Trumka: State of the Union must be a call to action on jobs

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AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in a Jan. 19 address at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., urged President Obama to make next week’s State of the Union Address a “call to action, a call to invest in our future, to create jobs, to be the country we can and must be.”

The leader of the nation’s largest labor federation derided what he called the “conventional wisdom” in Washington D.C. and in state capitals “that we can’t afford to be that country. That could not be more wrong.”

He decried lawmakers who he sees as not rising up to the challenge, declaring, “Here in Washington, we live in an Alice-in-Wonderland political climate. We have a jobs crisis that after three years is still raging, squeezing families, devastating our poorest communities and stunting the futures of young adults.

“Yet politicians of both parties,” Trumka said, “tell us that we can – and should – do nothing.

“That is giving up on America,” he declared.

While Trumka spoke the new GOP House majority, meeting just blocks away, was busy attempting to repeal the healthcare reform bill. “The Republican leaders in the House, who campaigned on the promise of jobs, are instead using their first days in office to take away health care gains from 30 million families,” he told the assembled members of the nation’s press.

Anericans, the labor leader said, “want to work but the biggest and wealthiest American companies are sitting on trillions of dollars in assets – not investing, not creating jobs, not taking risks. People who live in Wonderland may not have noticed, but there is a lot of work to be done here.

“To join the 21st Century, we need to start funding a serious and sustained public investment in infrastructure now,” Trumka said.

He pointed out that much of the cost could be paid by eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and by enacting a tiny .05 percent financial speculation tax, “so small to be of no concern to any real investor, but enough to raise $100 billion in revenue a year.”

The labor leader was joined by a New York City firefighter and veteran of the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing, Stan Trojanowski and an Ohio child care worker, Ella Hopkins, who will lose her right to union membership if that state’s newly-elected Republican governor, John Kasich, gets his way.

Describing them as “American heroes,” he said they are “the hard-working everyday champions who make America great, and their lives illuminate the choices facing our nation as we enter a fourth year of economic crisis. The choice between coming together as a nation or turning on each other. Working people know we can build that future only if we act together to put America back to work – to educate our children, to build a clean energy future, to build a 21st century America.”

He pointed to the hypocrisy of GOP lawmakers who “held the country hostage” last year as they fought to cut taxes for the wealthy and now “turn right around and lecture us about the imminent bankruptcy of Social Security and Medicare. So let me get this straight,” he emphasized: “We need to slash retirement and health benefits for the elderly because we are on the brink of fiscal crisis, but we can afford to squander hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the super-rich? Only at the Mad Hatter’s tea party does that make sense.”

Trumka said Americans cannot afford another lost decade, on top of the one they have already had and that the country is falling behind in the global economy.

He described the experiences of a traveler landing at the airport in Shanghai, China: “You land in a brand new airport, you have high-speed broadband access from the moment of your landing and you can get on a high-speed train in the arrival terminal that will take you directly to downtown Shanghai at over a hundred miles an hour. This set of experiences is simply not available in the United States.”

“We are falling behind,” he said, “Not because we lack the skills or resources, the innovative drive or the entrepreneurial spirit to succeed. We have failed to invest in the good-wage growth path that is essential to our survival. We have let our transnational business titans convince our politicians that our national strength lies in their profits, not our jobs.”

Trumka said the labor movement has learned, over the last two years, that “we can’t count on the political process here in Washington to get the job done.” Given that, he says, the labor movement is reaching out and strengthening its ties with communities and organizations all over the country, to develop regional and even local plans to revitalize infrastructure and create jobs.

Photo: Stock photo of Trumka, courtesy of Jobs with Justice // CC BY-NC 2.0

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  • Trumka never ceases to raise my spirits whenever he speaks or writes. To understand the contrast with the past, just think back to George Meany or Lane Kirkland.
    This is class struggle, folks.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 01/22/2011 5:46pm (4 years ago)

  • Excellent article.

    It makes no sense to slash funding for critical programs, and yet support tax cuts for the wealthy. The argument is made that those who are wealthy are the ones who create jobs. Well, I ask you are they creating jobs?

    A resounding no.

    Posted by Ronald Humphrey, 01/22/2011 7:14am (4 years ago)

  • Trumka said the labor movement has learned, over the last two years, that “we can’t count on the political process here in Washington to get the job done.” ... the labor movement is reaching out and strengthening its ties with communities and organizations all over the country, to develop regional and even local plans to revitalize infrastructure and create jobs.

    Trumka gives a great lead on how to work in a coalition - how progressive forces in the broad and diverse coalition that elected Obama in 2008 can move the process forward. He doesn't attack allies - but doesn't hold back from pushing positive initiatives.

    Posted by Bobbie, 01/20/2011 1:20pm (4 years ago)

  • Wonderland?

    The USA is Broke.

    China has that wealth because they have allowed a far freer market than the USA has in the last 20 years.

    The USA has been supporting their military empire and social welfare state with debt.

    it is coming to an end.

    More government intervention will not help

    Posted by Thomas Paine, 01/20/2011 10:37am (4 years ago)

  • Brother Trumka is hitting the nail on the head when he writes: "We have let our transnational business titans convince our politicians that our national strength lies in their profits,not our jobs."
    "Given that,"he gives an excellent answer,"the labor movement is reaching out and strengthening its ties with communities and organizations all over the country,to develop regional and local plans to revitalize infrastructure and create jobs."
    This answer is not however antithetical,not contrary to our communities uniting,demanding that the trillions of dollars of our own tax dollars,gifted to finance lords on Wall Street to stem the financial mess they made,be used to rebuild our infrastructure,public transportation and communication systems,under labor and community leadership.
    Brother Trumka is also right-on in writing that:
    "We have a jobs crisis that after three years is still raging,squeezing families,devastating our poorest communities and stunting the futures of our young adults."
    With this scenario,accurately described here,we need to BOTH organize locally and regionally to create jobs and infrastructure development,AND demand that the super-rich finance houses and banks on Wall Street invest in these very local and regional ventures,mind you,this is our government which bailed them our with our money,for which our children and grands will inevitably pay.
    Our working class leaders need to urge all the working class to become servers and leaders in this great task.
    The youth,soon to be of voting age and majority need to be pressed into this task,employed along with unemployed.
    The young adults,of majority,the same.
    All workers,of all ages,all sexual persuasions-the same.
    All national,racial and ethic origins-the same.
    As recent mass meetings in the St. Louis Metro area have noted,we urgently need policy changes and direct action to effect unionized public sector jobs and education,on a massive scale,to encourage growth with ecological sustainability.
    This movement has to happen side by side with an unprecedented and massive voting education,registration and mobilization drive,especially in the wake of the fascistic Tea Party,the right and the far right,the attack on president Obama's health care gains for 30 million Americans,and the planned attacks on Social Security,Medicare,and the notorious Right to Work(for less)campaigns in Missouri,and across the country,by the recently elected right wing hypocrites in Washington and the State Houses across the United States of America catapulted there by big money after the nefarious anti-democratic Citizens v Federal decision,which president Obama warned the nation about during his 2010 State of the Union message.
    This policy change will not happen unless we see a multiplication of the African American and white labor unity we saw in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King celebrations in the St. Louis Area,and around the country,brilliantly documented here at peoplesworld.com(see Tony Pecinovsky article).

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 01/20/2011 3:26am (4 years ago)

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