Trumka: State of the Union must be a call to action on jobs

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AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in a Jan. 19 address at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., urged President Obama to make next week’s State of the Union Address a “call to action, a call to invest in our future, to create jobs, to be the country we can and must be.”

The leader of the nation’s largest labor federation derided what he called the “conventional wisdom” in Washington D.C. and in state capitals “that we can’t afford to be that country. That could not be more wrong.”

He decried lawmakers who he sees as not rising up to the challenge, declaring, “Here in Washington, we live in an Alice-in-Wonderland political climate. We have a jobs crisis that after three years is still raging, squeezing families, devastating our poorest communities and stunting the futures of young adults.

“Yet politicians of both parties,” Trumka said, “tell us that we can – and should – do nothing.

“That is giving up on America,” he declared.

While Trumka spoke the new GOP House majority, meeting just blocks away, was busy attempting to repeal the healthcare reform bill. “The Republican leaders in the House, who campaigned on the promise of jobs, are instead using their first days in office to take away health care gains from 30 million families,” he told the assembled members of the nation’s press.

Anericans, the labor leader said, “want to work but the biggest and wealthiest American companies are sitting on trillions of dollars in assets – not investing, not creating jobs, not taking risks. People who live in Wonderland may not have noticed, but there is a lot of work to be done here.

“To join the 21st Century, we need to start funding a serious and sustained public investment in infrastructure now,” Trumka said.

He pointed out that much of the cost could be paid by eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and by enacting a tiny .05 percent financial speculation tax, “so small to be of no concern to any real investor, but enough to raise $100 billion in revenue a year.”

The labor leader was joined by a New York City firefighter and veteran of the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing, Stan Trojanowski and an Ohio child care worker, Ella Hopkins, who will lose her right to union membership if that state’s newly-elected Republican governor, John Kasich, gets his way.

Describing them as “American heroes,” he said they are “the hard-working everyday champions who make America great, and their lives illuminate the choices facing our nation as we enter a fourth year of economic crisis. The choice between coming together as a nation or turning on each other. Working people know we can build that future only if we act together to put America back to work – to educate our children, to build a clean energy future, to build a 21st century America.”

He pointed to the hypocrisy of GOP lawmakers who “held the country hostage” last year as they fought to cut taxes for the wealthy and now “turn right around and lecture us about the imminent bankruptcy of Social Security and Medicare. So let me get this straight,” he emphasized: “We need to slash retirement and health benefits for the elderly because we are on the brink of fiscal crisis, but we can afford to squander hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the super-rich? Only at the Mad Hatter’s tea party does that make sense.”

Trumka said Americans cannot afford another lost decade, on top of the one they have already had and that the country is falling behind in the global economy.

He described the experiences of a traveler landing at the airport in Shanghai, China: “You land in a brand new airport, you have high-speed broadband access from the moment of your landing and you can get on a high-speed train in the arrival terminal that will take you directly to downtown Shanghai at over a hundred miles an hour. This set of experiences is simply not available in the United States.”

“We are falling behind,” he said, “Not because we lack the skills or resources, the innovative drive or the entrepreneurial spirit to succeed. We have failed to invest in the good-wage growth path that is essential to our survival. We have let our transnational business titans convince our politicians that our national strength lies in their profits, not our jobs.”

Trumka said the labor movement has learned, over the last two years, that “we can’t count on the political process here in Washington to get the job done.” Given that, he says, the labor movement is reaching out and strengthening its ties with communities and organizations all over the country, to develop regional and even local plans to revitalize infrastructure and create jobs.

Photo: Stock photo of Trumka, courtesy of Jobs with Justice // CC BY-NC 2.0