Why did thousands of workers march on the Republican National Convention in New York City, Sept. 1? Are they just whiny “girlie men,” the offensive term used so contemptuously by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his convention remarks?

Ask veteran steelworker Jeff Swinderman, member of United Steelworkers of America Local 1200 in Canton, Ohio, who found out he lost

his medical coverage the minute the mill closed. On his last day of work, Swinderman came home and took his 15-year-old son to the doctor. They had to leave because the company had canceled his health insurance. His buddy, Mike Paige of the same local union, put it this way in August, “I thought we’d be taken care of, even if they [Republic Technologies Inc.] went down. It makes you lose faith in the country.”

In an “unemployment line” that stretched for three miles, from Wall Street to Madison Square Garden, site of the GOP convention, 5,000 workers delivered pink slips to George Bush. A mass labor rally later in the day, after the World went to press, was expected to draw tens of thousands.

Ann Gaughan of Salisbury, Maine, was on the “unemployment line.” She told the World that she did not vote in the last two presidential elections but registered this year. “I am voting this year because he [Bush] scares me.”

“I’ve been unemployed before,” Gary Goff, a data processor, told reporters. “I’m concerned that unemployment is going up so drastically under the Bush administration. I think Bush is a disaster for working people.”

The U.S. Census Bureau’s annual poverty report, released Aug. 26, confirmed that since George W. Bush took office, the rich have been getting richer and poverty is growing. The number of Americans living in poverty rose 1.3 million last year, while the uninsured rose by 1.4 million, the report said. This was the third straight yearly increase for both categories. The increase was most severe among children under 18.

The Economic Policy Institute outlined the devastating impact of the Bush administration’s ‘profits, yes — workers, no’ policies, in an Aug. 31 press teleconference. The EPI will issue its twice-a-year report, “The State of Working America,” on Sept. 5 (online at epinet.org).

EPI economists say median income for working families has been on a downward spiral since 2000. Working families’ income has declined by $1,535 over the last three years.

Lower-wage workers took the biggest hit, with an additional 4.3 million working families living below the federal poverty line in 2003.

Corporate institutional racism in the workplace and in hiring practices resulted in African-American working families losing 6.3 percent of their paychecks and Hispanic families losing 6.9 percent.

At the same time, according to the Institute, corporate profits have continued to skyrocket in the wake of the Bush tax cuts, privatization of government services, corporate “just in time” workforce practices, the growing ranks of temporary workers, the Republicans’ repeated blocking of a minimum wage increase, out-of-control health care costs and a reduction of hours for lower-wage workers.

While the consequences of the global economy, outsourcing and job exports, are not yet clear, EPI economist Sylvia Allegretto noted the “genuine fear” of job loss including among white-collar workers.

Her colleague Jared Bernstein said Bush administration policies have produced a situation similar to the 1920s, on the eve of the Great Depression. The current “recovery” has an uncharacteristic imbalance,” he said. “It is an inverse situation where 80 percent of the country’s wealth is flowing back to capital [corporations and banks] and only 20 percent can be measured as compensation, wages, benefits and services for the people. Economic growth goes somewhere and it is going to profits, not compensation.”

Allegretto said the growth in poverty spells trouble for the U.S. economy, in which 66 percent of gross domestic product is consumer spending. The deepening poverty for working families means declining consumer spending. While reliance on credit cards has blunted the hardball smack of shrinking paychecks, economists say that cushion is nearing an end, as consumer debt mounts.

“After three years into a recovery, the economy is on the wrong track,” said EPI director Lawrence Mishel. “Wages are getting battered. It is every region of the country. No state has achieved job growth.”

“You can spin it anyway you want, but facts are facts,” said Jared Bernstein.

The EPI identifies three key pieces for a plan to revive the lives of working families: promote unions, raise the minimum wage, and install a less regressive tax policy that taxes the rich. Decreasing the deficit, lowering health care costs, and reducing the tax cuts Bush handed to corporations and the super-rich, would contribute to a recovery for working families, Mishel said.

The author can be reached at dwinebr696@aol.com. José A. Cruz contributed to this story.

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