Alex Blaze

ENDA postmortem: We just don't care about jobs

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 01, 2010 6:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics
Tags: Congress, Democrats, ENDA, health care reform, labor, law, LGBT, participation, republican, union

Jill, Joe, and Rebecca have all written about why ENDA didn't get passed this Congressional session, even with massive public support, even with strong Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, even with all the work citizen activists put into lobbying, and even with wonderful polling in conservative bastions (did you know Utah supports inclusive employment protection 66-25? But would you expect Sen. Orrin Hatch to switch sides here?).

The cards were stacked in favor of ENDA in 2009 and 2010, and somehow it didn't get through. While there are many reasons this happened (such a huge failure doesn't happen for any one reason), there was an astonishing lack of care among many LGB people when it came to ENDA, especially those who represent us. While the difference is most stark when compared to the community support DADT repeal has received, I won't begrudge those folks for getting out there and putting the time in to get even the compromise passed.

That lack of care, though, isn't just among LGB people. Straight people with power care little about American workers and people's jobs. Labor has been locked out of Washington even with the Democrats holding the House, the Senate, and the White House. Their main objective for this session - the Employee Free Choice Act - hasn't even been brought to the floor of the House. The stimulus bill in 2009 was half the size of what it needed to be, and while bailouts and war supplementals pass Congress easily, getting more stimulus money has been like squeezing blood out of a rock. Even health care reform, which did get debated and passed, was a hollow shell of what advocates of the American working class wanted it to be.

The problem isn't just in Washington, although that's where it's most pronounced. It's that our discourse, the very way we think of jobs and what we expect from the economy, is fundamentally different than what it was when the Civil Rights Act or even the Americans with Disabilities Act passed. LGBT and straight people have all been changed by the rise of movement conservatism (and its sister, neoliberalism) over the last forty years, making it harder for the call for workplace protections to seem relevant.

The economy functions very differently from how it did in 1964. The idea of having the same job all your life is entirely gone - it's not even a memory for my parents' generation anymore. Union membership is less than half of what it was in 1964. More people work part-time, temp, or free lance. People float a lot more, and saying that you're "between jobs" today is much more credible, and common, than it used to be.

This makes the thought of losing your job just because you're gay, black, Jewish, or whatever seem like a smaller loss and much more... natural. Just go out and get another. Their loss is another employer's gain. It's not like you even had a promise of work longer than a couple of months there anyway.

That's part of what Ann Rostow is referring to in this column from the SF Bay Times:

But it is significant, since the topics in a State of the Union are carefully chosen. I'm encouraged that the President decided to focus on the military ban rather than the insipid Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which is now pending in both houses of Congress. When I say "pending," I mean that the bill has been introduced and heard in some committees or something. I don't mean that it is about to pass or even scheduled for a vote. ENDA has been kicking around since 1994, and it's about as useful to 21st century gay rights as a Betamax player.

Surely she can't think that anti-gay discrimination is over. We know it isn't. Study after study has shown that gay men make upwards of 30% less than straight men after factors like education are controlled for. Gay and lesbian families are more likely than straight families to live in poverty.

What's more, about 80% LGB people are in the closet in some part of their lives, which I'd imagine includes quite a few workplaces. Think about how dismal those employment and earning statistics would be if everyone came out. Too bad most of us are still, in 2010, too afraid to be out everywhere (and without job protections I really can't blame LGB people).

Honestly, what I think Rostow's pronouncement on ENDA refers to isn't the status of LGB people in the workplace, but the status of workers' rights in American politics. Consider this recent article from liberal economist Brad Delong:

Washington, D.C. was in a panic. With high unemployment perceived as a genuine national emergency, the Federal Reserve embarked on a policy of massive monetary ease. The Reagan administration promised that the deficits created by its 1981 tax cuts and increased defense spending were the recipe for putting America back to work. Everybody had a plan to reduce unemployment. And every lobbyist or speculator with a scheme unrelated to jobs recast his pet project as a magic unemployment-reducing bullet.

Today, the unemployment rate is kissing 10 percent. Global financial markets are sending us a message that the excess demand for high-quality financial assets is growing again.

Yet, unlike 1983, there is no sense of urgency in Washington.[...]

But whenever I wander the halls of Washington these days, I can't help but think that something else is going on--that a deep and wide gulf has grown between the economic hardships of Americans and the seeming incomprehension, or indifference, of courtiers in the imperial city.

Have decades of widening wealth inequality created a chattering class of reporters, pundits and lobbyists who've lost their connection to mainstream America? Has the collapse of the union movement removed not only labor's political muscle but its beating heart from the consciousness of the powerful? Has this recession, which has reduced hiring more than it has increased layoffs, left the kind of people who converse with the powerful in Washington secure in their jobs and thus communicating calm while the unemployed are engulfed in panic? Are we passively watching an unrepresented underclass of the long-term unemployed created before our eyes?

If they can't get worked up about job creation for straight people, how are they going to care about job protection for us?

While it's easy to write off some of the people who don't care about labor protections in the media as rich, pampered millionaires (many are), I doubt Rostow is on a multi-million dollar a year contract like certain MSNBC pundits. If she's like other columnists at medium-sized, non-national newspapers, she works on some sort of non-full time contract, paid by the column or in some other not-real-job scheme. If she loses that work because of her race, sexuality, or other identity status, it's not like she'd be able to cobble together much of a case.

Moral of the story: ENDA seems like an anachronism to us not because we believe that homophobia is over (HA!), and not because it provides so few protections it should have been passed in the 90's (notice how it wasn't), it's because our entire economy has changed to the point where having a job to protect seems quaint.

In the mean time, we've been spoon-fed conservative ideology for so long now that we've actually started to believe that filing a law suit if you get fired is a bad thing, that people who don't have jobs are just bad people, that we can all be rich and climb the ladder so we should take our lumps while we're at the bottom (even if we're there all our lives), and that the purpose of employment is to work at the pleasure of an employer, that workers demanding anything is just plain greedy.

We've come to accept that we don't deserve decent employment at a decent wage, that the only rights we have are the ones that don't cost money. That's exactly the message the owning class wanted the rest of us to accept, since it doesn't just keep ENDA from being passed (a minor distraction), it keeps workers under control, labor cheap, and profit margins wide for investors. A population is easier to exploit if they don't know that they can demand to be treated better.

That's one side of the equation, why we accept the ruling elite's lack of care about our joblessness, or the fact that we have to stay closeted on the job in order to keep our jobs. The other side is why they don't care, or why they care so much less than they used to. Part of that is because, obviously, we don't force them too. But it's also because of the widening gap between rich and poor, with wages dropping for part of America and wealth rising for another part. This is John Edwards's two Americas, and guess which America has our politicians' ears.

There's no other way to explain our politicians:

Many Democrats also are scrutinizing emergency spending on the economy. [Rep. Kathy] Dahlkemper [(D-PA)], facing a well-funded Republican car dealer in the blue-collar district she seized from the GOP in 2008, said businesses back home complain that they want to start hiring but are getting few applicants because Congress has repeatedly extended unemployment benefits.

"Now, whether that's true or not, I'm still trying to decipher," she said. "But I think it's something we really need to look at."

Question: Is Dahlkemper on acid or is she just stupid? Because I want to know how to make fun of her for saying that 10% of the American workforce is living it up on $1000/month unemployment checks so much that they just won't take all the wonderful jobs being offered to them.

Of course, it's most likely neither. She's probably fairly smart and clean, but just so completely out of contact and out of touch with working class Americans that she really thinks that we might be lazy sacks of shit. Who knows, you know? Just have to look into it.

And she's definitely not alone. The people who run this country are insulated from working class Americans because they get their campaign cash mostly from people who can donate large sums, and the people who don't donate don't have much recourse other than to vote for a Republican, who are even worse. Lobbyists who visit them are well-paid and insulated themselves. Their families are doing just fine, and their friends come from the same economic class. These people don't get it because there's no one to explain it to them.

The same goes for the people who fund Gay, Inc. While it's easy to point the finger at Joe or HRC or any number of high-profile people running these orgs, it's mostly just a distraction from the fact that they're working for their big donors, and people who are able to donate big time to those big orgs tend not to care much about job discrimination. They see it as just another gay right, somehow working into the big gay agenda but nothing to make one's blood boil. They're looking for their own meat and potatoes - tax breaks and partnership recognition - and for large symbols of inclusion, like DADT repeal.

Again, it's not just a problem in LGBT politics. Even the straight working class is wondering why their party and their movement is being controlled by people who don't particularly care about working Americans. We all united for different reasons over the last couple of decades, and now that what passes for a left in the US is in charge, we're looking at each other and realizing we don't really have much in common.

I don't know how to overcome all this lack of care. But if it's any consolation, it's not just us.

Update: Robert Reich in the NY Times:

But this upbeat interpretation doesn't include lots of people who don't particularly relish becoming their own employers, like an acquaintance whom I'll call George. George was an associate partner at one of the world's largest technology and consulting firms until he lost his job last year in a wave of layoffs. For months, George knocked on doors but got nowhere because of the deep recession.

Finally, his old firm got some new projects that required George's skills. But it didn't hire George back. Instead, it brought him back through a "contingent workforce company," essentially a temp agency, that's now contracting with George to do the work. In return, the agency is taking a chunk of George's hourly rate.

Technically, George is his own boss. But he's doing exactly what he did before for less money, and he gets no benefits -- no health care, no 401(k) match, no sick leave, no paid vacation. Worse still, his income and hours are unpredictable even though his monthly bills still arrive with frightening regularity.

The nation's official rate of unemployment does not include George, nor anyone in this new wave of involuntary entrepreneurship. Yet to think of them as the innovative owners of startup businesses misses one of the most significant changes to have occurred in the American work force in many decades.

Typically each year, large numbers of Americans leave their old jobs to find new ones. Unemployment rises during recessions mainly because companies hire fewer workers, not because they lay more people off. But this Great Recession has been different. Layoffs by mid-sized and large companies have surged while hiring has almost disappeared. These companies have used the sharp downturn as an opportunity to cull their payrolls for good -- substituting labor-saving technologies and outsourcing to workers abroad or to contract workers here. This explains why almost half of America's unemployed have been jobless for more than six months -- a greater proportion than at any time since the Great Depression. It also explains why so many people like George have joined the ranks of the self-employed.

Would ENDA help George, as a self-employed entrepreneur, if he lost his contract? And why isn't anyone doing anything to stop these sorts of moves from employers to save money at the expense of everyone else?

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Alex you make some very excellent points. I am tempted to write a lengthy response but it would do no good. People want to know what to do not the grand inter-relationships of how it all fits together.

So, I'll give you step 1. Step one is to boycott Walmart which accounts for 1/2 of the trade deficit with China. Get that done and I'll give you step 2. 10 steps will change the entire focus from "serve self" to "serve others" which is the conflict that has existed throughout all history.

I doubt people will take direction from a Ditz like me but I can assure that all 10 steps when completed will radically change the future of our society away from the control by the few to the shared interest of the many. The alternative is frightening.

ellysabeth | June 1, 2010 8:13 PM

I'm interested to hear the rest of your thoughts on this topic, but not if we have to play games to get them. Would you be interested in elaborating, or are we to surmise that you'll be fleshing out your list while we organise this hypothetical boycott for you?

I would love to boycott Walmart, I really would. But, they own Sam's Club, and due to being "between jobs" and on welfare, boycotting them means I don't eat (it's actually cheaper to drive an hour there and back on a weekly basis than it is to buy at the local grocery store). I like eating. Get back to me when the first step of your plan is something other than telling me not to eat.

Vene you have no vision. Buy rice from someplace else and bring the largest corporation in the world to its knees. It will only take a few weeks or months. If you can't sacrifice for step one you and the rest of the slaves of the elite are doomed.

On the contrary, you need to provide vision for such a sweeping change. Telling people who live at or below the poverty line that they should just eat rice is not going to cut it. When you're demanding that people compromise their survival for your political goals, you need to have more to offer than accusing them of not having vision.

Fuck you. I have vision, my vision is that I will be malnourished if I go somewhere else (made even worse by lack of health insurance). You want change, you make sacrifices. I've made mine, my standing up against my family's bigotry directly lead to me being in poverty. I care more about eating than I do about your half-assed quest.

Alternative. Buy items from Walmart that are low profit (e.g.: milk) when you have to. Never buy something big that is comparably priced elsewhere. (e.g.: clothes)

And thus, Vene illustrates the vice grip that companies like Wal-Mart hold on American working -- or non-working -- people. The relentless push for low prices, or the appearance of low prices, at any cost has indeed extracted a huge cost. Wal-Mart created its own customer base. The only way to have manufacturing jobs with a living wage in the US is to have consumers who are willing and able to pay what the goods those workers produce will cost. Wal-Mart doesn't just have low prices (sometimes). It has them because it depresses the wages of everyone in the supply chain and kills jobs that pay more.

Angela Brightfeather | June 1, 2010 10:13 PM

A great piece.

Start with election reform to include term limits and limitations on campaign funding at different levels. Take away the giant retirement package that makes us pay Congressperson's full pay after serving just two terms in office and save another few billion every year. Make it only legal to lobby in home offices where we common people can see who and what they are when coming and going.

How about moving the Congress to Detroit for five years and then to another stressed city? That might shake things up a bit.

Until we put the stops to those who value their positions in DC over their constituents who they are supposed to represent, they will care less about the votes and more about the money and fame.

OK, time for the next step.

Abandon ENDA, go for full Title VII protection. A simple bill that would add "sexual orientation or gender identity", with definitions of those terms, to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

We won't get any more opposition than we've already had. We tried compromise, and the other side wouldn't play, depicting our lesser protections as "special, additional protections not covered by the Civil Rights Act".

Amend the ADA for transitioning people while in transition, and there we have it.

polargirl360 | June 2, 2010 3:38 AM

As Alex has indicated, the problem with America and a good part of the world is that economic resources which is at the core of all American ails doesn’t re-distribute themselves with peaceful lobbying and protesting.

The last time wealth was re-distributed more fairly was WWII. The US government had to tax at 93% and everyone had to sacrifice and do without so the country could win the war and survive.

Wealth will not be re-distributed more fairly again until there is another major war. This war can be civil wars (possibly class wars) throughout the world or Armageddon / WWIII that will be fought in just about every Asian nation as well as other parts of the world.

The elite won't give up a major portion of their wealth peacefully without a major threat of war. That has never happened in the history of human kind and it won't happen today or in the distant future of human kind either.

This is something to think about before trying to protest more to deaf ears. The indifference to LGBTI rights is only a microcosm of the indifference the elite have towards common people in general as indicated by Alex.

The best thing LGBTI groups can do is work with other disenfranchised groups to re-build class conscientiousness in this country. Strong class organizing will eventually either force the elite to reconsider and start a foreign war to hold onto power or be removed from power via a civil war.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 2, 2010 6:18 AM

The failure to pass ENDA is obviously and exclusively the failure of people who relied on the Democrats. They blundered badly advising GLBT folks to vote for Obama and the Democrats and by relying on lobbying and other lame, ineffective tools.

Obama and the Democrats, even more than Bush is responsible for the imbecility of TARP and for the draconian cuts in social services. Unemployment remains steady at a depression level 17%, not 10% according to the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Labor statistics U5 scale.(1) A second wave of homelessness based on new foreclosures is underway.

Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have a clue about how to handle the ongoing meltdown. Obama is making every mistake Bush made and then some.

The solution will come when working people are sufficiently fed up and rise up to claim control of both political and economic life.

We'll have to come up with some clever new name to describe that revolutionary transformation when it occurs. Maybe socialism. Yeah, that's the ticket. Socialism.

1)The BLS U2 scale, which shows it steady at 10% was created to fend off criticism during one of Reagan's steep economic downturns. It only measures those getting benefits.

Only socialism can save America.....

A-Gays don't need to worry about being fired and the military is patriotic. Also, DADT doesn't cover trans people, which makes it even more acceptable.