WASHINGTON - Leaders from core components of the diverse coalition that elected President Obama declared here today that "it's time for us to do it again" to win jobs and justice. They called for a revival of "progressive populism" that puts jobs at the top of the agenda.
It was a unity-in-action call to the 1,000 progressive leaders and activists gathered here on day two of the three-day 2010 America's Future NOW! conference.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, just returned from the Gulf Coast, and recalling its history of impoverished African American sharecroppers and tenant farmers, spoke of meeting with Vietnamese fishermen whose livelihoods are being ruined by the BP oil disaster. They are today's "tenant farmers on the water," he said. He also met with Black hotel workers out of work as tourism takes a hit from the spreading oil, Native Americans who have been fighting the oil industry for decades, oil workers furious at the corporations. His message was clear: the unity of interests of the diverse groups reeling in crisis today.
Janet Murguia, head of the National Council of La Raza, appealed to the progressive community to step up its involvement in the fight for comprehensive progressive immigration reform. She called immigration the "Trojan horse" for the far right on other vital issues. "The fight over immigrant rights is doing great damage to American values. Until it gets off the table" through enactment of meaningful reform, she said, "it will be a deterrent to advancing a progressive agenda. It is not an issue we should distance ourselves from."
Joblessness in the African American and Latino communities is "not just a crisis, it's a social catastrophe,"said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change. "There can be no real economic recovery unless and until we solve the unemployment crisis," he said. In such a profound crisis, Bhargava emphasized, federal government action is "the only realistic option" to create jobs that will serve community needs, restore human dignity, and spur consumer purchasing that is key to reviving the economy.
His organization has launched an online "1 Million Jobs Campaign," collecting thousands of job applications that will be delivered to members of Congress in support of the Miller-Brown Local Jobs for America bill.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka declared, "The progressive tradition in America is to build on what unites us, not be manipulated by what divides us." He issued a passionate call for political leaders who will "attack plutocracy that has run our country into the ground." We must "demand progressive populist leadership," Trumka said.
He noted that the AFL-CIO had marched in Arizona last week against the "politics of hate," but said, "It's not enough to condemn hate; we must fight for economic justice beginning with good jobs."
Trumka praised President Obama for calling jobs his number one priority, but he stressed, "We need Barack Obama to walk the walk on Capitol Hill," to push congressional action on immediate jobs bills like the Miller-Brown Local Jobs for America Act that would save or create hundreds of thousands of state and local police, firefighter and other public service jobs, and Sen. Tom Harkin's bill to save hundreds of thousands of teacher jobs that are on the chopping block. "It's time for action, not excuses," Trumka said.
He and others denounced those who "hide behind deficit reduction" as an excuse to do nothing on jobs, or to cut Social Security or Medicare.
"We do not have a short-term deficit crisis," Trumka said. "We have a short-term jobs crisis." Saving and creating jobs, he said, is the way to reduce the deficit.
Trumka spoke of the need for "foundational change." On a similar note, Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said, "If we are going to empower workers and create a new generation of jobs, we need to really get serious about undermining and eliminating the failed economic ideology" of deregulation and "more than 20 years of economic disaster." We need to "discard that failed philosophy of ‘trickle down,'" he said. "I'm tired of getting tinkled down on."
"We're in terrible trouble now," said New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. "We need extraordinary remedies."
"The system we have right now is geared toward employing as few people as possible," Herbert said.
"We better do something to confront the jobs crisis head on and soon," he said. "The stability and continued viability of the nation depend on it."
Trumka said labor is working together with others "more now than we ever have in the past."
"Labor knows none of us in the progressive community can do it alone," he said.
Jealous summed up the spirit here, telling the crowd, "We have got to get off our couches and get back to going door-to-door."