Sunday, January 19, 2014

North Carolina governor wages war on the unemployed

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

One year ago a terrorist offensive began in North Carolina.  At the urging of that state’s capitalist class whose economic interests he represents, the governor, Pat McCrory, a Republican, signed a bill that cut the amount and the length of time, North Carolina’s unemployed could receive unemployment benefits. He did this even though North Carolina had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

McCrory’s defense was that the state’s unemployment trust fund was spent and the state had to borrow money from the federal government to pay the unemployed----those that the market discards----the pittance that puts some food in their mouths at least. The trust fund was financed through business taxes. “We’re going to pay down that debt, make the system solvent and provide an economic climate that allows businesses, large and small to put people back to work.” McCrory announced to the media at the time.

The new law took effect six months later and the effect was immediate. The maximum weekly benefit was cut from $535 to $350 and the length of time the unemployed could receive benefits was cut from 26 weeks to between 12 and 20.

But as Business Week pointed out last week, “That was only half the blow”.

According to the magazine, reducing state benefits “Violated the terms of the federal program—which is intended, not replace state aid---so workers in North Carolina were also disqualified from receiving federal benefits”.

His actions, McCrory told the local media last week, were intended to send people “back to where they came from.” Workers were migrating to North Carolina he claims to get the generous unemployment benefits the state offers he said. Or, which is the often cited reason why unemployed numbers are too high, workers were living too high on the hog and wouldn’t get off their lazy asses and get a job.

McCrory points to the unemployment rate that dropped from 8.4% to 7.4% between July and November last year as evidence that his plan worked.

Numerous sources have disputed that argument as in North Carolina, like most other states, a recipient has to work a certain amount of time before being eligible for unemployment benefits. Although there are exceptions, the easiest way to think about this is someone would have had to work in the state for around six of the last 15 months in order to be eligible for benefits.”, writes Mark Blinker for

Rather than poachers coming to NC for the benefits or lazy workers sitting at home watching TV, the drop in unemployment numbers is better explained by noting that the long-term unemployed have simply stopped looking for work and have dropped out of the labor force altogether. North Carolina’s labor force participation was at its lowest in 37 years last October according to BusinessWeek. 

The right wing anti-worker Republican Rand Paul, like all rich people, has to justify his  wealth and success as a product of his own hard work which means workers and the poor are poor (er) by choice.  It’s the same logic they use when they say that a Bangladeshi garment worker or Cambodian electronics workers are “willing” to work for less.  All these characters have nothing but contempt for workers. If we were smarter, worked harder, we’d be businesspeople or tech entrepreneurs or doctors running their sickness industrial complex. Paul relies predominantly on poor and backward white’s for votes so he tells Fox news he supports 26 weeks of benefits but “Beyond that you do a disservice to these workers” because it encourages them to be part of the “perpetual unemployed group”.  Life is all about ones’ perspective for sure. I always thought warren Buffet, the Queen of England or Donald Trump were the “perpetual unemployed”.

If the rest of the country follows North Carolina’s lead, “The.3 million people losing their benefits are going to be in the same position as the 170,000 people here who have lost theirs” Aaron Chatterji, an economist at Duke University tells BW.

The federal government wants to avoid that and is talking about extending the benefits nationally and there is some chatter going on among Senators.  Obama and others are arguing for extensions as it will hurt the economy having a million or more workers without any assistance.  That opens up some dangerous doors when it comes to social unrest when we add the millions more that have dropped out of the labor force and are not counted in the official statistics.  There are also many more millions of working poor.  The more astute politicians of the 1% like Obama recognizes that a lot of anger still percolates beneath the surface of society and that needs to be contained.

McCrory worked for Duke energy for 28 years in management positions. His bio is a bit laughable when it says:
“A management-training program put Pat through a rotation of digging ditches and climbing electric poles as well as stints in various management jobs from human resources to economic development.”  He’s a ditch digger now. It reminds me of that picture of his friend, the imbecile George W Bush on his ranch in Texas.  Put a cowboy hat on his head and a chain saw in his hand and he’s just a regular blue-collar guy. Unfortunately, some workers fall for it.

McCrory and the rest of them, Republicans and Democrats, (look at Brown here in California) are economic terrorists. Of course, in relation to many workers throughout the world they wage a more direct and violent terrorism against whole populations; they have to cloak their activities behind all sorts of lies and falsifications domestically.

The 1% is sitting on a few trillion dollars that they refuse to invest in the economy because profits are not sufficiently guaranteed.  They are stashing another $26 trillion or so in offshore accounts avoiding taxes.  The banks are making record profits as they spend billions more of our money on legal defense to keep their officers out of jail for their role in bringing the economy to the edge of collapse.

Their rotten system cannot put 25 to 30 million people to work in jobs that pay the rent, or the moneylender the mortgage, and there are millions more on minimum wage or less.

No worries, they say to themselves, they still have jails.

But history shows that the US working class does not lay dormant forever. Even today, there are hundreds and thousands of independent and isolated protests and campaigns around all sorts of social issues. Then there is the tremendous success of the socialist Kshama Sawant winning a seat on Seattle City Council and her comrade (both are members of Socialist Alternative) Ty Moore coming close in Minneapolis. This is a reflection of the desire for political changes that exists in US society.  In Lorraine County Illinois as well, a group of independent trade unionists were elected to the council. It is a somewhat different development to the Seattle situation but worth paying attention to and encouraging nevertheless.

What is lacking here is a national movement, a broad national direct action movement that can draw all the forces together that are actually fighting against the austerity agenda of the 1%, fighting for increased social services, jobs, a living minimum wage, health care, education transportation, against racism and sexism etc. In other words, what we need, what is important for workers to live secure productive lives, not what is acceptable to the two parties of the 1%.

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