Government shutdowns; the federal budget; huge worker protests in Madison, Wis.; Columbus, Ohio and Annapolis, Md.: behind them all lies the economy and the need for jobs.
With over 25 million out of work, jobs remain the most basic issue before the country. The loss of 11 million jobs during the recession is the main reason the Democrats lost last November's election. The unemployment rate along with the general health of the economy will surely determine which party will govern in the next election cycle.
Unfortunately, providing employment for the jobless appears to be off Washington's legislative and political agenda. The GOP control of the House guarantees that.
Or does it?
With the working class-led upsurge spreading from Wisconsin throughout the Midwest and the rest of the country, much will depend on how broad sections of the electorate perceive who is fighting for their interests.
At least, that's what activists who gathered in Washington, D.C., last weekend for the Campaign for America's Future Jobs Summit believe. Roger Hickey, the group's head, says even if the GOP blocks jobs legislation, Democrats should call for it anyway.
The Washington Post writes that Hickey "argues Democrats should call for more spending anyway. Even if Republicans block a stimulus-style bill, voters in 2012 would know Democrats tried to push an ambitious plan."
John Conyers, veteran of many legislative battles and ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, agrees. Conyers recently introduced HR 870, the "Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment & Training Act," a deficit-neutral bill aimed at providing employment to the jobless.
Speaking at the National Press Club, Conyers said, "The government has to intervene directly. That's the one thing I'm trying to get the president to move on. He's a little bit slow on this."
At the present moment, the White House seems to be taking a different tack, one with an eye toward independent voters and 2012. The Washington Post quotes the president as saying, "There will be some occasions where Democratic constituencies aren't happy with us because we're having to rationalize government ... But it's necessary."
The White House, whatever its electoral strategy, is certainly not indisposed to solving the jobs crisis and must hear the sounds of marching feet in all the battleground states.
The labor movement is speaking clearly. At the jobs summit, AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka said, "It is our job to channel this Midwest uprising, this populist outcry into the large-scale creation of good jobs that can resuscitate America's middle class, America's people and our economy."
The GOP has awakened a working-class giant. By linking the struggles of the employed with the unemployed, collective bargaining with civil rights, this giant is standing front and center and declaring proudly, "We are one nation."
Politicians would do well to heed its voice.