Jobs for all in the COVID-19 era

30 hours work for 40 hours pay and a broad program of public works

Collage by FSP. Photo: Raffi Asdourian
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The U.S. economy is shedding millions of jobs as it hits the brick wall of the coronavirus pandemic. Economists at the St. Louis Federal Reserve predict that unemployment could reach a staggering 31 percent, higher than during the depths of the 1930s Depression.

Workers face hard times. Should they believe that capitalism will miraculously rise from the dead like Lazarus as soon as Trump announces that “America is back in business”? 

Clearly not! And why should we return to the so-called “hot economy” before the crash? After all, it was based on low-wage jobs, stratospheric income inequality, reckless speculation in the stock market and elsewhere, and crazy levels of corporate and personal debt. The profit-driven market can’t even provide enough 75-cent face masks to save workers’ lives on the job. It will not be delivering any miracles.

Public jobs programs to the rescue. A real approach to the economic crisis would put many millions back to work providing things that society truly needs. Jobs programs could provide crucial social services such as free healthcare, childcare and education at all levels; a robust public health system, nationalized under workers’ control; and all the help needed to lift folks out of poverty and homelessness.

The country could also fully develop sustainable energy and mass transit to combat climate change, restore the damaged environment, repair the crumbling U.S. infrastructure, and greatly increase the public housing stock.

A plan like this would allow working people and our precious planet to finally catch a break. And it’s not like the money can’t be found! For starters, divert the trillions spent on a war machine that protects corporate profits and devastates the lives of working-class and oppressed people across the globe. Immediately repeal the Trump tax cuts. Enact much higher taxes on the incomes and vast wealth of the rich, as well as on the obscene profits of corporate behemoths like Walmart and Amazon.

30 hours work for 40 hours pay. If the hours of work were reduced without lowering employees’ standard of living, then the work would be spread out and many more jobs would become available. Eighty years ago the shortening of the workweek to 40 hours was enshrined in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Surely we can lower it again, given that labor productivity has increased many-fold since then. Some employers are being forced to move in this direction right now to lessen workers’ exposure to the virus. Let’s make these reductions of hours permanent and institute them in other areas — with no cut in pay!

These aggressive measures must be under the control of workers and the communities being served. Then the creativity of working people can be unleashed and engaged in building a better, socialist world. This world would be unmarred by the drive for profit, which has created the conditions making the coronavirus outbreak 100 times worse than it had to be — especially for those who produce the wealth of society and keep its gears running. 

Statement issued by the Freedom Socialist Party

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