Workers hold roundtables as jobs summit begins

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As union leaders, business CEOs and economists meet at the White House today for a jobs summit workers across the country are holding roundtable gatherings on job creation.

The meetings, where workers are being joined by labor leaders, community leaders and clergy, are taking place in cities hard hit by the economic crisis including Dayton, Columbus, Minneapolis, Sacramento and Albuquerque.

Coming out of those roundtables are demands for quick action on a five-point jobs plan put forward by the AFL-CIO. The plan includes extending the lifeline for jobless workers, rebuilding America's schools, roads and energy systems, increasing aid to state and local governments to maintain vital services, funding jobs in hard-hit communities and putting TARP funds to work for Main Street.

The roundtables workers are holding today are actually the second day in a row that workers across the nation have held special meetings to press demands on issues important to them. The roundtables they held yesterday focused on health care reform.
Typical of the meetings was one in Wausau, Wis. where Rosie Britz, a member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, addressed union members, community leaders and small business owners.

She told them that job creation and health care reform were important not just for the unemployed and the uninsured but also for people who have jobs and have health insurance.

Alluding to the uncertain nature of many jobs, including her job as a construction worker, she described job creation and health care reform as "a safety net for all of us. It's got to get done. We're out here organizing meetings because we cannot sit on our hands and hope someone else will do it."

Among those gathering at the White House today for President Obama's jobs summit are labor, business and political leaders calling for a second stimulus. The Nobel-Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who is at the White House meeting, says the initial stimulus was too small and insufficiently focused on jobs.

Krugman has been calling for a reduced version of FDR's Works Progress Administration, which created public service jobs that resulted, among many other things, in bridges, roads, and transport facilities that continue today to serve people on a daily basis.

Endorsing the Krugman proposal is the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute which says an investment of $40 billion a year for three years would create a million jobs.

Among the union leaders at the White House today are United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Essential for creation of good, family-supporting jobs that will last for a long time, both are saying, is to develop an industrial strategy for the nation. The labor leaders say a strategy is needed to design a way to rebuild manufacturing as a base of the U.S. economy.

Gerard and Trumka both make the argument that America cannot depend on housing, high-tech or financial bubbles which are nothing more than financial mechanisms that result in recession and job loss.

A strong economy, they say, must be based on taking raw materials and adding the creativity, energy and labor power of workers to create products that are needed. "Those kinds of products have real value," Gerard said recently, "and can be sold to make real wealth. They are not risky bets on the market like credit default swaps."

Photo: Scott Marshall