G20 Pittsburgh: "Rally on the Hill"

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G20 Pittsburgh: rally on “The Hill”g20By John W. Foster, researcher at the North-South Institute

Crowded into Monumental Baptist Church, several hundred youth, community folk and activists spent three hours with Nobel Prize winner Joe Stiglitz, Steelworkers leader Leo Gerard, Washington-based Emira Woods, Enrique Daza of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, Carl Redwood Junior of the Hill District Consensus Group, Rev. John Welsh of the Pittsburgh theological school, Tammy Ban Luu of the Labour/Community Strategy Center of Los Angeles and others. On the “hill”, just down the street from the tent “village” and in one of Pittsburgh’s “no go” areas (according to our taxi driver), the atmosphere was charged with enthusiasm.

It’s impossible to convey the real content of the afternoon. In some ways, surprisingly, the New York Times Business Day (for September 23) (*) helps out, with features on U.S. labour – highlighting Leo Gerard – and on the Stiglitz-Sen panel report to Sarkozy and Co.

As Stiglitz told the crowd at Monumental: “What you measure affects what you do. If you don’t measure the right thing, you don’t do the right thing”. But the Stiglitz-Zen call to break the hobbles of GDP, was not the heart of what he had to say (in summary):

  • The 170 are not here. Yes, the G-20 is marginally better than the G-8, there’s a little more possibility of democratic accountability than before but not enough.
  • The UN panel which he headed had proposed a Global Economic council, with each member representative of a “constituency” of countries.
  • Are we over the worst? No. This is not the time to talk “exit strategy”. To recover employment we must grow at more than 3% a year, we’re not there.
  • One way to test, is to ask: are the reforms proposed at the moment the sort of thing which would have prevented this crisis? No.
  • Take the banks, for instance, those that were “too big to fail”. Has the situation changed? It’s got worse. Some of them are bigger than before. They have received most of the dollars, they’ve been rewarded not for risk management but for gambling (trading) not lending. People who managed record losses have received large bonuses. We have save bondholders and shareholders, and thus grossly distorted incentives.
  • The “prosperity” in GDP terms up to 3 years ago was a huge bubble created by financial sector. What do we have to replace it? It’s not clear. No one is really talking about effective replacement of that. And there are growing loads. Some 40% of the soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are wounded, and an ongoing and growing burden on public expenditure, for example.
  • Steven Greenhouse “With a Receptive White House, Labor Begins to Line Up Battles” and Peter S. Goodman “Emphasis on Growth is Called Misguided” both in the NYT Business Day, Wednesday, September 23, 2009

  • Climate change response is part of the solution not part of the problem, “Green Jobs” and the $200 billion per year of funds needed to respond, can be a way of rebuilding economies for a sustainable future.
  • Fresh from the UN in New York, he reported that on climate, the U.S. was the weak spot. If we can afford 1 trillion to bail out the banks and the financial sector, then we can afford effective response to climate change. Delay is extraordinarily costly.
  • We do not have the institutions required to do the job. LDCs do not have the resources to respond. We have given more power to the IMF and to the Fed, yet both failed.
  • We need to pay more attention to employment, and the ILO must have a greater role. Somavia will be inside the G-20 for the first time and will speak loudly about this.
  • The financial sector is not changing, they have 5 lobbyists for every congress person. How can we make them do what they ought to do?
  • Emira Woods joined with the crowd in enthusiastic response to Stiglitz’ remarks, saying “we are clamouring for a new wave”. She spoke about homelessness in Pittisburgh and elsewhere, about the women and children who “pay the price” for the mistakes and greed of the largely male financial powers. She called for a real change in the power dynamics and for power for the G-192.

    Carl Redwood Jr. recounted the battle of the Hill community, confronted with the city of Pittsburgh’s ramping up $750 million for a stadium and parking for the Penguins, and the effort to get a mere $10 million investment in the poor community which bordered the new development.

    Leo Gerard spoke of the global pressure to push wages down and reduce standards. Admitting his “Canadian accent” he called for a mass movement for jobs and for reforming the financial architecture.

    He estimated a total of 30 million effectively unemployed in the U.S., comparing it to the population of Canada: those looking for work, those working less than 24 hours a week involuntarily, and those who have given up (bloodlessly referred to as the reserve labour force).

    Bankers should be rewarded not with bonuses, but jail.

    The way forward is with decent green jobs, start by retooling, retrofitting every government building in America, municipal, state and federal. This really “brown” employment, but it’s a start. The U.S. workers should be producing wind turbines and solar panels, not waiting till someone else commands the market. A priority has to be investment in jobs for youth.

    International solidarity is essential. We help ourselves when we help our Mexican and other counterparts to get good jobs at decent wages.

    Gerard concluded by inviting everyone to a concert with Joan Jett and many others that evening, part of the multi-city Green Jobs campaign.
    * * *

    I hope this gives the reader a sense of the core messages. There was much more, calls for single-payer health insurance and a vision of a communitarian future breaking through the hyper-individualism and fear which dominates much of America.

    The events of the “real” G-20 continue in various neighborhoods of Pittsburgh Thursday and Friday. There is hope and vision in these various events, a vast contrast to the fear which has downtown Pittsburgh boarding up and patrolled by myriad police.