The jobless bring their plight to Congress

WASHINGTON – The nation’s jobless, aided by the Communications Workers, the Service Employees and other unions, brought their plight directly to Congress this week, marching on Capitol Hill, lobbying lawmakers, confronting lobbyists and pitching a camp on Washington’s Mall.

Unions brought busloads of supporters to “Occupy Congress,” as lawmakers appeared to be shuffling the issue of extending jobless benefits to the back of December’s legislative calendar.  The extended benefits end Dec. 31.

The AFL-CIO blamed congressional Republicans – who are noticeably unenthusiastic about aiding jobless workers – for the stall, as it launched a new website to promote the plight of the jobless.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, “continues to block a clean and immediate extension of emergency unemployment benefits,” the website said.

Though Occupy Congress was confined to D.C., other events accompanied it nationwide.  An ever-lengthening list of events and union backers, many of whom scheduled press conferences and rallies for Dec. 8, were also designed to bring the message home to lawmakers, especially recalcitrant Republicans.

“In late December, the federal unemployment insurance fund will run out of money,” wrote Roxanne Pauline of the Lehigh Valley Central Labor Council in a “Dent, We Can’t Pay The Rent,” rally planned for Dec. 8 in Allentown, Pa., outside the office of GOP Rep. Charlie Dent.

“Unless Congress acts, millions of Americans face the prospect of going hungry and getting thrown out of their homes soon after the holidays.  Politicians predictably will demand cuts to other progressive programs before authorizing more spending for unemployment insurance.  Meanwhile, jobless union members, veterans, students and millions of others are struggling to make ends meet while these leaders support the wealthiest 1 percent,” Pauline added.

“That’s why, as part of the AFL-CIO’s America Wants to Work campaign, we will join with unions and allies across the country on Dec. 8 to give voice to the jobless and hold members of Congress accountable as the 99% call on our representatives to reauthorize the unemployment insurance benefit program.”

The D.C. march and camp, plus the local events, came as Congress kept wrestling with extending unemployment benefits for another year, covering up to 99 weeks of joblessness for each unemployed worker.  The extension is important: Even though unemployment declined to 8.6 percent in November, at least 40 percent of the 13.3 million jobless have been out for more than six months, exhausting their state benefits.

The GOP-run House refuses to extend the benefits without cutting other programs to pay for them – and dozens of the tea party-influenced Republicans don’t want to extend jobless aid at all.  That stand prompted the events around the country, not just the D.C. camp, lobbying and rally:

* A Dec. 7 “Make Wall Street Pay” teach-in.  Topics included “How the 1 Percent Crashed the Economy” and what we can do about it, a bologna lunch buffet: Symbolize what the 99 percent are getting from the 1 percent, and then a parade to the business lobbies’ headquarters on K Street in downtown D.C.  We have to “fan out to the corporate lobbying firms that have polluted the political system and rigged the economy against the 99 percent,” the DC99% group said on its website.

“Occupy Wall Street.  Occupy K Street.  Occupy everywhere and never give it back!” one group chanted.  Police arrested people who sat down in the middle of K.

* A Dec. 8 rally on Capitol Hill, featuring union leaders, religious leaders and the jobless.  In preceding days, jobless workers lobbied lawmakers.  Several Wisconsin workers who visited Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., reported he dodged questions.  Other Republicans told the jobless to take their protest to the White House, instead.  The Democratic Obama administration favors the jobless benefits extension.

* Press conferences and “We Are One” rallies on Dec. 8 at GOP lawmakers’ local offices in Syracuse and Utica, N.Y., Medford, Ore., West Columbia and Charleston, S.C., Santa Fe, N.M., Chicago, Ballwin, Mo., Eden Prairie, Minn., Shelby Township (Detroit), Grand Rapids, Lansing, Marquette and Jackson, Mich., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Phoenix, Charleston, W. Va., and San Diego, among other sites.

* Confronting the Republican presidential candidates at their scheduled Dec. 15 debate in Sioux City, Iowa, one of the last debates before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.   When the debate is scheduled, from 5 pm to 6 pm, the Northwest Iowa Labor Council and the jobless will rally opposite its site, the city’s convention center.

* A Dec. 19 rally in D.C. with Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, to campaign for legislation to “create or protect nearly 400,000 education jobs, while preventing the layoffs of thousands of cops and firefighters,” according to a web message. Unions at that rally will include the Fire Fighters, the Teachers, AFSCME, the Communications Workers and SEIU.

Photo: Stock image of earlier demonstration. MK Campbell // CC 2.0


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.