CLEVELAND - In speeches here last week AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka attacked right-wing efforts to use the federal budget deficit as an excuse to block programs needed to end the economic crisis.
"The United States does not have a short-term debt problem," Trumka stressed at a town hall meeting Thursday sponsored by the North Shore AFL-CIO and in a speech Friday at the City Club. "It has a short-term jobs crisis. We may have a mid-term or long-term deficit problem that we can get to. But now is not the time to go on an austerity program and kick us back into a recession. That is a bad policy that will lead us to disaster."
He blasted the Senate Republicans and some Democrats who have used the deficit as an excuse and voted to deny extending benefits to the long-term unemployed,
"There are six and half million long-term unemployed," Trumka said. "If they suddenly stop spending it would be a huge broadside hit to the economy. We cannot grow our way out of deficit by getting smaller."
The current recovery, he said, is "very fragile."
Trumka cited the example of Japan, which he said for 10 years during the 1990s kept initiating stimulus programs and then pulling back.
"Their economy stalled," Trumka said. "They call it the lost decade. We cannot afford a lost decade in the United States."
"There is no recovery until we fill the 11 million job hole created since the recession began," he declared. Real unemployment in the U.S., he said, is 25 million, if part-time and discouraged workers are counted.
The AFL-CIO has put forward a far-reaching program to address the crisis. The program includes rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, aiding state and local governments to maintain jobs and services, public jobs programs in hard-hit communities, using funds paid back in the Wall Street bailout to help local banks, as well as extending benefits to the unemployed.
Wall Street is mounting "massive resistance" to such programs, Trumka said, noting, "There are four lobbyists for every member of Congress" fighting regulation of the financial industry which caused the crisis.
Trumka also issued a stern warning about the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which is to issue a report in December and is considering recommending cuts in Social Security and Medicare.
Fourteen of the 18 members appointed by the Obama administration are "fiscal conservatives," Trumka said.
"Social Security is the most successful anti-poverty program in history," he said. Social Security is not part of the federal budget and has no effect on the deficit. Commission members, he said, say cutting Social Security is a way of showing bond-holders that Democrats are ready to make sacrifices, but, Trumka said, cutting the program, either by raising the retirement age or reducing benefits, is "playing with dynamite."
Social Security, he said, will have no solvency problem for decades and then it can be easily fixed by raising the "cap" - the maximum income that is taxed - now set at $106,800.
"We believe that every American should be able to retire with 70 percent of their take-home pay," Trumka said. "And for low-income people, it should be higher."
Photo: AFL-CIO http://www.flickr.com/photos/labor2008/4543021437/ cc 2.0