What if Everyone Had a Job?

Taub’s classic article provides a perspective shared by many since the beginning of industrialization and particularly since corporate capitalism emerged (with significant federal incentives) and took over local economies. It was the center of FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, and the ensuing legislation introduced by James E. Murray – the Full Employment Act of 1945. It is an important message that should ground all local economic development efforts.  (Picture: Sen. Murray rides with FDR and Eleanor). 

What if Everyone Had a Job?

By Richard Taub, Sept/Oct 1996

Richard Taub

Richard Taub

When I read about efforts to build community, I continue to be struck by the fact that those who operate at the neighborhood level seem not to pay real attention to the economic world. They focus instead on building housing, having more and better services including shops, getting people to work together, and having more programs to deliver services in some organized way.

Yet it does not take a lot of effort to see that if every able-bodied person in a community had a job, many of the other problems and solutions to them would decline in importance. Indeed, many of the concerns about community building are about replacing those things that money can buy.

Imagine, for example, wealthy people living in a high-rise community, say on Chicago’s Gold Coast, New York’s Park Avenue, or San Francisco’s Nob Hill. In most cases, their effective social community does not overlap with their territorial community. Instead, it is either built around work and/or some social clubs. They pay people to look after their children, to provide adequate education, to take care of their health, and, in addition to the good policing they get, they pay for extensive security systems including doormen, patrols, and alarms of various sorts.

As one moves down the economic scale, the role of voluntary community activity and coming together plays an increasingly larger part. Parents supervise the Little League, neighborhood watch programs are established, people keep their eyes on each others kids, they organize to keep some undesirable use (to them) such as a halfway house out of the community, and they may pester the teachers in the local public schools for delivery of better education or a good after-school program.

Normally, residents of urban communities do not work in the communities or neighborhoods where they live. One of the great inventions of modern cities was that areas developed specializations of use, and that residential areas often are some distance from where people work. To the extent, then, that community building is about jobs, efforts to create them must often take place outside the community.

That part of the story has gotten more complicated in recent years, because it takes two earners to make what one used to, and women who might do many of the activities listed above (e.g. keeping their eyes on their neighbors kids or putting pressure on the schools) are less likely to have the time. Moreover, as companies move to the suburbs, many of the jobs that people now go to are much farther away than they used to be, and most of the jobs are less likely to be industrial and more likely to be in some of the so-called service and retail areas.

As one moves further down the income scale, the role of the neighborhood working collectively seems to increase in importance. Because people have less, they need to help each other more. They have to band together to get the resources that are properly due to them; they have to police their neighborhoods aggressively because so many unemployed people are hanging around, some of them drinking too much or doing drugs or working in illegal activities to provide some sort of income. They must work together to supervise youth under threatening conditions and work with the police to crack down on troublemakers, even while frightened about possible retaliation.

One problem with community building as community building is that it confuses the results with the cause. Practitioners hope that by increasing the capacity of residents to work together to solve collective problems, these communities will be better places to live. To some extent, this may be true. But in some respects, it is a little like trying to gather up the water to pour back in the pipe after the water main has broken. The issue is not how to deal with the consequences of unemployment and lack of incomes, but how to deal with the unemployment and lack of incomes themselves.

Consequently, any community-building effort that is serious and not simply palliative must move economic questions to the forefront. The challenge is to figure out how to do that. There is no one magic bullet. Methods to encourage business start-ups and self-employment – such as for-profit business creation and individual development accounts – should be in such a program. Job training and placement programs designed by working with employers as Project Quest in Texas does are also important. Systems of transportation that bring workers to distant jobs may also be useful. In addition, youth apprenticeship programs, such as those by the Fifth Avenue Committee, which teach youth real skills in short supply in the labor market, would be desirable.

In short, community building must start with connecting people to the economy. Without incomes, it is hard to imagine what people in communities can do to really make a difference in their lives.

Copyright 1996

Original publication


Presenting at the Glucksman Ireland House in October


The Glucksman Ireland House

I learned yesterday that my most recent paper has been accepted for the Mid-Atlantic regional meeting of the American Conference for Irish Studies. The conference is being held at the Glucksman Ireland House on the campus of New York University. NYU has an outstanding Irish Studies program and it is exciting to be on their campus for this conference. Below is a description of my paper:

The Butte Bulletin: Ireland’s Voice in the Western Labor Camps

The Butte Bulletin held the largest circulation and reach of any paper in Montana between 1918 and 1921 – a period rife with labor unrest and a time when entire communities were shackled by martial law. At the center of the conflict was the State’s rich deposits of copper and the corporations that mined, processed and transported the precious metals to munition companies arming America’s allies. The Butte Bulletin was labor’s organ during this tumultuous time, reaching mining and timber camps throughout the West – but it also held an equally radical pro-Irish agenda, a focus that has been given little attention by historians. Past research into the paper’s origins and operations has focused on ties to the IWW and Communist Party, and the intense focus of the Military Intelligence Division on the paper’s seditious editors. In this paper I look specifically at the Irish roots of the paper’s start-up. Two of the principal promoters of the paper were James A. Murray and his nephew, NYU alum James E. Murray. My recent article in Montana: The Magazine of Western History, titled “Rocky Mountain Radicals; Copper King James A. Murray and U.S Senator James E. Murray, and Seventy-Eight Years of Montana Politics, 1883-1961” provides a political biography of the pair, and reveals their role with the Butte Bulletin. Here, I delve further into other Irish connections to the paper, and consider the influence the paper had in promoting Ireland’s cause during the final push for freedom.

Rocky Mountain Radicals: Labor’s Rich & Powerful Allies

MHS ArticleNew in the Spring edition of Montana: The Magazine of Western History

The labor movement in the Gilded Age and New Deal era found an unlikely pair of allies in a wealthy miner and his nephew.

James A. Murray started his business empire with a few dollars in his pocket in 1863 prospecting in Rocky Mountain mining camps along Mullan Road. Over the next fifty-eight years he built a fortune that today would exceed $2.0 billion and stretched from Seattle to San Diego, and from San Francisco to Wyoming. Murray was a staunch advocate for labor and never stopped supporting their cause as anti-union corporations enveloped the American West. He funded a radical pro-labor newspaper affiliated with the Wobblies during the height of labor strife in World War I, and extended his radical legacy with a significant bequest to his equally radical nephew, future U.S. Senator James E. Murray.  The younger Murray rose to the top of Eamon de Valera’s support group in the U.S. and became the Senate’s strongest proponent of labor and progressive politics from  the New Deal Era until the dawn of the Civil Rights movement.

The story of the radical Murray family is told in depth for the first time in a beautifully illustrated twenty-page article in the Spring 2016 Edition of Montana: The Magazine of Western History. Copies of the Spring edition can be purchased individually from the Montana Historical Society.  The publication is also available in over 700 libraries across the globe. Find a copy near you on the World Catalog.

Coming next year: The biography of radical Copper King James A. Murray will be published by Montana Press Publishing Company in the Fall of 2017.

My Day, by Eleanor Roosevelt, September 5, 1953

FDR, Eleanor, and Senator Murray (University of Montana Mansfield Library Archives)

FDR, Eleanor, and Senator Murray (University of Montana Mansfield Library Archives)

Senator James E. Murray was a prolific writer and speaker on all progressive issues. Here, Eleanor Roosevelt reflects on a speech Senator Murray gave on the importance of food and clothing in creating peace in the world. Roosevelt’s column is available on-line through George Washington University.

I have been thinking a great deal of late about a speech made some time ago by Senator James E. Murray of Montana when a Senate Joint Resolution was introduced on a nonpartisan basis to “provide for an international food reserve.” Members of both parties joined in backing this resolution and Senator Murray gave very good reasons why it should be backed by every farmer in America and by every processor and distributor of farm commodities because, he explained, “it would encourage abundant production of food and fibres and provide a constructive method of preventing market surpluses.”

Then he remembered to consider the consumer, the general public, you and I, who are usually forgotten in the press of special interest groups, and he said it would protect against “shortages and the consumer price increases which accompany shortages.” Finally he said this resolution would be of interest to the other nations of the world which produce or import agricultural commodities. He pointed out that food and clothing are two of the most vital weapons in mankind’s struggle for a happier and more peaceful world and for all these reasons he felt we should create at once an international food reserve.

It was an unusual thing to have a resolution of this kind come from the Senate and not through negotiation on the part of the executive branch of the Government first with other nations but, as the Senator pointed out, sometimes these negotiations on the part of governments come to nothing because they are not inspired or participated in by the Congress which in the long run does have to put the machinery in operation to bring anything of this kind about.

The resolution is simple. The first section indicates why an international food reserve is needed. The second section explains the purposes that will be served by an international food reserve, and the third section authorizes and directs our mission members in the U.N. to enter promptly into international negotiations for the purpose of preparing a specific plan. The fourth simply asks that this plan and the information pertaining thereto come to the Congress for approval. No funds are provided but the mere fact that the information supporting this resolution was before the Congress must have started much thinking, not only in our own country, but in the world and I hope that it will go on until something really constructive comes of it.

Eleanor Roosevelt, September 5, 1953

Toward Revolution!

Untitled pictureNext week I will be speaking on the campus of University of Wisconsin – La Crosse at the Midwest Section of the American Conference for Irish Studies (ACIS). The theme of the conference is “Towards Revolution,” and my contribution will be a paper on the path of James E. Murray to the top of Eamon De Valera’s support group, the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic. Murray’s involvement with De Valera started when the Irish leader first toured America in 1919 and ended with the start of the Irish civil war in 1922.

Murray’s climb was promoted by the Butte Bulletin, a radical labor daily funded by his wealthy uncle. The paper, distributed to labor camps throughout the West, was backed by the IWW and championed labor, socialism, and the end of British Imperialism. New information will be presented at this conference on the relationship between Uncle Murray and the Butte Bulletin.

The Missed Opportunity for an Economic Budget

JamesEMurrayFullEmployment“There is something wrong with the distribution of income in our economy. Not enough of the income created by production gets into the hands of those that will spend it back into production.

Senator James E. Murray, 1945 [1]

The end of World War II placed employment at the top of the national agenda. Seasoned lawmakers and experienced public officials had lived through the burst of an employment bubble after WWI, twenty-five years early, and the Great Depression that followed.

President Roosevelt, during his annual message to Congress, proposed a “Second Bill of Rights” to guide Congress in establishing “a standard of living, higher than ever know before.”

The rights included:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.[2]

Senators Harry Truman (D-MO) and Senator James E. Murray (D-MT) presided over a Senate subcommittee focused on the first point, to provide employment opportunities for all Americans. When Truman left the Senate for the Vice Presidency, the responsibility for shaping legislation fell to Murray. In 1945, Murray, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Education and Labor, drafted Senate Bill 380, the “Full Employment Act of 1945” and found bi-partisan co-sponsors in Senators Wagner (D-NY), Thomas (D-UT), O’Mahoney (D-WY), Morse (R-OR), Tobey (R-NH), Aiken (R-VT), and Langer (R-ND).

S. 380 sought to go beyond the reactionary work-relief measures crafted after the Great Depression, by taking advance measures to avoid depression and unemployment altogether. A critical element of this proactive approach was for the President to prepare a separate “National Production and Employment Budget” (Economic Budget), apart from the regular budget, that prescribes a “complete and well-rounded program for maintaining full production.” Murray believed that the Economic Budget would focus lawmakers on substantive employment policy matters every year, as opposed to merely limiting the discussion to meaningless campaign rhetoric every presidential election. [3]

During the subsequent debates of S. 380, the bill was watered-down, the Economic Budget was dropped, as was “Full” from the title. The Employment Act of 1946, adopted and signed into law, created policy objectives similar to those outlined in F.D.R.’s Second Bill of Rights, but it fell short in focusing Congressional attention on the economy and unemployment.

An annual Economic Budget is a concept worth revisiting. It could pull the nation’s most important issue off the campaign trail and put it back into halls of Congress where it belongs. It would serve as a central point to discuss living wages, work-visas, public service employment and corporate out-sourcing.

[1] James E. Murray, “A Practical Approach,” The American Political Science Review 39, no. 6 (December 1945): 1119–26.

[2] http://www.ushistory.org/documents/economic_bill_of_rights.htm

[3] Murray, “A Practical Approach.”

Senator Murray nomination to Labor Hall of Honor

James E. MurrayThe Employment Act of 1946 will soon mark its 75th anniversary. Election of the “spark of will” behind the Act to the Department of Labor Hall of Honor prior to the diamond anniversary of this landmark legislation would be a fitting step toward the celebrations sure to follow. Murray would be the Hall’s first elected official from west of the Mississippi River, and only the second member from the Pacific Northwest. If Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman were alive today, they certainly would support this recognition for the honorable Senator from Montana. See the nomination on Senator Murray’s page.

So your political opponent is a communist…

Russian SpidersIn 1953, Representative Wesley D’Ewart (R) ran against Senator Murray’s liberal record, casting him  as a communist sympathizer. Vice President Richard Nixon campaigned for D’Ewart using the same approach. D’Ewart’s campaign produced a booklet listing Murray’s affiliations with communist sympathizers, adorned with compelling graphics that would make even the most aggressive campaign managers today hold their nose.

These images of a Russian “Spyder” were featured in the booklet Senator Murray and the Red Web over Congress.