Jobs for workers come first

Just days after the Communications Workers of America put forward a comprehensive economic recovery plan for Main Street, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke told Congress Oct. 20 that despite government efforts thus far, the economy remains in deep trouble.

He told lawmakers that the economy will “likely be weak for several quarters, with risk of a protracted slowdown.” Main Street, thus far left out of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, lost 175,000 jobs in September alone and almost 1 million since January.

The CWA recovery plan, unveiled Oct. 15, includes passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, comprehensive universal health care, a systematic approach to long-range investment in job-creating infrastructure, and creation of universal broadband and Internet coverage in America.

The union’s proposal came as Democratic congressional leaders, faced with continuing disastrous economic news, laid plans to call lawmakers back on Nov. 17 to pass a $150 billion economic stimulus package. The CWA proposal also came as it released an “Are We Better Off than We Were Eight Years Ago?” political campaign pamphlet which it is distributing in key swing states.

Congressional Democrats want the economic stimulus package to include extended unemployment benefits, infrastructure projects and aid to states to help pay for Medicaid and other costs resulting from the spiraling unemployment rate. The contours of the package were hammered out at a joint meeting of the Democratic leadership and top union leaders earlier this year after the first stimulus package was passed. However, a Senate GOP filibuster blocked it and President Bush threatened a veto.

House Republicans on Oct. 20 said again they will oppose the new package. They called instead for speeding up offshore oil drilling, lowering taxes on corporations that earn money from overseas subsidiaries, and suspending capital gains taxes.

CWA President Larry Cohen said the Democratic congressional plan is much closer to what an economic stimulus package should be, “but while the stimulus would be immediate, the union’s plan is more long-term. It helps workers get jobs.”

“We’ve seen an enormous handout for Wall Street, now we need real attention to Main Street,” Cohen said. “That means the creation of quality jobs by developing alternate energy sources, necessary repair to our highways, bridges, schools and communities and especially important, investment in the global economic engine for the 21st century, the build-out of high speed Internet networks.”

“Jobs for workers come first,” Cohen told the World in an Oct. 20 telephone interview, “before lawmakers grant any further bailouts to Wall Street or breaks to corporations that outsource jobs.”

He said health care reform is needed because the present system leaves 46 million uninsured and the number grows even as workers switch jobs. He said universal health care is also needed because employers who do provide quality health care are left at a competitive disadvantage with those, “like Wal-Mart, who don’t.”

Asked why the Employee Free Choice Act is critical to economic recovery, Cohen said, “It would not only help level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing drives and at the bargaining table but it is essential if there is to be a counterweight to corporate greed. It also gives workers the bargaining power they need to restore their standard of living which eroded under Bush, and is even more endangered now with the financial crush. Real bargaining rights are the best economic stimulus for restoring our middle class.”

Under pressure from an angry working class and its unions, John McCain has increasingly tried in his campaign to portray the GOP, because of its tax policy, as the true friend of the middle class. His recent dialogue with the so-called Joe the Plumber is one example.

McCain campaign efforts in that regard, however, may be backfiring. With the help of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 440 in Indiana, which is now a battleground state, the World contacted a real “Joe the Plumber.”

“I heard his plan about health care, where McCain wants to tax our benefits,” said Joe Gutzwiller, a licensed plumber in Indianapolis. “Who is he trying to kid? He wants to tax our benefits and he’s all for the big corporations. He would leave all of us middle-class people entirely out of the picture. Obama is trying to give the middle class a tax break and that will help stimulate the economy.”

jwojcik@pww.org