Bill Knight - July 2

Macomb, IL – Independence Day means more than July 4th fireworks. It's a day and a time when patriots mark the American Revolution, democracy and freedom.

As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, freedom should mean freedom from want as well as freedom from foreign rulers, and Independence Day should renew our appreciation for both legislative reforms and grassroots progress.

A great grassroots action took place 75 years ago this week, when San Francisco longshoremen - on strike over preferential hiring and blacklisting - stood up to shipping companies and city officials who did their bidding. Recalled as "Bloody Thursday," July 5, 1934, saw more than 100 strikers and supporters injured and two killed by authorities, setting off a long general strike encompassing northern California. In turn, that larger work stoppage resulted in arbitration, which helped longshoremen win their job action.

A year later to the day, Roosevelt signed the Wagner Act, legislative action that stated that collective bargaining was in the national interest and set in motion years of union organizing and greater prosperity.

In 2009, prosperity is elusive, despite claims in Washington that the recession is easing, and organized labor must increase its involvement - grassroots and legislative - in the plight of the jobless and the poor. Almost 15 million Americans are jobless, which surely is a crisis, despite modest improvements in the economy.
Business apologists and others point to a decline in job losses, but 17,000 more jobs were lost in May, driving the official U.S. unemployment rate to 9.4% and 10.1% in Illinois.

Northeastern Illinois University economist Edward Stuart told the Associated Press, "I really don't think you can call it good news until the job losses have stopped."

Further, more than 400,000 Illinoisans have been forced into poverty, according to a report on poverty by the Heartland Alliance Mid-America Institute on Poverty. That's a 27% jump in the number of Illinoisans living in poverty in the last two years.
Statewide, some 660,000 Illinoisans live in extreme poverty, and another 828,000 live between 50% and 100% of the federal poverty level. That means almost 1.5 million people in Illinois live in poverty.

In west-central Illinois, the statistics are grim. Numbers when the year began show
5.7% jobless and 11.8% in poverty in Adams County; 7.7% and 12.6% in Fulton; 9.7% and 10.8% in Hancock; 7.1% and 17.6% in Knox; 6.4% jobless and 8.7% in poverty in Marshall County; 5.5% and 23.4% in McDonough; 5.6% and 12.15 in Schuyler; and 6.2% and 12.9% in Warren.

Despite consumer prices remaining relatively stable, speculators drove up the cost of motor fuel in the Midwest between 12.7% and 13.4% since April, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

What can labor do? New York labor activist and writer Harry Kelber suggests five points:

"Insist on increasing the number of infrastructure projects and speed up the tempo of hiring the necessary work force. We should have an oversight committee to monitor the number of public-works projects that have been created and the number of people put to work. Demand that Obama appoint a czar' who would have overall responsibility for creating and preserving jobs. Open up discussion on whether we need a second economic stimulus," and "establish close relations with the unemployed to involve them in the struggle for fair treatment of America's working class."

Some require legislative work, some grassroots action, but it's a start. Toward true independence.