WASHINGTON (PAI) — Saying the havoc Hurricane Katrina wrought exposed to the public the gaping holes in U.S. society and the economy — and the ideologically driven failure to respond to them — the AFL-CIO will launch a mass campaign to promote a “new direction” for the U.S.

The campaign, to be ratified by the AFL-CIO Executive Council on Oct. 6, will emphasize “political and public policy to deal with the realities of the biggest rebuilding job in history,” federation President John Sweeney said in unveiling it on Sept. 22.

But the drive will go beyond the damage inflicted by the hurricane to address broad issues and problems in U.S. society, and it will be nationwide, Sweeney and the other speakers said.

They include raising the minimum wage, rebuilding infrastructure with workers paid at prevailing — not cut-rate — wages, workers’ rights on the job, universal health care and “restoring fair play to Americans in every walk of life,” Sweeney said.

Labor’s answer to the disaster, which the federation will campaign on, is a multi-part program whose length and intensity will be similar to its drive to save Social Security from Bush’s privatization plan, Sweeney said. The “new direction” campaign will include both specific measures for the Gulf Coast and general goals for the country.

The Gulf Coast measures include establishing a Worker Network to coordinate all union responses in the Katrina states “and fight for real support for families through unemployment compensation, public health services, quality education, job training and other sufficiently funded public services,” the federation statement says.

It also will create a Coalition of Fairness in Federal Disaster Relief to lobby against Bush’s plan to cut prevailing wages for federal reconstruction projects in the Katrina area. Painters President Jim Williams noted his typical members in the Gulf States earn $15 an hour, but work just over 1,000 hours a year. Bush wants to cut that hourly rate.

The federation also plans to invest $400 million from union-sponsored pension plans in Gulf Coast reconstruction projects, while establishing a panel, with union allies in communities, churches and civil rights groups “to expose corruption, windfall profits and attacks on workers’ rights” during reconstruction.

The national measures include town hall meetings in dozens of cities nationwide about national priorities and a national “Community Walk for Change” at a November date to be set, to marshal 1 million households to demand changing national priorities.

The changes those marchers and the long-term national campaign would advocate would include “defeating attempts to finance rebuilding the Gulf Coast by cutting programs for working people and the poor while extending tax cuts for the rich,” raising the minimum wage, and demanding a special windfall oil profits tax with its revenue dedicated to families that will need help with their gasoline and heating bills.

Other changes the AFL-CIO’s national campaign will push include pension protections, extending universal health care and passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which would level the playing field in organizing drives. It will also include campaigns in the states to enact minimum wage hikes, to force corporations to pay their workers’ health care costs, to stop outsourcing and to bar use of money from state contracts for anti-union drives or “advocating their views on politics and religion in workplaces.”

Steelworkers union President Leo Gerard said reconstruction should be by local workers, with U.S. materials and at prevailing wages. “The WTO can kiss my ass” if it objects to those conditions, he said.

“What we’ve got is a bunch of right-wing radicals in the House and the Senate who want to experiment” with pro-business and ideological ideas for reconstruction, such as school vouchers and destruction of Davis-Bacon wage rates, Gerard added.