Workers drown in pink slip flood

Only a week after releasing the most dismal consumer spending figures in eight years, the government said, March 7, that 63,000 workers lost their jobs in February — another sure sign that the economy is in full recession.

For the second straight month workers from one end of the country to the other were dumped. A month earlier, in January, employers had tossed 22,000 people into the jobless pile.

The bursting housing bubble last summer, the crisis in the subprime mortgage market and the resulting full blown credit crisis has dragged the U.S. economy into recession and slowed economic growth globally.

The Labor Department claimed that the unemployment rate actually dropped a bit from 4.9 percent to 4.8 percent, but this was because the total workforce shrank as 450,000 gave up their job search altogether. Also not counted are 100,000 new young workers each month who need to be absorbed into the job market and for whom there is no employment.

Among those who lost their livelihoods were factory workers, construction workers, store clerks, office temps, child-care workers, hotel workers, teachers and teacher aides, accounting firm employees, computer designers, mortgage brokers, real estate agents and auto workers.

On Wall Street stocks tumbled, but for those swept away in the wave of pink slips life became a nightmare.

In one Illinois town 1,500 people began living that nightmare March 7 when Chrysler eliminated the entire third shift at its Belvidere assembly plant. There are reported to be waiting lists for job applicants at even the Burger King and at the diner in the town.

Laid off Chrysler workers in Belvidere could draw little comfort from President Bush, who said, “I know this is a difficult time, but we recognized the problem early and provided the economy with a booster shot.” Bush was referring to his economic “stimulus” package, which includes tax rebates for people and tax breaks for businesses.

Democrats said additional steps should be taken now.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said there is a need to “chart a new direction for our economy.”

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama both blamed the job loss on failed Bush administration policies. “The news should put to rest any doubts that our economy is in deep trouble,” Clinton said. Obama said the jobless figures translated into “more heartache and struggle” for Americans.

The nation’s labor movement agreed that immediate relief is needed and called for specific action by the government.

The AFL-CIO demanded a moratorium on home foreclosures and a second stimulus package to extend unemployment insurance, expand the food stamp program and bolster federal aid to states and cities to prevent further cutbacks of vital public services.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, “We should also front-load public investment to maintain our schools and repair crumbling bridges and deteriorating highways. Spending that puts people to work on projects we desperately need is more likely to stimulate the domestic economy than tax cuts that may be saved or spent largely on imported consumer goods.”

Stewart Acuff, the federation’s organizing director, tied the loss of jobs to the issue of the right of workers to organize. He said Congress urgently needs to pass the Employee Free Choice Act which would give workers union representation as soon as a majority sign cards indicating they want to be represented. This would eliminate company-run “elections” often used by employers to harass and fire union supporters.

Acuff said that without the protection of the Employee Free Choice Act, “employers have the power to face down workers and unions with threats to move production to countries where they don’t have to deal with workers’ demands.”

The AFL-CIO Executive Council, at its March 4-6 meeting in San Diego, issued a call for major investment in education, technology, infrastructure and clean energy as part of a new national strategy to rebuild the U.S. manufacturing base with new jobs.

To this end the federation put forward a strategy to deal simultaneously with climate change and job creation.

The union leaders said a policy of improving energy efficiency would create many good jobs while it produces energy savings for the public and reduces greenhouse gases. As part of this approach, unions are calling for modernization and extension of the 160,000 miles of high voltage transmission lines that make up the nation’s electrical grid.

jwojcik@pww.org