In 1936, during the throes of the Great Depression, FDR addressed a deeply divided and economically insecure nation on the eve of Labor Day:
“There are those who fail to read both the signs of the times and American history. They would try to refuse the worker any effective power to bargain collectively, to earn a decent livelihood and to acquire security. It is those short-sighted ones, not labor, who threaten this country with that class dissension which in other countries has led to dictatorship and the establishment of fear and hatred as the dominant emotions in human life.”
The parallels to what’s happening today are remarkable.
While the circumstances differ from now, the insecurity so many felt in 1936 is as strong as it was then. It exists across sectors. It exists regardless of geography. It exists because the wealthy few have reaped the rewards of our labor without sharing the prosperity.
As the edge of summer burns into early autumn, students across the country are going back to school. Most are returning to friends and meeting teachers, but students at Illinois’ Barrington High School are arriving this year to signs that read, “Can’t live on $8.50,” and shouts of “Devuelvenos nuestros salarios!” (Give us back our wages!)
A majority of the school’s contracted janitors—organized by the Service Employees International Union—are striking because, after the Barrington school district renewed a contract with its employer in June, their wages were cut from $9.77 an hour. Already without sick days and health insurance, the janitors are now faced with even lower poverty wages.
As our publication, Making the Grade? Questions to Ask About School Services Privatization, discusses, school districts often don’t save money when they outsource support positions rather than keep them in-house. When contractors aim to maximize profit,
I’ve always thought that if the various Protestant denominations can be said to represent a socio-economic sector of American culture, then the people who made up the United Methodist Church (UMC) were the middle of the middle. I mean that across the country and particularly in this region, which includes Southern California, Methodists never wanted to be bothered about too much social or economic justice, and when they were it was a sign that even the center of the country was getting on board.
I can vividly remember when, in the early 1970s, the UMC in my region finally climbed on board the national grape boycott to support farm workers, just as I can recall when the Conference (as the regional body is called) decided to push for divestment in South Africa.
Last week, in a powerful affirmation of the common good, commissioners in Tennessee’s Johnson County unanimously opposed the privatization of the state prison within their county’s limits. A response to fears that the state government could soon outsource management of the Northeast State Correctional Complex, the resolution reads like a checklist of what democracy and public control can provide a community.
The “no” vote was prompted by the state government’s recent exploration of outsourcing the management of state properties, including prisons, hospitals, parks and even the University of Tennessee. State officials have also been trying to manage a shortage of prison officers after introducing a controversial overtime policy statewide to cut costs.
But the Johnson County commissioners recognize that outsourcing isn’t the answer: “Any type of privatization would be detrimental to our county, citizens and staff of Northeast Correctional Complex.” They also honored public service by dedicating a day each year in recognition of the prison’s current staff.
As public officials across the country continue to manage shrinking budgets, experiments for funding public services are emerging. One new idea, the Social Impact Bond, has been advertised as a “win-win” for private investors and the public, but the reality is beginning to look a little different.
The results are in from the first SIB tried in the U.S. and it failed to meet its goals. The SIB was aimed at reducing the rate by which adolescents housed on Rikers Island returned to jail, with a goal of at least an 8.5 percent drop. Therapy was provided to inmates, but recidivism wasn’t significantly reduced.
SIBs are complex arrangements—private investors lend funding for a program and the government repays them only if certain goals are met. For the Rikers SIB, New York City was lent millions by Goldman Sachs, backed by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Proponents of SIBs claim that,