Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, in a major address today at the National Press Club in Washington, said the jobs crisis "cries out for political courage but that courage is not much in evidence. Too many people in Washington seem to think that now that we have bailed out the banks, everything will be okay."
The president of the 12-million-member labor federation called for re-making and building a new economy and reversing the fundamental changes in the nation's economic structure and rules "that for the past decade-plus have celebrated private greed over public service."
Working members of the press at the gathering applauded repeatedly, despite having been asked by the moderator to withhold that applause in the interest of "objectivity" and "saving time."
Trumka told the nation's leading journalists about his recent jobs-focused barnstorming tour of California, where he was arrested at a sit-in demanding fair treatment for hotel workers.
"Everywhere I went, people asked me, why do so many of the people we elect seem to care only about Wall Street? Why is helping banks a matter of urgency, but unemployment is something we just have to live with? And why is it so hard to pass a health care bill that guarantees Americans healthy lives instead of guaranteeing insurance companies healthy profits?"
He said there were major policy areas where things went wrong during the Bush years including institution of rules that boosted corporate empowerment, trade policies that encouraged shipping U.S. jobs overseas, financial deregulation that promoted speculation and the systematic dismantling of the nation's pension and health care systems.
"These policies culminated in the worst economic decade in living memory," he declared. "We suffered a net loss of jobs, the housing market collapsed, real wages fell and more children fell into poverty. This is not a portrait of a cyclical recession, but of a nation with profound, unaddressed structural economic problems on a long-term, downward slide."
The new economy needed, he said, must include creation of millions of new jobs, genuine health care reform, re-regulation of the banks, and the restoration of the freedom of workers to form unions. The working reporters applauded the point on unions and Trumka predicted that the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it easier to unionize, will pass in 2010.
On job creation, Trumka said the AFL-CIO's five-point program would be of immediate use in creating 4 million jobs. In addition, more long-term initiatives are needed to build a lasting and job-filled recovery, he said. "Yet too many lawmakers and policymakers are urging a 'go slow' approach and displaying an unwillingness to spend the money needed to fix the foundation of the economy - job creation."
Trumka stated that "these voices are harming millions of unemployed Americans and their families - but they are also jeopardizing our economic recovery. It is responsible to have a plan for paying for job creation over time," he said, "But it is bad economics and suicidal politics not to aggressively address the jobs crisis at a time of double-digit unemployment."
On health care, Trumka blasted the Senate bill's tax on workers' health care benefits that he said would hit 31 million workers.
"The tax on benefits in the Senate bill pits working Americans who need health care for their families against working Americans struggling to keep health care for their families," he declared.
Trumka warned lawmakers who "may try to hide behind insufficient and small gestures to create jobs, fix the economy and protect the middle class while continuing to give Wall Street a free ride.
"The reality," he said, "is that working people will not stand for tokenism. We will not vote for politicians who think they can push a few crumbs our way and then continue the failed economic policies of the last 30 years."
Photo: Newly-elected AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka outlines major legislative initiatives for the organization. Terry Hill/National Press Club.