The success of the auto industry rescue shows the importance of fighting for jobs with decent wages, good benefits, and union rights, not just a paycheck. (More)


With unemployment remaining above 9% and underemployment higher than 16%, President Obama and Congressional Democrats are correctly focusing their efforts on job creation. We progressives should be actively supporting these efforts, but we should also not lose sight of the fact that our society needs not just any jobs, but instead good jobs that provide the types of wages, benefits, and security necessary to restore a strong middle class in America. New York Times columnist Charles Blow recently made this point in his column titled For Jobs, It’s War, noting that:

But even those numbers somewhat obscure the true historic nature of the crisis and the effect that the recession, falling wages and chronic joblessness have had on those living in poverty. If you remove children and the elderly and just look at working-age adults – those 18 to 64 – the picture is even more bleak. The percentage of that group that is in poverty is the highest recorded since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty” during his first State of the Union address in January 1964.

And it’s not that most of these people don’t have jobs. It’s that they don’t have good jobs that pay enough to push them out of poverty. Three out of four of those below the poverty line work: half have full-time jobs, a quarter work part time. Only a quarter do not work at all.

This raises an important distinction – not only do we need to create more jobs, we need to increase the number of good jobs. And we can’t see that quest for good jobs as an internal skirmish between warring political ideologies. It’s an international war.

Mr. Blow then goes on to discuss the recently issued book “The Coming Jobs War,” by Jim Clifton, which explains how the effort to get the good jobs of the future will be one between the U.S. and other countries such as China, and how we are currently in a position to lose that war due to our declining investments in education and crumbling infrastructure.

Winning Progressive agrees that there is a global struggle between countries for getting the bulk of the good jobs of the future. But we were surprised to see “good jobs” being defined by Mr. Clifton and Mr. Blow as “one with a paycheck from an employer and steady work that averages 30-plus hours per week.” This definition of good jobs is highly deficient and ignores numerous elements that we should be fighting for in the struggle for a fairer and more vibrant economy. These include:

* Paychecks that reflect the value of the labor being done and provide a basis for avoiding poverty. For decades now, economic productivity gains have not translated into wage gains for working people, and the real value of the minimum wage has decreased significantly since the 1960s. That is why progressive policies such as increasing the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation are so critical.

* A benefits package that ensures that, to the extent these items are not provided by government, workers and their families have access to affordable health insurance, disability and life insurance, and time off for vacations, illness, and taking care of ill family members. Unfortunately, the proportion of employees covered by employer health insurance was down to 55.3% in 2010, which continues a steady decline in the figure over the past decade, yet at the same time conservatives are attacking the ability of government to provide such benefits.

* Job security so that you are not in constant fear of being downsized or laid off. Such security is, unfortunately, a rapidly disappearing thing, with mergers, layoffs, and the increased use of temporary workers putting increasing profits for shareholders ahead of the interests of workers.

* The right and opportunity to collectively bargain over wages, benefits, and working conditions. Just as any other interest group in our society joins together to advocate for their interests, workers should have the ability to do so for their interests. Unfortunately, due to decades of lax enforcement of labor laws and concerted attacks by conservatives, unionization has fallen to 6.9% of the private sector workforce, and 11.9% of the overall workforce in the US.

In short, if we want a stable and vibrant society, a job must involve more than just a paycheck and hours, and instead provide the kind of economic security that conservatives do not want government or employers to provide but that hard working people deserve.

A textbook case of where government action has helped create not just jobs, but good jobs, is the Obama Administration’s auto industry rescue. The Administration succeeded in saving GM and Chrysler, which has resulted in the generation of more than 90,000 jobs in the motor vehicle and parts manufacturing industry in the US since early 2009. And most of these are good jobs, where still strong unions are able to ensure that their members share in the profits being made in the auto industry. In fact, it was just announced that the United Auto Workers have negotiated their latest contract with GM and received for their 48,000 members who work at GM a $5,000 bonus, improved profit sharing, and preservation of health care and pension benefits.

As we push for job creation, our ultimate goal should be the type of unionized jobs with decent wages and good benefits that are found in the auto industry, rather than just the hours and a paycheck represented by far too many segments of our economy today.