WASHINGTON (PAI) - The U.S. will stay mired in an "economy mess" of low growth, low-paying jobs, rising income inequality and worse unless it fixes its political processes, Communications Workers President Larry Cohen says.
"We won't fix the economy mess unless we fix the democracy mess," he stated in opening a May 22 discussion about how to create more jobs, and especially more jobs that pay well.
Cohen's remarks were seconded by Leo Hindery, a consultant heading his own firm, InterMedia Partners. The two spoke at the Center for National Policy in the second in its series of the national security implications of continuing high joblessness. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka opened the series several weeks ago.
Cohen and Hindery both identified ways to create, or save, high-paying jobs. Cohen's key point is that "you have to create demand" and the way to do that is to pay people good wages to make things. That's a constant theme of the entire union movement, he said. Other progressive groups have sometimes joined in, he added.
Ways to do so, they said, include investment in infrastructure, lessening the U.S. trade deficit, restoring the power of workers to organize and bargain collectively and increasing manufacturing's share of the workforce from its present 10% to at least double that.
But none of this will be accomplished without prior political reform, Cohen said, citing a graphic he distributed showing both CWA's goals and the lesser Obama administration goals for creating jobs. Both must clamber over a high political wall, he added.
Repeating points he has made frequently, Cohen said there are four ways to knock down that wall:
One is campaign finance reform to overcome the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which opened politics to a cascade of corporate cash.
"Each presidential nominee, Obama and Romney, will spend over $1 billion. A Senate race costs north of $20 million, and a House race costs $5 million. Even a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates costs $250,000," Cohen said. Workers can't compete with such sums, while corporations and the rich provide them.
"We need not just an election, but a mass movement to change this," he stated.
The second is internal reform of the U.S. Senate, and particularly of its filibusters. Curbing the filibuster has been a Cohen and CWA cause for several years, with the Steelworkers also helping to lead that crusade.
Cohen told the group filibuster rules must be changed to reserve the talkathon - and the 60-vote threshold to shut it off - only for the most important issues, just as occurred during historic debates in the 1960s over civil rights. Like then, Cohen said, senators who want to try to talk a bill to death must physically and constantly stay in the Senate chamber to do so. USW President Leo Gerard has also made that point, declaring, "haul in the beds" for such marathons.
Right now, instead, "400 pieces of legislation" passed the Democratic-run 111th Congress in 2009-2010 and disappeared to due to filibusters, Cohen said. Much of that was pro-worker and would have helped the economy, too, Cohen added.
Hindery jumped in to make the point that one of those bills - which he too says must pass - was the Employee Free Choice Act, to help level the playing field between workers and bosses in union organizing and in bargaining first contracts. Hindery called it the best economic revival measure Congress could have enacted. Actually, the GOP filibuster threat prevented EFCA from ever reaching the Senate floor and the House didn't bother approving it in 2009-10. They knew it would be a useless exercise.
The third major change Cohen advocated is comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to legalize undocumented workers. "When my great grandparents entered this country, was there a requirement to become a citizen? No. They came, and they were," he said.
The final change is expansion, not contraction, of voting rights. Forces fighting for contraction, Cohen reiterated, "are all orchestrated" and do so deliberately to deprive specific groups - minorities, college students and the elderly - of the right to vote.
Without those political changes, the two said, legislation to revive the economy, particularly through infrastructure, advanced job training and creating new factory jobs, will not get off the ground. And income inequality will continue to grow, they warned.
Hindery said that the answers to the economic mess from both the GOP and the Obama administration are inadequate. That's because both, he said, view the stuttering recovery as part of a normal business cycle - "and it's not."
Not only is the U.S. economy "broken" and leaving millions of more people behind, Cohen warned, but the U.S. "cannot depend on a deus ex machina - an outside force" to ride to the rescue. "Europe is more broken than we are," and China and Latin America cannot help, either, he warned.
Photo: Larry Cohen. Teresa Albano/PW