Friday, December 23, 2011

Press Release on Black Unemployment

Press Release: African Criminology and Justice Association Policy Proposal on Black Unemployment

The unemployment rate for African Americans (16.7%) has been reported to be at its highest level since 1984.[i] At nearly double the national average (9.1%) or over double the rate for white Americans (8%), the members of the African Criminology and Justice Association, meeting in Washington DC, November 2011, hereby vote to propose feasible policies for the elimination of such a scandalous level of unemployment among African Americans in particular and Africans in general who were always at the receiving end of hardship even in 1984 when unemployment was lower than it is today.

Source: Wall Street Journal, September 12, 2011.

We disagree with the rightwing proposal of Mr. Arthur Laffer, chairman of Laffer Associates, who is co-author, with Stephen Moore, of "Return to Prosperity: How America Can Regain Its Economic Superpower Status" (Threshold, 2010).[ii] In an opinion editorial article published in The Wall Street Journal of September 12, 2011, Mr. Laffer called for the creation of ‘Enterprize Zones’ in the inner cities where a) There should be zero payroll tax on employers employing people who live in the inner city zone; b) The minimum wage legislation would be suspended; c) Building codes in the zone should be audited quickly with the view not to constrain entrepreneurs and union membership requirements should be suspended; and d) Profits from the zone should be taxed at one-third the normal tax rate.

Such a policy of sweat-shop zones in American inner cities would make matters worse by turning our fellow citizens into working poor who would be trapped in unsafe working conditions with less than minimum wages while corporate fat cats would enjoy tax holidays. Mr. Laffer’s ludicrous suggestions would only take African Americans back to the years of share-cropping with all the attendant oppression, exploitation and impunity. There must be a better way for African Americans and indeed for all people of African descent.

First of all, we call on President Obama and all the presidents of African countries to look beyond the Jobs Bill and consider an entrepreneurship bill for African Americans and all Africans. Obama needs to set aside at least $50 billion from the proposed Jobs Bill (estimated at $470b) to be disbursed to unemployed Americans to enable them to set up their own small and medium businesses. The same way that the government gives out huge grants as agricultural subsidies and business start-ups for the richest one per cent, we call on the government to initiate enterprise subsidies for the urban poor. 

We commend the governor of Anambra State in Nigeria, Mr. Peter Obi, for disbursing one hundred million naira to a thousand unemployed youth after their training to help them to be self-employed. We urge him to make this an annual part of the budget and not a one off and to increase the size of the checks given to some to enable them to become medium to large-scale entrepreneurs. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State in Nigeria has also implemented a similar grants program worth about fifty million naira while the federal government announced that it has fifty billion naira set aside for similar purposes. 

We condemn the plan of Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich to turn poor inner city school children into janitors and toilet cleaners for their schools in the guise of training them as apprentices on the assumption that poor children have no work ethics even though poor people are the hardest working people.

The entrepreneurship policy we advocate will work as follows: select 1000 unemployed citizens from each state and send them to be trained as apprentices by successful businesses. On completion of the short apprenticeship, award each of them one million dollars to set up their own enterprises. If each of them goes on to employ 100 people, that will be 5,000,000 new jobs every year! Repeat this every year and we will be creating millions of jobs every decade while making sure that the wealth created will stay in our communities to help transform the urban neighborhoods into zones of prosperity. The Hip Hop generation has been telling us that they are not into seeking jobs to work for Massa anymore, they want to be their own bosses and our simple and practical proposal will help to do this quickly and save the economy too. The government already does this to bail out Wall Street, it is time to bail out the street corner too.

We support the current Occupy Movement that is sweeping across the world but we go beyond the call to occupy Wall Street and to occupy cities to call for the occupation of the prison industrial complex. The excessive incarceration of African Americans and other minorities is helping to fuel to job crisis because corporations that rely on prison labor would be unlikely to hire free labor until we end the inhumanity of what Michelle Alexander[iii] aptly dubbed The New Jim Crow and free the captives from the unjust drug wars, decriminalize all drugs and restore the voting rights of all felons.
Across Africa, unemployed youth are increasingly being drawn into violent armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom gangs. We believe that have every African state implement our entrepreneurship policy proposal would result in massive wealth creation and possible reduction of street violence across Africa. Every industrialized country gives out massive grants to spur entrepreneurship while African countries neglect the creative talents that abound in Africa and only call on developed countries to end subsidies to their own entrepreneurs.

With the decriminalization of drugs and the ending of the war against African Americans in the guise of the war on drugs, as we have called for in a previous Press Release, many of the youth who may not get grants to start their own businesses could grow their own marijuana and sell them legally to medical patients and recreational users alike, pay taxes on their sales, create jobs that will pay well and end the ‘homey-cidal’ violence that is associated with the war on drugs. We can rely on education to get our fellow citizens to say no to drugs the same way we do with more dangerous drugs like alcohol and tobacco which kill more people than all the illicit drugs put together.[iv]

[i] ‘Black unemployment at highest level in 27-years’ Chicago Tribune, September 2, 2011.

[ii] Arthur, Laffer, ‘How to Fight Black Unemployment: The tragedy of the failed stimulus is felt hard in minority communities. There's a better way.’ Wall Street Journal, September 12, 2011.

[iii] Alexander, M. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, New York, New Press, 2010.

[iv] Rieman, J. (1979). The Rich Get Rich and The Poor Get Poorer. New York: Wiley.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


            As the members of the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) embark on another indefinite strike in December 2011, I re-circulate this opinion that I published in The Guardian on Monday, November 02, 2009, during the previous ASUU strike.

   ASUU and the Crisis of Hegemony
By Biko Agozino
   I SALUTE the courageous members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria for leading the struggle to improve higher education in the country. No other civic organization could lay claim to more dedication, more sacrifice and more achievement in making university education better in Nigeria than the great ASUU. The recent three month-long strike is another reminder that ASUU members are willing to sacrifice their own comfort for the patriotic goal of advancing higher education to a level comparable in the international community. As a former member of ASUU and a passionate supporter of all the actions taken by the union, I send solidarity greetings.
   Having said that, I must submit that the time has come for us to review the permanent revolution strategy of ASUU and see if the mode of protest has   outstripped the means of protest and what needs to be done. The preferred means of protest by ASUU is the declaration of indefinite strikes. If we look around the world, it is clear that this means of protest is no longer as popular as it once seemed in the 20th century. Indefinite strikes by university teachers are almost unheard of in a modern university where the mode of struggle is predominantly intellectual and moral for obvious reasons.

If the universities in Nigeria are nowhere in the ranking of the top 1,000 universities in the world, it may not be simply because of inadequate funding but also because for large chunks of the academic year, university academic staff are on strike for legitimate reasons when they could be contributing scholarly growth that would propel our institutions into the list of some of the best in the world.
   I am uncomfortable with the strategy of the indefinite strike because it leaves our students vulnerable to manipulation and NANS threatened to dramatize such vulnerability with a planned naked protest of 700,000 students in the federal capital territory, Abuja. Since students have always predominantly sided with ASUU in its disputes with the government, we need to review the dominant strategy of ASUU to avoid handicapping students in such disputes.
Besides the vulnerability of students, indefinite strikes leave our courageous intellectuals over-exposed as eminent professors moonlight in demeaning ways just to put food on the table of their frustrated families. I am sure that great ASUU members do not mind such huge sacrifices but are there alternatives that could prevent such indignities? For instance, ASUU could launch campaigns for the recall of failing politicians who are sabotaging education policies and raise voluntary contributions to support the campaigns of any politicians who would support education as is the case in many advanced countries.
   The privileging of indefinite strikes appears to come out of the books of what Gramsci described as the 'war of the maneuvers' which was how battles were fought in the olden days with each side lined up and with victory coming in a flash as a result of the breach of the defences of one side. Due to changes in the means of warfare and the mode of warfare which Gramsci used as metaphors for changes in political struggles generally, strategies changed to the war of positions or the war of the trenches with the awareness that, for politics, the trenches encompass the whole of civil society and therefore the fronts are everywhere and not at this fortress or that.
   There are many scandals in Nigerian higher education but the fact that university teachers are forced to abandon their duties indefinitely from time to time is a huge scandal that is making the great ASUU lose the struggle over hegemony with the government. The university intellectuals should reconsider this worn-out strategy and rely more on intellectual and moral leadership because such hegemonic tactics appear to be more successful when adopted in any struggle than the strategy of militancy and force. Lenin was credited with fashioning this strategy when it became obvious that Russian workers were too few to win the support of the peasant majority by force. He strategized that the workers would only win the loyalty of other exploited classes by offering them intellectual and moral leadership.
   Gramsci has been credited with extending this analysis to the ruling class since the ruling class in a capitalist society is also too few in number to rule by force alone. They have to dominate by offering intellectual and moral leadership to the dominated classes in order to win over their coerced consent. Force is never absent from the strategies of the ruling class but the reliance on the consent of the ruled is more effective than domination by force and whenever the dominant group resorts to force, it is proof that the hegemony of the group is in crisis. For people under domination, moral and intellectual leadership would be more effective than militant confrontations, Gramsci suggested in his Prison Notebooks.
   It may be argued that Gramsci is not relevant to Nigeria because he was theorizing conditions in advanced democratic societies where class struggles were the dominant concerns in the consciousness of the people (although Gramsci underestimated the importance of white supremacy or racism and patriarchy or sexism, his brief commentary on 'The war in the colonies', not withstanding) whereas Nigeria remains a society that is mired in ethnic and religious loyalties and crass opportunism. This may be why Nigerian University workers believe that the only language the country's rulers understand is force. However, Nigeria is not the only underdeveloped country in the world but we appear to be the only one where intellectual professionalism has sunk so low that many believe that the only way to correct the situation is to close the universities for five years and set up a commission of enquiry to find out what is wrong.
The law guarantees the rights of university workers to go on strike but next time, please make it a one or two day strike (not just as the so-called warning strikes) and return to the classroom to allow mediation and negotiation to continue while the intellectuals continue doing the great job that they love doing as best they could. Not even the general strike of the 1940s led by the great Michael Imoudu lasted for three months despite the fact that the struggle for the restoration of independence was more crucial than any of the demands of ASUU today.
   The tendency to abandon duties for months on end, no matter how justified the reasons and no matter how glorious the outcomes, must be ended because it is making us the laughing stock of the global intellectual community while giving employers the opportunity to declare victory over syndicalism. I salute ASUU but I am reluctant to support another indefinite strike in our crisis-ridden university system. So I hope that the end of the strike will translate into an enduring decorum suitable for intellectual pursuits.

As our high schools record massive failures, the lecturers have their tough task mapped out for them and so no more distraction as these patriots go about trying to raise another Achebe, Soyinka, Nwapa, Awojobi, Chike Obi, Bala Muhammed, or Ransome-Kuti from the debris of ruined opportunities. For instance, ASUU could launch a new course, 'Study Skills for High School Students', similar to General Studies in the universities to prepare more of the students for success before admission as part of the solution to the falling standards.
   Of course, the government could easily prevent another strike by granting the very basic demands of ASUU following agreements reached in the past but not fully implemented. The government should take the new agreements seriously and adhere to them. The government should even go beyond those basic demands and surprise everyone by investing heavily in education at all levels by, for example, recruiting unemployed graduates and deploying them as mass education teachers to eradicate illiteracy within four years the way that Cuba did. Increasing the funding for education four-fold would make ASUU smile and rule out any more hurtful indefinite strikes.
   Dr. Agozino is Professor of Sociology and Director of Africana Studies Program, Virginia Tech. United States