Tuesday, October 24, 2006
You Tell 'Em, Barbara
After a series of news items and interviews written by other journalists about their new organization, Barbara Ehrenreich and Tamara Draut now tell the story behind the founding of United Professionals in their own words. And, I'll tell ya, they come out swinging. They remind us yet again that, despite the self-congratulatory Republican spin on the "knowledge economy", the position of the middle class is steadily eroding and beautiful white collar minds are being wasted, right and left. The spectres of downsizing lurk invisibly among us - the IT marketing expert turned janitor, the chemical engineer living in shelters, the cab driving media executive.
Here is a paragraph that says it all: "This is the new world of the middle class--haunted by debt, stalked by layoffs, pinched by vanishing pensions and health benefits, and forced into ever more contingent forms of work as 'real' jobs give way to benefit-free contract work. Far from being on an elite perch in the 'knowledge economy,' the middle class hovers just inches above the working poor. Since the average household today has negative savings, meaning positive debt, a sudden job loss for whatever reason can dislodge a family overnight. The downward spiral is accelerated by companies' strange aversion to hiring the unemployed, who have unsightly 'gaps' in their resumes. The jobless find themselves stigmatized by their condition, although they did nothing to incur it, as illustrated by the management consultant who advises corporate recruiters to avoid job fairs: 'Who goes to job fairs? People without jobs! All you get are worthless resumes and lots of germs.'"
That is what we are up against, and we have to take action.
Ehrenreich and Draut have a provisional agenda that includes:
1) Real networking and community building - This is important both to share information, and to provide moral support for those seeking work.
2) Advocacy on national issues - These include universal health care, improved unemployment insurance, fairness in lending, and legislative support for a "living wage".
3) Services, such as free legal advice and affordable health insurance.
I have mentioned United Professionals several times before in this blog, and I will mention it again. Go to unitedprofessionals.org and join up for just $36.50 a year. I pay dues to other white collar labor organizations, so I happen to know this is a bargain.
While you're reading the article at the link below, check out some of Barbara Ehrenreich's other publications in The Nation, including some extremely well-informed articles about American labor unions and their possible future strategies.
"Downsized but Not Out" from The Nation