WASHINGTON – About 1,000 Machinist union members marched from Capitol Hill to a rally near the White House May 12 to demand jobs with benefits and to cheer calls for the ouster of George W. Bush Nov. 2.
The workers holding placards that proclaimed “Jobs Worth Fighting For” blew whistles and chanted, “We want jobs,” as they marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. Many were in Washington for the annual “Transportation Day of Action” to protest Bush administration policies hostile to railroad and airline workers.
Through outsourcing of aircraft manufacturing and other steps to export jobs, the International Association of Machinists has lost 90,000 members since Bush took office, said Joe Tiberi, spokesperson for the IAM. “What we need is jobs,” he told the World by phone. “We have endorsed Sen. John Kerry for president. We are urging our people to get involved, to support candidates at the local, state and federal level that talk about and act on issues that benefit the average working person, job creation and preservation, affordable health care, preserving our retirement benefits.”
Tom Buffenbarger, president of the 384,000-member IAM, said the only way to break the cycle of union busting and labor bashing is to oust Bush on Nov. 2. “We’ve got to take our country back,” he said as the crowd cheered.
George W. Bush’s drive to block a bill providing 13 weeks of extended unemployment compensation for the long-term unemployed revealed just how low the Republicans will stoop in shafting jobless workers. That measure was introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who pointed out that 90,000 workers every week are exhausting their unemployment benefits without finding a new job. Because it would have exceeded the federal budget ceiling, it required a super-majority of 60 senators for approval.
The measure failed by one vote. The missing senator was John Kerry (D-Mass.), the Democratic presidential candidate who says he supports the extension. He was campaigning for president in Kentucky when the measure went down to defeat.
But the AFL-CIO charged that the Senate Republican leadership engaged in trickery to insure that the blame would fall on Kerry. An article in The Hill, a weekly newspaper that covers Congress, reported that while 12 Republican senators voted for the temporary extension of unemployment compensation, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) was prepared to switch her vote to “No” if Kerry had come back to cast his vote for the bill. Thus, it still would have gone down to defeat by a one-vote margin.
Other GOP senators were also prepared to reverse their vote if Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had asked them to. The article warns that the “Republicans have developed a legislative model that will cast … Kerry repeatedly in a bad light before the election.”
Even so, Kerry supporters say his absence was a mistake. “Think what a positive political statement it would have made if Kerry had returned to Washington to vote for those benefits,” said John Dodds, Philadelphia Unemployment Project president. “Here in Philadelphia we have thousands of people who are losing their homes because they have run out of their unemployment benefits. In just two months, we had 2,500 sheriff’s sales of people’s homes. This is affecting people’s lives very directly.”
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.