Our country is facing a two-pronged crisis: a crumbling infrastructure and meltdown of our steel industry and sharp decline in all sections of manufacturing. All sectors of manufacturing are in a free fall with huge layoffs and declining industrial production throughout 2000 and 2001. More than a million jobs were lost prior to Sept. 11 and over 450,000 additional jobs have been lost since.

The AFL-CIO, in a document titled “A Blueprint for Economic Recovery,” calls for a “campaign for economic recovery that will put America back to work.”

The plan calls first for an immediate stimulus package for aid to working families who were devastated by the terrorist attacks, and for the additional millions who are facing total loss of income with unemployment benefits already running out.

It then calls for “addressing long-ignored critical infrastructure needs … will serve not only to shore up our national security and improve our capacity to respond to national emergencies, but also to create jobs and improve the overall quality of American life.”

The document calls for urgent “federal intervention to save and restore steel and other manufacturing industries,” citing the announcement of Bethlehem Steel’s bankruptcy.

The Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure Act (HR-1564) would go far in meeting the demand for federal intervention called for in the AFL-CIO program.

HR-1564 draws on the conclusions of a special panel of the American Society of Civil Engineers that indicated America’s infrastructure is crumbling and in need of $1.3 trillion in the next five years to remedy the problem.

A study by the Levy Institute on needed infrastructure repair and the costs involved pointed out that local governments do not have the ability to finance the large projects needed to bring the nation’s infrastructure up to acceptable standards. Co-sponsors of HR-1564, Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), stressed their proposal will make available to states and municipalities funds needed by creating interest free loans for investment in infrastructure.

Federal programs already in place for infrastructure repair do not cover heavy infrastructure investment needed by states and municipalities. Normally, states and municipalities “provide the largest share of investment in infrastructure,” said the Institute, “and their declining ability to do so in recent years is fueling the economic downturn.”

The loans from HR-1564 would be administered by a Federal Bank for Infrastructure Modernization (FBIM), to be established under HR-1564 as an extension of the Federal Financing Bank under the U.S. Treasury. Loans would amount to $50 billion annually over 10 years, with 20 percent earmarked for schools. “One billion dollars in infrastructure repair will create 40,000 plus jobs,” said LaTourette.

This and other proposals for government intervention and control, such as the Steel Revitalization Act (HR-808), have generated intense opposition from the steel and other manufacturing corporations and the banking industry. But it has become crystal clear that without government intervention our country is on the verge of losing our steel industry and with it much more of our fast shrinking industrial base.

Bankers and Wall Street financiers are trying to impose controls on our economy based on the rules of the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund. Nations around the world have been forced into bankruptcy by the dictates of these international corporate, financial centers that have a stranglehold on the world’s economy with one single goal: extract the highest profits wherever and however they can get them.

A crisis situation is building in cities, states and nationally. It is pushing the issue of government control and, if necessary, ownership of our core industries, to the forefront. But while we consider what must be done to build a just and democratic society for working families, we must support HR-1564. While this measure will not solve the economic crises looming on many fronts, it will go a long way in shielding working families from the worst hardships, will begin to curb the uncontrolled economic power of corporate greed and will push our government into the business of administering to the general welfare of all the people.