ST. LOUIS – Over 1,000 trade unionists, community activists, youth and students here kicked off the AFL-CIO’s “Show Us the Jobs” bus tour March 24. During the eight-day tour, 51 riders – laid off or fired workers, workers unable to find new jobs, or workers who have found new jobs, but at substandard wages – will focus attention on the largest job loss in recent U.S. history and the Bush administration’s attacks on working families and overtime pay.

The bus tour will visit 18 Midwest cities in eight states, but the issues that the bus riders talked about at the rally here impact the whole nation. Each rider spoke briefly about their situation.

Kevin, from Minnesota, used to work in a paper mill. He said it laid off 1,241 employees, including him, and that he was “forced to sell his 401(k) plan” just to keep a roof over his head. Lara, from New York, just graduated from law school, but has taken a job at a deli for $6 an hour. She said, “We have to take our country back.”

Linda, from Nevada, said, “I’ve been unemployed for nine months. There are no good jobs to be found.” Scott, from Montana, said he has to struggle to take care of his 9-year-old child. Sharon, from Ohio, spoke about good-paying union jobs being sent to other countries. John, from Illinois, was laid off 14 months ago. He said, “No one is safe in this economy.” And Gloria, from New Mexico, said, “America needs a change.”

“I wish I could tell you these are 51 isolated individuals,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “This is the first administration in 70 years to end its term with more people out of work than when it began.”

“These people represent the real story of this country,” an AFL-CIO spokesperson said. “Something has gone terribly wrong.”

Leon Arties, from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, told the World, “President Bush is trying to confuse voters. He talks about the economy getting better. Better for who? A person who used to make $17, $18, $20 an hour can’t get by on minimum wage. But those are the only jobs being created.” Arties added, “Bush’s attacks on working families are anti-American.”

Mike Frame, political director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 Missouri Division, told the World, “The people of St. Louis showed that they are no longer willing to put up with the Bush administration’s policy of denying overtime, collective bargaining, and health care benefits to workers.”

Sweeney ended the rally with the following: “We deserve good jobs that provide living wages and health care. We deserve national leaders who do not sell our jobs to the highest bidder. We are going to deliver the message ‘Show us the jobs!’”

The author can be reached at tonypec@pww.org.

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