"Republican elected leaders are acting like dictators," declared AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. "They're willing to throw working families and the working poor overboard just to preserve the tax cuts for billionaires and hedge fund managers. With over 14 million unemployed we need Congress to focus on job creation."
Unions, in the aftermath of the deficit reduction deal struck this week on Capitol Hill, are declaring that the nation's real crisis is not a debt crisis but an unemployment crisis. Leaders of almost every union in the country are charging that the compromise will make unemployment worse and that the spending cuts could, in fact, spiral the country into an even deeper recession.
"Main Street," declared AFSCME President Gerald McEntee, "has had enough. Republican leaders need to get their priorities straight. They appear ready to throw the economy back into a tailspin all to save face with their corporate donors."
Unions and their allies staged over 1,000 protests against GOP-backed cuts in the final hours of Capitol Hill debate on the deficit deal. Republican calls for cuts in Medicare were among the issues that angered union members the most
Barbara Easterling, president of the Alliance for Retired Americans, reacted to the deficit reduction deal by saying that it was "outrageous" that Republicans "would insist on a deal that slashes Medicare, one of America's greatest success stories, helping generations of seniors afford to see a doctor and fill a prescription."
Union leaders are also saying that now that the "manufactured" debt ceiling crisis is over, Congress and the President need to move on to solving the "real" crisis, the jobs crisis.
Across the board, union leaders say they want to see working people and their needs become part of the debate on the economy.
In the hours leading up to the deficit deal union members, in nearly 100-degree heat, had marched on the Washington offices of Republican Majority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucy. United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts was barred from McConnell's office but joined crowds outside who were marching around the Federal Building. "It is time for the working class to have a voice in this debate," Roberts said.
"It wasn't the working people, the poor or any of those that rely on the critical programs that are under attack that got us into this mess," Roberts said. "It is past time for politicians to stop giving greedy corporations and the richest few everything on their wish list while demanding painful sacrifices from the voters they are supposed to represent."
Labor leaders are well aware that although, after this week, the debt ceiling will no longer be an issue, the battles over the budget itself will rage stronger than ever. They say that what matters in these debates is not how the spending cuts will effect the fortunes of any group of politicians but how those cuts will effect working families and the nation as a whole.
Few have forgotten their history. They are aware that in 1937 when Franklin Roosevelt, believing the Depression was over, tried to cut federal spending the country was plunged right back into the Depression. They unanimously agree that the debt ceiling deal weakens the economy but they differ in their views about the whether the President or the Democrats had any other options.
Perhaps the most radical reaction came from the National Nurses Union, which has said it will oppose any politician - of either party - who threatens to cut Social Security.
Rose Ann DeMoro, the union's executive director, called the deal "disgraceful. What this deal does is make those who voted for it a full partner in the discredited theory that our economy is in free fall because of public spending on programs that help people, and kicks the can further down the road on real solutions that are needed to promote genuine recovery."
Other union leaders were more understanding of the need for Democrats to compromise with Republicans in order to avoid what they said could have been a "disaster."
"We understand, given the timing, this deal was necessary to avoid default and stabilize the financial markets; nevertheless we are disappointed that it appears our most vulnerable citizens will bear the brunt of this solution. The deal does not create jobs or invest in infrastructure or our children. In fact, it will likely lead to huge cuts," said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
John Gage, president of the American federation of Government Employees, said federal agencies will lay off thousands of workers because of the deal and that those layoffs will harm the already weak economy. "The manufactured debt crisis is over," he said, "but the real crisis looms larger than ever."
SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said the nation must now demand that its leaders focus on "the most important thing - jobs."
Henry said working people are now "galvanized" and are "coming together" to demand that the discussion in Washington be "redirected from catering to CEOs in board rooms to relieving the pain of families at their kitchen tables across the country."