Labor-led coalition demands recovery plan for Main Street

Leaders of many of the nation’s most powerful unions have joined with heads of dozens of progressive community and political organizations to map out an economic recovery plan for Main Street.

In a message titled “A Call for Common Sense,” they demanded that Congress support public oversight of the recently passed Wall Street bailout, tight new regulations for Wall Street, measures to keep people from losing their homes to foreclosure, strict limits on CEO compensation and a massive public program to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Leading the signers were the heads of the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the United Steelworkers and the Communications Workers of America. Others included leaders of ACORN, Jobs with Justice, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Consumers League, Campaign for America’s Future and many more.

These groups and others are now putting a priority on electing Barack Obama and a bigger Democratic majority in Congress as the next step to win a Main Street recovery plan.

As record new jobless figures were announced Oct. 3, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney declared, “The roots of the current economic crisis are decades deep. They reflect the basic elitism that underlines the Bush administration’s economic agenda and has permeated McCain’s as well for his 26 years in the Senate. These rules favor corporate profits and Wall Street investors and not the working people who build our cities, teach our children and nurse our ills.”

The same day, President Bush signed the bailout measure giving $700 billion in taxpayer dollars to Wall Street. But Republicans have blocked an economic recovery package for workers, despite the signs of increasing desperation on Main Street.

While the bailout may ultimately provide some relief to the tanking stock market and failing banks, progressive leaders say it does not address the center of the economic storm.

The Labor Department announcement said 159,000 additional jobs were lost in September — making the total jobs lost this year more than 760,000.

Responding to the new jobless numbers, Sweeney said, “It is essential that we provide immediate relief to families across the country who are bearing the brunt of the economic meltdown.”

Immediately after approving the bailout, the Democratic-majority House approved an additional extension of unemployment benefits for long-term jobless workers. The bill provides a 7-week extension for workers who exhaust their benefits, with a 13-week extension in states with the highest rate of joblessness.

More than 1.1 million workers will, by the end of the year, exhaust both their regular unemployment benefits and the13 weeks of extended benefits passed earlier this year.

Bush said Oct. 2 that he continues to oppose any additional unemployment benefits. That same day Senate Republicans blocked a move by Democrats to bring the unemployment extension bill to a vote by unanimous consent.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was the ringleader of the effort to block the extension. McConnell is facing a strong election challenge from labor-endorsed Bruce Lunsford.

As bad as the news on the job-loss front is, the full picture is far gloomier because the number of long-term unemployed (those out of work for more than six months) grew to 2 million in September, an increase of 728,000 over the past 12 months. A recent Economic Policy Institute report showed that in July there were 2.6 job seekers for every available job — a hike of more than 60 percent from just a year earlier when there were 1.6 job seekers for every opening.

Economist Dean Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said, “It is almost entirely the fault of Bush administration policy that things have gotten as bad as they have.”

Obama called for enactment of a Main Street economic stimulus package, saying, “Instead of Sen. McCain’s plan to give tax breaks to CEOs and companies that ship jobs overseas, we must rebuild the middle class by creating millions of new jobs, and by investing in infrastructure and renewable energy that will reduce our dependence on oil from the Middle East.”

Obama also called on Congress to “pass an immediate rescue plan for our middle class that will provide tax relief, save one million jobs, and save our local communities from harmful budget cuts and painful tax increases.”

John McCain opposes such stimulus measures for working families. McCain failed to show up for the Senate vote on the first stimulus bill last spring.

jwojcik @pww.org