. Now- one way to change this is through putting workers in direct control of the excess of their labor. This can be done by way
of co-ops, being-your-own-boss, and democratizing the workplace.

However, we can’t do this legally (yet), nor would we want the state to be in charge rather than people. We can, however, change the nature of the Charlottesville labor market by guaranteeing a job at a decent wage for all city residents.

This would lead to an overall increase in wages for all workers in Charlottesville, and would also reduce the need for people to work 2nd and 3rd jobs, thus opening up more in-town positions for employment. The benefits of doing so could be immense: more home ownership, more family time, more leisure time, better health, less violence, more
educational opportunities, increased city revenue, and the elimination of the need for poor folks to join the military, then kill and die in illegal wars.

But won’t employers just raise prices for customers?

One might think so, but here’s a quick analysis that suggests they won’t:

Because currently inflation-adjusted wages haven’t risen and productivity has remained the same (or even increased), the excess produced by workers has gotten bigger and business owners are getting more profit. When this is the case, one might think that the incentive to keep prices low will remain: after all, owners are still making more profit. It’s also important to consider that, in order for owners to do any business, workers need to earn enough to purchase goods and services — which, in any event, have been produced by the excess of their labor! The ugly truth of the old system is that owners have found a way both to make sure that wages stay low, and to enable us to be able to buy goods-

The magic word is “credit.” Credit is basically our labor stolen from us, and then lent back to us to buy the stuff we produced — with interest!
In the current situation, however, credit is harder and harder for poor folks to get. It is also the case that in the current situation there’s an incentive for owners to keep prices down. I
believe that if keeping prices down were the stated goal of city residents, then most businesses would continue to respect that, particularly those that might participate in a city-sponsored jobs program.

Despite all of the restrictions placed on the city by the state, and despite the codified law of market-based labor as the system in which Charlottesville must participate, I firmly believe that one of the most ambitious and necessary tools to move toward social transformation, democratization of the workplace, and the delivery of a modicum of human dignity and respect for those of us who do the real work and the real suffering in Charlottesville is to pass an ordinance that guarantees a job to any resident of Charlottesville, a job that pays a living wage — even for “tipped” wage employees.

Here’s how I think this might get started.
-We take an assessment of unemployment in Charlottesville, as well as under-employment. As we do this, we count heads, and take names.
-We simultaneously assess how many workplaces in Charlottesville pay a living wage ($11.44/hr or $4.40/hr for waitstaff).
-We open a city-sponsored “Jobs Center”.
-We work with the Virginia Employment Commission to ensure that the services that they offer can be obtained in Charlottesville, as there is currently no VEC office in town. That aspect will help with job searches and provide services for unemployment claims.
-As part of the Center’s mission, we invite all community business that pay at least a living wage to hire through the Center.
-The City of Charlottesville pays employees old and new a living wage for the many things that we need to accomplish. This includes greening the city, repairing infrastructure, and opening new parklands and gardens. The city begins a Public Works program so that, if workers coming to the Jobs Center can’t find work through a private employer, then they go to work directly for the city.
-As more people gain a living wage, more already-employed workers will begin to demand higher wages. Some will quit their jobs outright in favor of using the Jobs Center. Through
this process, we will see an increase in wages across the board, especially if we are up front with employers about the City’s intention to guarantee employment at a livable wage. As wages increase, fewer workers will need to work 2nd and 3rd jobs, freeing up employment in the private sector.
-The city begins a program to give workers direct collective and democratic control over the work that they do. This would eventually take some of the burden off of the city as it transitions increasing numbers of workers into co-operative business of their own.
-As part of the Jobs Center mission, we train people and provide educational opportunities, including job skills and workforce development, perhaps through CATECH and PVCC.
-Many residents involved in social services and public housing could be directly employed by those agencies, especially since they often have in-depth knowledge of the communities that they serve and where they work.
-Restaurant workers are included in this process. $2.13 an hour is dehumanizing. We must demand at least $4.40/hour for tipped-wage employees.
-We keep accurate data on unemployment, under-employment, and wages throughout the process in order to maintain a program that works.

The long and short of it is that we must guarantee employment for our residents, documented or not, and we must take action to make this happen — through the private sector, through facilitating the creation of worker’s co-operatives, and by directly putting people to work improving our community.

At the turn of the last century, workers all over the United States began a movement for a 40-hour work week and an 8-hour work day. That concept was based on the notion that those hours should provide enough wages for a person or a family to live on. People were killed in the streets fighting for that idea. The “40 hour” part of the idea won the day, but the part that linked those 40 hours to fair pay has been lost. Employers do not hire for more than 40 hours per week, and, to avoid paying benefits, some refuse to schedule workers for more than 20 hours per week. Thus, many people go to work in 2nd and 3rd jobs. That is not 40 hours for fair pay, and it adds to unemployment. Unemployment adds to the welfare rolls, and then people are kicked off. This all happens because the system under which we base our society is built to keep things that way.

I believe that we must fundamentally change how our society works, and I fully believe that Charlottesville is a place where we can begin to make these changes. On City Council I will work hard to bring guaranteed employment to all residents of Charlottesville. I will base all of my decisions on what is for the benefit of the working class and oppressed people in our town. I further offer any and all help in labor activism of all sorts to demand workers rights, whether it is through local government, in the workplace, or on the streets!

Some cool links
Cville Workers Action Network
Living Wage at UVA
Richmond IWW
Wayside Center for Popular Education

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9 Responses to Guaranteed Employment in Charlottesville!

  1. David Gwaltney says:

    Oh come on! Where is the city going to come up with the money to support this? Oh, I know, more taxes on the current residents. Money does not grow on trees, and cities are having a hard enough time making ends meet. Your ideas seem very formulaic, take someone else’s money and give it away. When do you plan on coming up with an “idea” that is not in this vein?

  2. Well, many of the public works projects we need to get done in the city already get the funding from various sources. I suggest we use a local workforce for those projects. The funding for those projects already has the cost of labor included.
    Another part of the idea is to get local business to hire through a jobs center, at very little cost to the city, we already have a newly created staff person to coordinate on HUD projects and other local projects using a local workforce. We are also beginning a program to help ex-offenders get work when re-entering society. I like that program a lot and could see it being expanded. We have done a lot already without raising taxes.

    Further, as local workers have more money they will spend it, and sales tax revenue will increase.

    I think we can make the case that raising revenue for such an important thing is worth it, and the “greening” of our city has an appeal as well. You are right, funding from the federal and state government is going to be harder to get in the coming years, we need to be smart about how we make up the difference. That means setting up a system that won’t continually rely on using city tax dollars but that can guarantee a job for everybody but necessarily always directly trhough the city.

    Keeping data on all of this is extremely important, and once we have people beginning to be employed the idea is that wages will rise in the private sector as a result, thus opening up more jobs as people don’t have to work 2nd and 3rd jobs. Some of the city sponsored jobs could also be turned over directly to the workers for cooperative ownership.

  3. David Gwaltney says:

    Ok, you’re too optimistic, and I am too pessimistic, where is the middle (real) ground?

    First a funny story typically credited to Will Rogers:
    When asked how the US should handle the problem of German U-boats, during World War I, Rogers recommended that the ocean be boiled. A reporter asking the question supposedly followed up by inquiring how this could be done. To which Rogers replied: “I’m just the idea man.”

    I am not trying to downplay your accomplishments, but I seriously doubt the numbers.

    You have said “we have done a lot already without raising taxes”, but the fact is you are still ‘using’ taxes.
    This is an unsustainable model in the long term. And you probably don’t realize it, but your statement “as local workers have more money they will spend it, and sales tax revenue will increase.” is akin to perpetual motion.

    You and those working with you should be applauded for what you have already done, but it is unrealistic to believe that there could be any significant improvements in the future. I still haven’t heard what is being done differently from thousands of efforts throughout the country over the last century. Change will require radical ideas, and the ideas presented seem only ‘good’.

  4. I have no problem with “using taxes”, in fact I don’t think anyone else does either.
    I am glad to see that you don’t view guaranteed employment as radical, it isn’t. That it hasn’t ever been attempted or seriously considered in the US is no surprise, and that is how it is different.
    The reason why so many are opposed to the idea is not because of taxes but because our whole system is based on maintaining unemployment and thus low wages. Many are then led to believe that their hard earned wages shouldn’t go to help others.
    I would like to note that f more people were employed we would spend less on social programs and welfare. Many have opposition to welfare on principle, are those same people opposed to everyone having a job as well?
    In any event, i would be happy to see tax revenue raised and to go towards guaranteeing a job for every city resident along with some of the other things I am proposing. If the city had the legal authority (it doesn’t) to solely tax the rich or employers I would be in favor, in the mean time we have to consider raising taxes, perhaps a 1% increase in real estate tax in order to fund big projects that could really help a lot of people. I think combined with the state and federal government making deep cuts we will likely need to do this just to maintain the safety net and quality education we have here. I would say lets take it further and eliminate poverty altogether, and thus have very little need for a safety net.

  5. David Gwaltney says:

    You said “in fact I don’t think anyone else does either. “
    I do!
    I guess you mean that many people do not. I can accept that.
    My point was that it is unsustainable, which I still hold to.
    “because our whole system is based on maintaining unemployment and thus low wages.”
    If that’s the case, and it probably is at least a big factor, then don’t you need to address ‘that’ issue?
    What part of you initiatives will stop the system from pulling wages low and keeping the number of jobs down?
    Just like me countering each of your points, won’t THEY just adapt, or slap you down?
    The reality of your statement “I would say lets take it further and eliminate poverty altogether, and thus have very little need for a safety net.” is that it would require eliminating money, not providing jobs. A much more radical solution.

  6. Actually, I am guessing that you are okay with using tax money, maybe for different things than I would like to use it for. My guess is you are okay with roads being built, rescue squads, fire departments etc.- those things need funding, and so do many other things. I do not think we can eliminate taxes or the use of tax revenue any time soon. I think you would have a hard time making your case- but make it if you must. Taxation has worked for a long time and is fairly sustainable.

    As for the system based on unemployment- now you are catching on! Yes we need to fundamentally change that system, guaranteeing a job for everyone is a step towards having a system where workers and communities are in direct control of the excess of the labor (profit).
    If the private sector wanted to eliminate all of its jobs it could, but it wouldn;t help them. I think they might try as they might but the guaranteed right to have a job means society, presumably through the government, picks up the slack. Employers still need workers, they will have a hard time getting employees if they have to compete with a living wage through a publicly administered jobs program.

    Eliminating poverty is a tough goal, but achievable if we switch from an economy based on profits and worker exploitation to one of cooperation and direct democratic worker and community control of the means of production. I believe that currency would still be a tool, but not completely necessary in the long view. The point is, I am trying to bring a realistic analysis to a local race for local government. I hold much more radical views about redistribution of wealth and how a better society might run, but for now to be realistic I have to use what we have and consider that I would be the lone voice on council calling for a completely new way of doing things. To truly change things we need a movement and people to assert their power by organizing in different ways, the electoral arena is probably the least effective at bringing about meaningful and radical changes.

  7. johnharry says:

    i know we can use the money stolen from albemarle county residents with the revenue sharing agreement.

  8. David Gwaltney says:

    Our governments and the Corporations that own them are at war with the American people on many fronts. They have looted our economy for their benefit, and left pollution and suffering in their wake. Right now we should be identifying the corporate and political criminals who have been stealing from the American people though a combination of fraud, embezzlement, and exploitation. The coming wave will herald in a People’s Justice that will put these criminals on trial and recover the pilfered assets of the American people.

  9. Yay! On pushing for guaranteed job at livable wage

    I’m coming at this with priority on reducing the hours of labor required to earn a livable wage. This has to happen, inclusively from the point of view of capital. The increases in computerized productivity that have brought us today’s unemployment are
    probably greater than that of mechanization that brought the 10 hour day or industrialization that brought the 8 hour day.
    Finding the route to Guarantee every applicant as few as 20 hours a week for a livable wage provides the minimum economic security and free time to experiment, learn new skills and start new enterprises which may spin off from the job they’re directed to, or not, which may succeed or not.

    This is sorta what’s going on. Only it’s wages being driven down down down to the level of welfare. No job security. And longer hours for the few who are deemed useful til they’re not.

    All the schemes we read about– funding retraining, requiring “volunteering” to draw one’s unemployment, tax credits to hire unemployed, etc etc, — dance around this
    But none included a “guarantee” that if you apply you will be assigned N hours of some form of labor at a livable hourly wage. (as you have). And still none limited the hours required to earn a livable wage as they must be

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