By Richard L. Trumka, President, The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations
Our economy is still not working for all: 9.7% unemployment, 17% under-employment, 26% teen unemployment, and an astonishing 38% unemployment among African-American teens.
While President Obama’s recovery plan did a lot of good, it was underpowered compared with the strength of President Bush’s economic catastrophe. So now we face long-term mass unemployment if our government does not act, and act boldly.
Americans of all political persuasions are angry, and rightly so. We need political leaders to speak to that anger, to harness it to attack the plutocracy that has run our country into the ground, to build an economy that works for all.
We have to demand progressive populist leadership – Now.
The labor movement — and the broad progressive community — have to hold the political leaders we elected accountable for strong action on the economy. Progressives have to demand that our elected leaders fight for economic justice. And economic justice begins with good jobs. We need political leadership that talks about creating jobs, fights to create jobs, and then talks about creating jobs again. We need to do more – not less – to create jobs and bolster the economy, and Wall Street should pay to create the jobs.
Speaker Pelosi and the House leadership fought courageously for a real jobs bill before the Memorial Day recess. But the House could only pass a shamefully weakened version of this bill. Even so, the House bill extended unemployment insurance, funded summer jobs and infrastructure, and closed the hedge fund and leveraged buyout tax loophole.
The Senate must take up that bill and make it real by restoring health care for the unemployed and aid to our states and cities — and then pass it. The attempt to strip away the COBRA subsidy is something that all unemployed workers and their advocates should be worried about — it signals the beginning of the erosion of support for those who are unemployed through no fault of their own. Today it is COBRA on the chopping block, but tomorrow, it could well be unemployment benefits.
Senator Harkin has a bill that would provide aid to the states to keep more than 300,000 teachers from being laid off. Those layoffs would undermine any hopes for our fragile recovery.
Congressman George Miller and Senator Sherrod Brown have a bill that would create more than a million good new jobs, with labor rights protections — jobs targeted at the communities across our country hardest hit by Wall Street’s economic crisis. They propose to pay for it by an increase in the income tax on people who make more than $10 million a year. This is the kind of leadership we need to see from Congress.
President Obama said last week that getting Americans back to work is his top priority. He has a vision for our future — the right vision for America. This is a future worth fighting and campaigning for. Now we need President Obama to walk the walk — to Capitol Hill. We need his help because up on Capitol Hill, there are a handful of Democrats who are afraid to do what’s right for America.
Their fears of federal budget deficits are misguided. Saving and creating jobs is a path to reducing the deficit. Doing nothing is not an option. Now is exactly the right time for action. But the truth is that it’s always the same people on the Hill who stand in the way — they stood in the way of real health care reform, they stood in the way of financial reform and now they are standing between our country and our economic future.
Now that Congress is back, it’s time to let the American people know where our leaders stand on the most crucial issue of our time — good jobs in America. And it’s time for action, not excuses.