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Houston Breakthrough 1980-09
Pages 16 and 17
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Houston Breakthrough 1980-09 - Pages 16 and 17. September 1980. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. July 28, 2014. http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/6082/show/6072.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

(September 1980). Houston Breakthrough 1980-09 - Pages 16 and 17. Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/6082/show/6072

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Houston Breakthrough 1980-09 - Pages 16 and 17, September 1980, Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed July 28, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/6082/show/6072.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Houston Breakthrough 1980-09
Publisher Breakthrough Publishing Co.
Date September 1980
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women--Texas--Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
Subject.Geographic (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Genre (AAT)
  • periodicals
Language English
Physical Description 30 page periodical
Format (IMT)
  • image/jpeg
Original Item Location http://library.uh.edu/record=b2332724~S11
Digital Collection Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters
Digital Collection URL http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Repository URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/about/campus-libraries-collections/special-collections
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see the UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the “About” page of this website.
File name index.cpd
Item Description
Title Pages 16 and 17
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women--Texas--Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see the UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the “About” page of this website.
File name femin_201109_563n.jpg
Transcript "You're useless the minute you walk through the door. You become a problem of the state, an applicant for a number. DEAD ENDS Or: What's a nice high school valedictorian like me doing in the unemployment line? BY MORRIS EDELSON Breakthrough editor Morris Edelson spent some time at the Texas Employment Commission(TEC)this summer. He wasn't exactly on assignment a/though getting laid off from the New York Times had something to do with his sudden interest in the place. During his ordeal he compared the scene in the waiting room to an experience he had a few days earlier- his 25th high school reunion."All of a sudden," he says "I saw kids from my high school class, sitting around the hallowed halls of the TEC and I remembered my valedictory address to Beaumont High school's class of 1955. All of those cliches...." The Unemployment Office Seen as a High School Class Reunion Outside the Texas Employment Commission, the sun shines, wind blows, and human beings travel back and forth to work, wanted and useful. Greasy glass doors separate the employed from the unem- oyed. Inside, there's a smoke-filled waiting room packed with muscle and flesh.Prin- ted signs warning families to "keep children under control". Another prohibits food or drink, and one informs anyone who still keeps time There Will Be A Four or Five Hour Wait. An armed guard casually walks into the room from time to time . Just in case. Whole families huddle around the room faded out by a bank of fluorescent lights. Everyone waits. Maybe one of the figures that appears briefly from behind the room dividers will call your name.You hope. You look around the room. You feel like a classmate of those in line with you. Finally , you talk. There is Sid. He drove a truck in 1953 when he fought in the Legion ring as Un cle Sid, for a pocketful of change and cigarettes. He took blows to the head. He drank a lot of coffee and smoked two packs a day, he says. He tore his gauzy lungs apart, and one day collapsed on the warehouse floor and coughed himself to a V. He will never fight again, Sid. After the clerk issues you the orange card, not an identity but a petition for identity as an unemployed person, you turn to the others in the room and prepare to repeat your valedictory address. The lights fade, the clock rolls back, you adjust the tassel on your mortar board: "Beyond those doors lies a vast petrochemical empire in which for us, much is given and much required. Our country, and our time, 1955, has given us the opportunity; our schools have given us the training; and our communities have served us the challenge to be useful, needed and productive." The band prepares a reedy version of Pomp and Circumstance, the principal shifts his holster behind you, trying to spot the delinquents he will hand over to another social agency, some of them high, planning a spree in Galveston, others half asleep, digesting the pleasures of a diploma, memories of a state basketball championship, and adventures that lie ahead. There's Jimmie, who says she was 14 when she first got hooked, snorting powder soft as the pollen in her family's flower store. She would shoot up, lay down and watch the thunderclouds. She had a fancy, older dude, and one day an albino cop kicked her head against the door and drove him off. They threw her in the joint, said she was a habitual, would breed like a rat,un- load a generation of red-eyed junkies onto the welfare rolls. They snipped her tubes in the county hospital after feeding her on lobotol. She couldn't walk good after that, couldn't focus on the light so well, and took a job opening boxes and closing them again, for $1.65 an hour. A lecher with a starched shirt and clip-on tie touched her white nigger skin he called it, and she cut the man and did time and here she is. The speech continues as the class stirs. "No matter how we organize our personal existence, society is going to need our private and public contributions. We will be rewarded, by the world out there, and by the consciousness that we have done our duty. We read history by the light of lives of men and women who have achieved and maintained the inner peace and outward responsibilities, who were loyal to the best they knew, forever loyal to the royal duty they learned here—to be useful." "You're useless from the minute you walk through that Texas Employment Commission door," says Dick Krooth, political economist and author of Arms and Empire and other studies of the free market economy."You have become a problem of the state. You are an applicant for a number, want to become a statistic — a laid-off person, someone perhaps receiving unemployment assistance. But the Texas Employment Commission was not meant to serve that function, however. It exists for the sole purpose of denying that there is an unemployment problem. "The state's programs are meant to affirm that whatever joblessness there might be is "frictional" a temporary mess that grew up because people seek work inefficiently and undeterminedly." Krooth says that the state employment commission is meant to.emphasize a basic tenet of laissez-faire economics: anyone who really wants to work can have a job. "Employment is the gift of owners of business and capital," says Krooth. "They want to make more profit and continually seek ways of re-investing what they have already accumulated. So the job market, theoretically, is always growing and changing and can always use people who will grow and change with it, and who won't demand too high wages." The TEC functions as a clearing house for employers, within limits. They need 10 laborers , say, and they rely on the bureaucratic maze of the TEC to screen out the unreliable or intractable. Employment programs, however, arose from other considerations, from the struggle of workers after the Depression to have the government reduce some of the worst effects of the laissez-faire economic system. They hoped government would guarantee full employment or at least help laid-off workers find aid or new jobs. The struggle that resulted in the employment offices occurred after a decade of expansion in business which was relatively unchecked by either government regulation or resource shortage. The contradiction is that the TEC was born to protect workers and must now be an adjunct of government policies which protect big business. The TEC tries to resolve this anomaly by a slow-down in its operation and an attempt to dehumanize, discourage and dismiss its clientele, the unemployed who enter the TEC door. "What else can they do," asks Krooth, "when there are funds for only 10% of unemployment compensation claims and useful or rewarding jobs for less than half of those who need them?" The high school principal leans toward the microphone: "It's me today, and you tomorrow." Titters in the class. "Of all that I take pleasure in," he says, "the most pleasurable is the thought that someday some of you are going to be doing what I am doing now—sending people out into the world to make, and give, a living. You will be principals of a new generation, in important positions to shape and to serve the future." Kitty served the salads at the George Webb's restaurant. She had fishnet stockings crawling up her legs and a foxy beehive above a straight, slim back. She slammed lettuces on the counter and plucked out their shuddering hearts, carved radish roses in six slices. She worked the night shift for six years and lived to tell. It was no joke. People gave birth in the telephone booth and dropped dead at the counter over porcelain mugs. Kids grabbed at the tip money in her blouse pockets, winos fumbled with her apron strings and slobbered invitations to her to share their rooms. She got fired the night she slammed a ham sandwich into someone's face. That same night the cook went whacky with whiskey and a meat cleaver and went after the manager near the noodle machine. They crashed into it, fighting, and it belched pasta shells all over the floor, until the Sicilians diverted the cook into the vegetable cooler and Kitty ran out, pursued by Mob curses and the sounds of Cooky barging around among the avocadoes. Dr. Krooth continues: "The middle class is brought up on the idea that it will rise into management and ownership if it works hard and keeps hustling.If we remain faithful, we achieve the freedom of real wealth, something that can't be taken away when we miss a monthly payment. But the facts 'show otherwise: most people don't rise above their economic class. Many fall below it. Our loyalty and energy no longer can be thought of as investments in a paternal feudal scheme, where Massa will take care of the old and sick darkies and Mrs. Massa visit us with Christmas baskets. The modern employer recognizes only the cash thread that ties him ever so delicately to us. "Owners now pay a small fee or tax to other members of our class who teach us to read and write and be a skflled employee, to worry and pay for our own health and safety. The owner pays us as little as he can, pays those who train us as little as possible, and we can take it or leave it, that is, starve if we won't work for whatever the job pays and however they tell us to do it." A bored TEC counselor is thinking of the freeways and explaining how workers are "disappeared Unemployed means, officially, looking actively for a job. To us that is indicated by an applicant's continuous registration with our office and following up every lead and interview we arrange for the person."Any failure to show up, any break in response, any refusal to travel out anywhere to job interviews means being dropped from the files. The TEC turns the light of its countenance away from anyone who does not follow up an initial claim within 12 days, who works ini another stop-gap job, who accepts as little as 4 hours of contract or hourly wage labor. "Not unemployed" status, losing any chance of compensation, does not equal "employed" for the TEC, a state in which the worker is accumulating new benefits — many employers can avoid compensation programs altogether. Travis Trevelund, a statistician with the TEC, admits that less than 5% of the unemployment compensation claimants among Houston's officially-unemployed army of 120,000 (as of July 1980) will draw more than three months of aid. "But it's not so bad in Texas, "says Treveland." Only a few people are feeling the pinch. Unemployment rates have risen, yes, but to a new stable plateau, in the 5s, state-wide. Seasonally adjusted—exclusive of all school-age job seekers who probably just want summer holiday work—unemployment in July was 5.5% for Houston, 4% in Austin, 8 or 9 in San Antonio, and 11% in The Valley. Texas, as usual, has entered the recession later and proabbly will pull out later than the rest of the country." Here's Helen. She drove her coughing Chrysler 40 miles a day and packed a full lunch, three sandwiches and fruit. On her morning break she would eat one sandwich and save two for lunch, wash the white bread down her throat with coffee from her plastic cup, then pull up her chair and make her quota. She has quick hands, a muscle in her neck that quivers every time she stretches out her arm. She has a keen mind. She would see men heading for the golf course when she went to work at dawn and would hit the southbound freeway for home when the buzzer tore through the oily machine shop air in the afternoon. She did 70 when she could, smoked a Kool when the traffic stopped, and says, "Mens—they ain't a good one in the lot." She travelled 200 miles a week to shovel bits of this and that along an automatic conveyor belt, while the 18 holes were played. Helen has a handshake that hurts your fingers, and laughs a laugh that slides like honey off her broad tongue, sweetening the slumber of the TEC crowd. She even laughed on the freeway when fumes made everything go wavy and the commuters honked. She would feel sick and run her wrist across her eyes, then push the pedal to the floor and ride the oil waves home. "No, the recession isn't bad," Krooth says, "if you only report unemployment figures for middle-class white males." He claims that that js what the Department of Labor statistics do— "Unemployment rates in the ghetto run over 20%, and the migration out of the Midwest and Northeast unemployment pockets is as large as the flight from the Dust Bowl in the 30s." The middle class also faces the problem of unemployment directly or indirectly, he explains, "because since business cannot continue to sell products on our saturated markets and lays off the blue collar workers who produce those products, the middle class managers* costs also rise. More social costs must be paid by fewer people. Either the unemployed have to be locked up, relocated, or restrained to get back to work-all this costs money. The poor steal not to starve-and even killing them will cost the middle class. Killing them indirectly,.starting a war, which seems to be the way things Waiting for a job. are drifting now, is costly ,too, and dangerous. Someone has slashed the tires of a middle class white man whom they judged rather out of place at the TEC. Another student-looking youth rushes in crying aloud that someone has just stolen his $500 bicycle locked just outside the greasy doors. The guard slaps leather and runs across the floor, people stir in their slumbering poses, the next name called is given an angry emphasis. People leave, and the heat seeps in. Some orange cards climb to the second floor where lists of minimum wage jobs are listed on scratchy microfiche, others are passed from box to box, across the building.The winds of economy scatter the papers like leaves. Through the motes of the afternoon a tall, slender employment counselor, the manager of the office performs his daily adagio, The Collection of the Pencils. (Like the Czar's fatal error in Siberia, the possibly subversive literacy represented by these pencils seems to escape the auth- orities.They are used by all applicants, those who understand English, to fill out several forms which are thrown together at the end of the day.) He has the skill, collecting, of an experienced waiter. He never touches anyone slumped at the tables, and he smiles pleasantly but unin- vitingly as he plucks each desk deftly clean. The box in his one hand, slowly filling with the neat and uniform wooden wands, could be a shallow vase, he and the reclining room all decorations on a Grecian urn, forever frozen in our condition. He has passed among the class of'55, reunited for its 25th graduation anniversary. They sit over dinner; they have eaten too much; it was hard for them to stand to sing the old school song. The principal is handing out comic prizes as he once distributed commencement diplomas; people laugh with commonsen- sical comp acency. "Now here's one for the baldest man- will'Red' Davis please come up and get his hairbrush?" "And here's a prize for the woman who has been divorced the longest, a guide to Car- ribean resorts for Dr. Carol Hipley!" There is a diploma for the person with the most grandchildren, for the grocery executive from Connecticut who travelled farthest to get to the party, a chicken ("pullet surprise") for the class writer... laughter and satisfaction grow thick as the humid air in the night outside. Don't worry, we are all together, nothing will change- the Economic Being holds the whole world in those Invisible Hands of the marketplace. Miss Emma told us so, and we thought of those strong and beautiful praying hands in her afternoon economics classes. "The wide range of lower to upper- middle-class people are really living on the brink," says Jane Ford, a lawyer specializing in bankruptcy and Chapter 13 slowed pace repayment cases. "A well-off person who might get sick, or lose a job for a while, can just get behind and never catch up again. If something increases their expenses just slightly it can have a disastrous effect - it can be a strike, a pregnancy, an illness in the family, maybe just no more overtime- and they come to see us, or land in bankruptcy court. "One of the bankruptcy court trustees was telling me," Ford continues/'that last year only a few hundred people in the whole Gulf Court district had filed for Chapter 13 financial aid- and this year we already had more than 2,000 cases by August. It's not irresponsible people. It's people who are desperate to pay their bills, but they can't afford to pay. Some of them have $700 a month house notes, others are addicted to credit cards- it's like a sophisticated company store set up where you get paid in scrip, people are absolutely hooked on those cards. They need a specialist for help. You see alot of that, too." "Well, at least no one looks like they need help," Marilyn Biggers, who organized the class reunion, is saying/'Beverly looks like she has been sick, and we almost lost Gene last year, but on the whole I think 1955 was a really good year , wasn't it? We have a history teacher at Baylor University, the manager of KLBJ radio station, people on the Cultural Arts Council, a guy who owned Liberty Hall, the architect who built the city library, mostly professional people... though some of us aren't school girls any more!" And she laughs and gestures slightly to her ample frame. And the laughter fades and changes, and the people grow quiet as the principal mentions a few people, former teachers, who are missing this part due to a prior engagement with mortality. The coach who took our team, the Cinderella Midgets, the papers called them, to the state championships in basketball. He and all of us had heart- that was our finest hour, the principal says. He recalls Miss Emma, and her thimble, thumping on the blackboard charts of supply and demand and occasionally on a student's head. He reminds us that the school itself has changed, and gone, the place we once knew, because of bussing- couples no longer stroll past the trophy case to marvel at the accomplishments of Babe Zah- arias, nor do they seek out stolen moments backstage in the auditorium or at the drive-in. But the old ideas remain true, he says. That kept us going, and winning, didn't it? Here's testimony - a letter from a missionary from our class who remembers us in Latin America, a telegram from Scotland, where a schoolteacher thanks the class for her remembered good times, a phone call from the shyest girl of 1955 now an executive in New York.The class of 1955 lurches to its feet in earnest this time and the principal leads us again into the war song:"Grand old team are we... and and we'll fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, and win victory." Out into the steaming night, past the greasy-glass doors, our class is marching on, and on. sity of Houston Economics Department, does not agree with DuBoff. Business principles, if not business itself, could save the economy. The basic principle to keep in mind, he says, is that there is no free lunch any more. Smith says he was a hawk during the Vietnam War. He thought it might have ended faster with more decisive action by U.S. forces. But he admits now that he, like many other Americans, didn't understand clearly the guns-or-butter choice: LBJ's sleight of hand, deficit financing, made fools of us all. "If we had had to to pay as we went for that war, right then," Smith says, "I think businessmen would have been right out there in the protest marches, too. We only imagined that the war didn't cost us anything— now we understand its cost." Washington is, however, still trying to put wool over our eyes: "We have to get away from that free lunch myth. We should see what they won't say-that MX missile means a rise in our taxes. We must see that. You and I have to live within a budget constraint. So why doesn't Washington?" Smith explained that Reagan is promising a balanced budget, just as Carter did once, but his campaign promises are mutually exclusive: the tax cut, a balanced budget, and a big increase in military spending. Smith would prefer to have the balanced budget and then a choice between the tax cut and increased spending for arms. But we need to see through the talk: "You have to ask yourself what would he really do in office; what are Reagan's unannounced priorities. Or you can tell yourself that you are voting not for him but for his advisors and just not listen to his three promises." Smith is not one to lay the blame for the current economic mess on the average consumer, either. We can as well bite bubblegum as the famous bullet. During a local radio show, when a caller asked him what the average person should do during times of an 18% inflation rate, the audience settled back for another of those rousing sermons on how people should tighten their belts, etc. Guilt-trip, USA. "I knocked them off their stools in the radio station," recalls Smith, "when I said that what the average person should do in the present times was get out there and spend. Spend! It, whatever "it" is, will cost 20% more next year. Why save; why put your money in a savings account and get 6-7% interest? Are you saving for your retirement? If we continue as at present, most people's retirement funds will be wiped out anyway, within the decade. Lots of people face that situation already." Even if it came from classical economics, the Federal Reserve Bank's answer to inflation isn't working, Smith feels. Ir the old monetarist texts of Milton Friedman what you do when prices rise and productivity and savings fall is simple: make money tight. Raise interest rates. By law you have made money scarce, more expensive to use. Then people work harder to get their share of it. They save it more, spend it less. Business cannot raise prices, because buyers' resistance to increases is high. (n this monetarist scheme, people become more serious when money is tight. Everyone watches costs more. Prices stabilize. The Astros win the pennant. As money gets tighter, businesses, selling less, are bound to lay off a few workers, a few million of them. Good, says Friedman, because companies can cut wages, save more money, make people work harder still. There is more braking of the economy, and downward pressure on prices with less demand. High Primes and Misdemeanors The monetarist brake on the economy is nearly as shoeless as some laid-off 16 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH SEPTEMBER