Inside the AFL-CIO
Issued Every Tuesday
Column #32 October 30, 2001

Labor Unveils Its Prescription
To Heal Our Wounded Economy

By Harry Kelber

Dissatisfied with both Republican and Democratic economic stimulus proposals, the AFL-CIO is offering its own “Blueprint for Economic Recovery” in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The labor federation calls for direct financial assistance to the hundreds of thousands of laid-off workers who still have not received any federal aid; broader eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits so that temporary and part-time workers are included; extending the 26-week benefit period to 52 weeks, and raising benefits that vary from state to state but now average $250 a week.

The AFL-CIO also proposes that the federal government pick up the cost of health insurance coverage for workers who have lost their jobs or been forced to work reduced hours. It requests full funding for job training and retraining, as well as the restoration of cuts in food stamps, child-care, federal housing assistance and other programs.

Over the long term, labor wants the federal government to invest in better public health facilities, modernize the public school system, upgrade mass transportation and assist small businesses.

But while at least 500,000 recently laid-off workers struggle to keep their heads above water and get no federal help, House Republicans are pushing a “stimulus” package that would award 14 Fortune 500 corporations a total of $6.3 billion in tax rebates. It’s not because the 14 companies are on the verge of financial collapse or even mildly distressed; last year, they reported $33.2 billion in pre-tax profits.

Leading the parade of corporations that House Republicans deem deserving are IBM, which would get $1.4 billion; General Motors ($833 million) and General Electric ($608 million). Five of the 14 companies are in the energy business and two are in the airline industry that has already gotten a $15 billion bailout package from Congress. All were substantial contributors to George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, in an Oct. 23 New York Daily News article, calls President Bush’s proposed $75 billion stimulus package “another trickle-down solution” that “spends almost six out of every seven dollars for corporate tax cuts and tax favors for the individuals at the top of our economy.”

Sweeney added: “America’s working families can’t wait for a few of those dollars to trickle down to them. America’s economy won’t pull out of its slump unless working families get back to work and get the country’s cash registers ringing again.”

Regardless of how much the public sympathizes with workers who are caught in a financial bind, business lobbyists and President Bush insist that preferential treatment for corporations will spur investment and hasten economic recovery. But there are no guarantees that corporations, especially the big multinationals, will invest their government handouts to create jobs in the United States.

Meanwhile, Congress proceeds on the assumption that any stimulus package is only a temporary measure and that the economy is sure to rebound within a year or so. But what if it doesn’t? What if unemployment rises and the recession deepens? The AFL-CIO’s “blueprint” provides a backstop strategy: it outlines a rebuilding program not unlike the New Deal measures that helped pull the nation out of the Great Depression.

Unfortunately, as important as the AFL-CIO document is, it will reach only a limited and specialized audience. There are no longer any weekly union publications; the AFL-CIO’s monthly magazine, America@Work, reaches fewer than 1% of union members, and the federation has virtually no presence in the broadcast and cable TV program schedules.

Of course, AFL-CIO leaders could direct their staff in Washington to send a flood of e-mail bulletins or special “alerts” to all 51 state federations and 545 central labor councils, which could, in turn, relay them to local unions and ultimately to the rank-and-file. But based on past non-performance, that is not likely to happen.

The AFL-CIO demonstrated its enormous political leverage in 2000 when voters from union households cast 26% of all the votes in the presidential contest, making it possible for Al Gore to win the popular vote. The same energy and enthusiasm could now be focused upon building an economy based on public need, not corporate greed.

“Inside the AFL-CIO“ can be viewed at every Tuesday. Our “LaborTalk” column appears every Monday.

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