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Politics Mondays: Go Forth Chicago; Make Bricks Without Straw by Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.


*Editor's Note: The following is the text of a speech, delivered by Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr, to the Rainbow Coalition Forum, on Saturday, September 16, 2006.

Exodus 5 (Revised Standard Version)

[1] Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, `Let my people go, [that is, free the workers with higher wages and health care] that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.'"

[2] But Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should heed his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover I will not let Israel go."

[3] Then they said, "The God of the Hebrews has met with us; let us go, we pray, a three days' journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to the LORD our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword [that is, least we get sick and need health care]."

[4] But the king of Egypt said to them, "Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work [that is,are you trying to organize them into a union?]? Get to your burdens." [Get back to work!]

[5] And Pharaoh said, "Behold, the people of the land are now many [there are a lot of desperate and unemployed poor and black people in the land] and you make them rest from their burdens! [Don't you want to give them some jobs?]"

[6] The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen [the Aldermen],

[7] "You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as heretofore; let them go and gather straw for themselves.

[8] But the number of bricks which they made heretofore you shall lay upon them, you shall by no means lessen it [we expect the same amount of work, but for lower wages]; for they are idle [you know - the lazy and shiftless]; therefore they cry, `Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.'

[9] Let heavier work be laid upon the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words." [America is more productive and wealthier today, but pay no attention to the workers who complain about sharing in the wealth.]

[10] So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people [the Aldermen] went out and said to the people, "Thus says Pharaoh, `I will not give you straw. [the Mayor vetoed the "big box" ordinance and enough Aldermen sustained it]

[11] Go yourselves, get your straw wherever you can find it; but your work will not be lessened in the least.'" [even part-time jobs]

[12] So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt [Chicago], to gather stubble for straw.

[13] The taskmasters were urgent, saying, "Complete your work, your daily task, as when there was straw."[ just act like the Mayor and City Council gave you a minimum wage raise.]

[16] No straw is given to your servants, yet they say to us, `Make bricks!' And behold, your servants are beaten [the idle and unemployed get in trouble and Jon Burge and a few other brutal police officers whip up on them]; but the fault is in your own people."[they brought it on themselves.]

[18] Go now, and work; for no straw shall be given you, yet you shall deliver the same number of bricks."

This morning I want to speak from the subject: "GO FORTH CHICAGO - MAKE BRICKS WITHOUT STRAW."

Introduction

In 1916, celebrating its role - at the time - as the industrial capitol of the United States, Carl Sandburg wrote of Chicago that it was "the city of the big shoulders." Chicago, historically, has been a leading industrial city. Today, Chicago is still a workingman's city.

As early as 1894 - when George Pullman cut the wages of workers and triggered the Pullman Strike; to recent firefighter and teachers' strikes, our great city has been the scene of many great struggles between capital and labor. This week, in addition to the issues of capital and labor, Mayor Daley inserted race into the equation.

Rev. Jesse Jackson has been criticized for exposing the racial dimension of various issues. Recently, Mayor Daley lectured Rev. James Meeks about the inappropriateness of certain racial language. But this week Mayor Daley injected race into the public dialogue - and that is wrong. The Mayor said no one objected to big box stores until big box retailers wanted to build on the South and West sides of Chicago - communities with concentrations of African Americans. Now, I guess, we're to suppose to believe that Mayor Daley is a race fighter - a civil rights leader for access to capital, community development and jobs without discrimination.

But, as States' Attorney, he wasn't a race fighter when it came to Jon Burge and police misconduct - violently forcing confessions from African Americans prisoners. He hasn't been a race leader on reopening the Washburn Trade School and insisting that African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and women be trained and given access to trade union jobs. He hasn't been a race leader when it was discovered that over $100 million that should have gone to minorities and women actually went to white front companies. He hasn't been a race leader when it came to city jobs going to unqualified, but politically connected workers, over more qualified minorities and women in violation of the Shakman decree. If the Mayor is so concerned about creating jobs on the South and West sides, why has he so consistently blocked efforts to create 15,000 new, mostly well-paying, union jobs on the Southside through building the Abraham Lincoln National Airport?

Now, however, after 17 years in office of leaving our communities underdeveloped and the poor, African Americans and Hispanics disproportionately unemployed - at re-election time - he wants you to believe that he's a race leader when it comes to community development and providing low-wage jobs. He's joined with President Bush, Republicans and the richest businesses in the country to exploit the most desperate in our city by offering them either low-wage jobs or no jobs, offering them big boxes or no boxes.

Mayor Daley, racial polarization has no place in Chicago. Leave race out of Chicago! Leave race out of this campaign! We need "One Chicago" united, not two Chicago's divided by race!

Now let me get back to my point. All of these stories in Chicago and elsewhere concerning capital and labor, at their foundation, are the stories of the quest for human freedom and the struggle for human and workers' rights. That story has played itself out, often dramatically, in Chicago and elsewhere, on many stages and in many places, over many centuries.

However, the most compelling story of Pharaohs and their political minions siding with business over workers is the one I found and just read to you from Exodus, Chapter 5.

I. The National Context

What is the national context of the "big box" fight? Democrats have been the minority party in Congress since the 1994 mid-term elections. They have been fighting to regain control of Congress for 11 years - since before my special election in 1995. I have never served in a Democratically-controlled Congress.

President Bush and the Republicans won't raise the minimum wage. That's because this Republican-led Congress has been suppressing wages. Congress should raise the minimum wage, it's the right place to do it, but they won't - and, now, neither will Mayor Daley and some members of the Chicago City Council!

In response to this Republican policy and roadblock, local Democratic leaders - including the Governor of Illinois - have taken it upon themselves to raise the minimum wage. Indeed, 18 states and DC have raised the minimum wage above the federal level. The national minimum wage is $5.15/hour, but in Illinois it's $6.50 - not enough I'll admit, but they've raised it. August 20th marked 10-years since the federal minimum wage was raised. A majority of today's workers say the number one issue they face is that wages are not keeping up with the cost of living. Wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation'sgross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947!

Frozen at an unlivable $5.15/hour, the minimum wage is at the lowest buying power it has been in 51 years. According to economists at Goldman Sachs, the most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor's share of national income. Wal-Mart, America's largest employer and heralded as the corporate model for today's economy, has opposed every effort of its employees to form a union. Today's labor movement faces union-busting law firms and consulting agencies that are increasingly enlisted by union-wary employers to keep labor from organizing.

Vetoing the "big box" ordinance is the WRONG DIRECTION! Mayor Daley is participating in a "RUSH TO THE BOTTOM." He's in bed with Wal-Mart, a company that's headquartered in a "RIGHT-TO-WORK state (Arkansas) that funds anti-labor right-to-work organizations, and it's based in a region dominated by RIGHT-TO-WORK law states - the SOUTH. Fifty three percent of African Americans live in Southern Right-to-Work States. The South is the POOREST REGION of the country. Is that the direction you think Chicago should be headed - toward the poorest region of the country? Toward right-to-work laws?

Major corporations first went to the South for cheaper wages. Then they went to Mexico and overseas for cheaper wages. Now they're trying to EXPLOIT the DESPERATE and UNEMPLOYED inner-city poor and African Americans who are being forced to work for cheaper wages - or remain unemployed. It's an unfair choice - low wages or no wages, big boxes or no boxes. Today, the vast majority of union members -- 84 percent -- live in only 12 states, leaving workers with little organized power in much of the country. This week the Mayor and City Council aided and abetted the nation's slide in that dismal direction.

Just in case you think this fight is only about Chicago, "big boxes" and Wal-Mart, at the end of August, with Congress out of session, President Bush announced the recess-appointment of Paul DeCamp - a former lawyer for Wal-Mart with a long paper trail of opposition to Fair Labor Standards overtime pay and other provisions - to run the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. The National Labor Relations Board - composed of five Bush appointees - is weighing a series of cases that could make it easier for companies to declare certain workers "supervisors" and thus ineligible for union membership (such as nurses and teachers) to prevent them from forming unions. Business groups are pushing such legislation. And the Bush administration has consistently sent signals to the labor movement and workers generally that they do not have a friend in the White House. Now, with the veto of the big box ordinance, Mayor Daley and the Chicago City Council are sending the same signal.

II. GO FORTH CHICAGO - MAKE BRICKS WITHOUT STRAW

"Go now, and work; for no straw shall be given you, yet you shall deliver the same number of bricks."

Chicago is known as the "city that works." Now it's the city that works for lower wages.

"[4] But the king of Egypt said to them, `Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get to your burdens.' [5] And Pharaoh said, `Behold, the people of the land are now many and you make them rest from their burdens!"

Chicagoans value family. They're expected to raise, educate and provide for their families. But after "big box," many Chicago families and workers will be left with a huge burden - making bricks without straw. They're still expected to provide for their family and succeed. Even with low-wages jobs, what will be expected of them?

Pay your rent

Pay your mortgage

Pay your condo fee

Pay your college tuition

Pay your child's tuition

Pay your college debt

Pay your electric bill

Pay your water bill

Pay your medical bills (with no health insurance) or if you're real poor the taxpayers will pick it up under Medicaid

Pay for your groceries

Pay your car note

Pay 3 dollars a gallon to fill up your tank

Pay your gas bill

Pay your credit card bill

Pay your cab fare

Pay your bus fare

Pay your toll

Pay your property taxes

Pay sales tax

Pay for your car license

Pay your city sticker

Pay your parking tickets

Pay for your driver's license

Pay for the estate tax cuts of the super rich

Pay for the war in Iraq

Pay for the war in Afghanistan

Pay for capital gains tax breaks for Americans who don't need them

Pay for flowers on Michigan Avenue.

Pay for TIFs

Pay for Empowerment Zones

Pay for the Hired Truck scandal

Pay to tear up Meigs Field

Pay the Duffs $100 million as a "minority contractor"

Pay through the nose for O'Hare expansion

Pay to defend Jon Burge

Pay $4 million to investigate Jon Burge

Pay Jon Burge's pension

Pay for Millennium Park

Pay for Soldier Field

Pay to fight the Shakman Decree

And with what's left over . . . RAISE YOUR CHILDREN

Visit your child's teacher

Take them to church and tithe 10 percent of your income

Get them into Day Care

Begin an annuity for their college education

Buy them new clothes

Take them to a baseball or basketball game

Turn off the TV and make sure they're watching age appropriate television

Make sure their toys reflect healthy self-esteem, not just Barbie as the standard of beauty

Watch out for pedophiles

Make sure the radio reflects age appropriate lyrics

Observe their behavior to make sure family or friends do not violate them

Make sure you're home from work early so you won't have latch-key kids

And pray that no bullet enters the schoolhouse yard and finds your child

Look again at what Pharaoh says in Verse 18: " Go now, and work; for no straw [no livable wage] shall be given you, yet you shall deliver the same number of bricks."

So at less than a living wage ... Make brick without straw.

Go make a lawyer - without straw.
Go make a CPA - without straw.
Go make a medical Doctor - without straw.
Go make a minister - without straw.
Go make a congressman - without straw.
Go make a future president - without straw.
Make your child bilingual - without straw.
Make your child competitive in the global economy with China and India - without straw.
Go succeed in business - with low-wage earners as your consumers.

The community standard must never be lower than 8 hours at work, 8 hours at home, and 8 hours of sleep. Mr. Mayor, do not tell our families to increase their burden.

III. Government And Politics With Ethics

We are all involved in politics and government - whether we want to be or not. The only question is whether we are consciously or unconsciously involved. And if we are consciously involved, what is the nature of our involvement. Do we participate ethically or unethically? Are we tolerant or intolerant of those who disagree with us? Or, as a candidate, are we respectful of our opponents?

You'll recall that the central event in Exodus is that God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. They are the basis for establishing new ethical standards. Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor, in his book The Substance Of Things Hoped For, told the following story: "One of my white students entered an elevator that I was in already, and I removed my hat. `Dr. Proctor,' she said, `why in hell did you take your hat off when I got on the elevator? You're living in the Victorian age.' She laughed congenially.

"`If you'll get off the elevator with me for a moment, I'll tell you.' At my stop, we both stepped off.

"`I'm not a Victorian,' I said, `but some things stay in place from one generation to another, and certain manners stand for values that I hold dear. I believe that a society that creases to respect women is on its way out. Women bear and raise our children, they are bound to them in early infancy; they need our support and security through this process. When we forget that, the keystone of family and home is lost. When we neglect and abuse women, the family falls apart and children are less well parented, and they fill up the jails and are buried in early graves. I believe that respect for women is the linchpin of the family and the society. Therefore, when you entered the elevator, I wanted you to have automatic, immediate, unqualified assurance that if the elevator caught fire, I would help you out through the top first. If a strange man boarded and began to slap you around and tear your clothes off, he would have to kill me first. If the elevator broke down and stopped between floors, I would not leave you in here. If you fainted and slumped to the floor, I would stop everything and get you to a hospital. Now, it would take a lot of time to say all of that, so when I removed my hat, I meant all of the above'."

Conclusion

So we not only need a change in our leadership, we need a change in our politics. Democracy should be done in the right tone and in the spirit of human decency. We can differ, argue and have robust public debates on the issues, but it can be within the bounds of the law and human decency.

Someone took some "Jr" signs and plastered them all over Alderman Carother's office. He filled out a police report on vandalism - and he should have. Defacing an alderman's office is not in my spirit.

We need more than new political leaders. We need a new political climate and a new political culture.
Unless we create a new political culture, we could conceivable change mayors but "former" Mayor Daley could join Jon Burge in retirement and have influence over the city from Florida.

Democracy and strong debate on the issues must be conducted on the high plane of human decency and dignity.
Our means must be as consistent as is humanly possible with our ends.

Democracy must be done in the spirit of respect and tolerance.

That's what we need in Chicago - a new politics, a new spirit, a new respect and tolerance.

That's what I want to be a part of and that's what I want you to join.

I will not tolerate polarizing... or any supporter of mine calling the Mayor or any of my potential opponents names. They have a right to run and they have something to contribute to the betterment of our city.

I would rather lose right than win wrong.

We have the issues on our side and we are right - and that is enough!




Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.

Monday, September 18, 2006

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