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Working In These Times

Sunday, Oct 16, 2011, 10:00 am

The Week of Walking Backwards

BY Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President

Republicans Kevin McCarthy, John Boehner and Eric Cantor share a laugh during a news conference on President Obama's jobs bill and other issues on October 12, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)  

As the Occupy Wall Street movement spread across the nation this month, politicians in D.C. flipped the bird at protesters – including those camping in Washington’s McPherson Square.

Here’s how: While occupiers sought political focus on the unemployment, impoverishment and foreclosures suffered by the nation’s non-rich 99 percent, politicians considered three major pieces of legislation and passed only the one that will help the wealthiest 1 percent and hurt the remaining 99 percent.

Senate Republicans murdered-by-filibuster the American Jobs Act, which would surtax the 1 percent to provide jobs for the 99 percent. The Senate did pass the currency manipulation bill, but House GOP leaders refused to schedule a vote on the measure that would protect jobs for the 99 percent by punishing countries that undervalue their currencies to artificially lower prices on their exports.

By contrast, both houses of Congress adopted the so-called Free Trade Agreements with Panama, Colombia and Korea, which will, just like their predecessor NAFTA, destroy jobs held by the 99 percent.

It’s incredible. Inexplicable. Inexcusable. In a country where joblessness is a painful 9.1 percent. Where one in five children lives in poverty. Where foreclosures rose again last month. Where a whole movement is growing to protest the appeasement of the rich at the cost of the middle class. In that place, Congress chose to walk backwards. It didn’t take two steps forward – which it could have by passing the currency bill and jobs act. No. It just took a giant step backward by embracing job-killing trade agreements.

It all forces the 99 percent to demand even more loudly: Where’s the jobs?

WHERE’S THE JOBS?

Either the Occupy Wall Street protesters aren’t loud enough or the politicians in Washington refuse to listen. It’s not just street demonstrators who politicians can’t seem to hear. Poll after poll has shown Americans’ first priority, their major concern is jobs.

Yet when President Obama proposes the American Jobs Act, a measure that would create 1.9 million jobs and ease taxes on the middle class and small businesses, Republicans in the Senate rebuff it. If the majority ruled, the jobs act would have passed the Senate with 51 Democrats in favor. But in the Senate, the GOP stops all action by requiring 60 votes to end their filibusters. They talk and talk and talk. And Americans who need jobs get nothing.

Where’s the jobs?

Amazingly, in a city frozen by political gridlock, the Senate passed with bipartisan support the currency manipulation bill. The legislation would make it easier for the United States to punish market-distorting currency undervaluing by imposing tariffs. The measure is crucial to stop what now seems an inexorable rise in the U.S. trade deficit with China, which continuously kills American manufacturing and jobs.

Last month that deficit rose to a record $28.96 billion, an increase of $2 billion over one month’s time. Over the past decade, 57,000 U.S. factories have closed and 6 million jobs have disappeared, with deliberate currency undervaluing by China a major factor. Though employment rose overall last month, the nation lost 13,000 good-paying manufacturing jobs.

The currency manipulation bill has 225 co-signers in the House, more than the majority it needs to pass. But Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has said he will not permit the chamber to vote on it. He will thwart an attempt to end the practice that is destroying American jobs – even though Republicans in both the House and Senate support it.

Where’s the jobs, Boehner?

Then Congress passed the Free Trade Agreements. Despite the incessant claims that the three will create “tens of thousands of jobs,” it’s clear that they won’t because simultaneously Congress finally renewed the lapsed Trade Adjustment Assistance for workers who lose their jobs as a result of free trade.

Here’s what the New York Times said about the agreements and jobs:

“Economists generally predict that free trade agreements, which eliminate tariffs and other policies aimed at protecting domestic manufacturers, benefit all participating nations by creating a larger common market, increasing sales and reducing prices. But such deals also create clear losers, as workers lose well-paid jobs to foreign competition.”

The United States can’t afford to lose any more manufacturing jobs. Yet it is projected that these agreements will particularly damage the U.S. textile, electronics and auto supply industries.

Again and again, politicians told Americans that NAFTA would create hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs. It did the opposite. Why would something different occur with these three copycat deals?

Where’s the jobs?

This is what the Times editorial board said about Republicans:

“The Republicans offer no actual economic plans, only tired slogans about cutting regulations and spending, and ending health care reform. The party seems content to run out the clock on Mr. Obama’s term while doing very little. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina, accused Republicans of trying to “suffocate the economy” in hopes that the pain would work to their political advantage. They are doing little to refute that charge.”

As the Occupy Wall Street movement has shown, America can’t wait. The middle class needs help now.

Where’s the jobs?

This post originally appeared at the USW blog.

Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco's nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

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