WASHINGTON - August 30 - I’d like to begin today by sharing with you two video clips by two people which I believe will put our economy, and its impact on the election, into perspective.
(Video clip of President Bush and Meagan Jeronimo (working mother from Houston) shown).
There you have it. A few weeks ago in a meeting with the media, President Bush said our economy is “solid and strong” and “creating real benefits for America’s workers and families.” Apparently the President should get out more. Workers like Meagan tell us they’re struggling harder than ever - - they’re not seeing “real benefits” - - they’re seeing real decline and real struggle.
This Labor Day, it appears that a "perfect storm" is gathering that may well sweep away Republican control of the Congress this fall. It is a storm fueled by three developments:
First, profound economic trends have strained working families to the breaking point – workers are not sharing in the wealth they helped create and our nation’s economic recovery has not been a recovery for workers at all.
Second, as you might expect, new polling shows that most voters are painfully aware of these problems and pocketbook issues will be top voting issues this fall.
And finally, the AFL-CIO is making the largest effort in our history in an off-year election, driving home these pocketbook issues. We will play the largest role we've ever played in electing the candidates we've endorsed in many of the pivotal competitive races for the House and Senate.
We’ll spend $40 million in this election cycle - - the largest ever in a mid-term election. The vast majority of that money is for our mobilization efforts - - it’s not campaign contributions to individual candidates.
Why do unions engage in political action at this level?
For workers, a “perfect storm” is already happening. Ordinary workers aren’t making ends meet – and it’s not their imagination, either.
While corporate profits and productivity have soared, wages are a different story – wages and salaries make up the lowest proportion of the economy since the government began keeping records in 1947. Real median earnings for men working full-time and year-round were lower in 2005 than in 1973. In inflation-adjusted 2005 dollars, a typical man working full-time in 1973 earned $42,573. Thirty-six years later, this figure has fallen to $41,386.
Yesterday’s new census data tell us that real median earnings for both men and women working full-time fell in 2005. Real wages for the typical worker have grown only 9 percent since 1979, while productivity has risen by 67 percent.
The typical family’s real income today is still almost $1300 lower than in 2000, while household debt is out of sight.
Five million more people are in poverty today than in 2000, including 1 million more children. The poverty rate for black children hit a disgraceful 34.5 percent in 2005.
Health care coverage continues to fall in one of the richest countries of the world: 46.6 million people were not covered by health insurance in 2005 -- that is more than 5 million people who have lost coverage since 2001. Health care costs rose three times faster than wages last year.
This economy is growing only at the top, and it is barely generating enough new jobs to cover the growth in the labor force – the worst labor market performance on record, at this stage in the economic recovery. And economic growth is being propped up by record levels of household debt, not growing incomes.
Stagnant or falling wages, rising debt, and spiraling health and energy costs are destroying our nation’s middle class, and the hopes and dreams of America’s workers.
Something is really wrong when laid off Northwest Airlines workers are told, as part of a corporate memo on how to cope, “Don’t be shy about pulling something you like out of the trash.” Since when did “dumpster diving” become corporate human resources policy?
It’s wrong when it takes a major corporate CEO until lunch, on the first workday of the year, to make as much as a minimum wage worker makes all year.
It’s wrong when working parents have to confront the fact that their children may very well not be any better off than they are.
The President is as out of touch with the economic realities most working families now face as his father was in 1992, when the first Bush lost his bid for re-election to Bill Clinton. And the President and Republican-led Congress remain unembarrassed by continuing revelations about their catering to the needs of giant corporations at the expense of working people.
The President claims to have a faith-based approach to leadership --- but that gives people of faith a bad name. His approach is fantasy-based, at best, and so it falls to us in this election season, to wage a “reality- based campaign” that delivers the message: The country needs a change in leadership in order to get a much-needed change in direction.
George Bush isn’t on the ballot this November, but his agenda is – and the Republicans in Congress who have rubber stamped his priorities are. They aren’t listening to working America. So from now through election day, we’ re building a large enough megaphone that they’ll hear our message loud and clear.
As I travel around this country, talking to our members, I hear exactly the kinds of words you just heard from Meagan in the video clip. Working people are ready for change, and they’re ready to work hard for it.
Before I turn things over to Karen Ackerman, our political director, so that she can fill you in on the highlights of our electoral program, I want to call your attention to some other efforts we’ve made over the past year that -- like our election campaign work -- have been highly successful and speak well for the future of the Labor movement and America’s working families.
Even though our emphasis in the next few months has to be on the election, we believe that our success in organizing is just as important as political action for the well-being of working families, and so we’re pleased that in the past year we’ve made outstanding progress, Here are some highlights:
Four of our affiliates, the UAW, AFT, CWA and AFSCME have collectively allocated an additional $100 million for organizing. The UAW has organized 50,000 heavy manufacturing workers, mostly in the South, in the last three years. CWA recently organized 18,000 high-tech workers in just ten months and now represents 40,000 workers at Cingular Wireless. We’re also happy that our new partnership with NEA will allow their locals to affiliate directly with the AFL-CIO.
We’re also reaching out to workers who don’t have a union. Working America, our community affiliate, opened seven new offices this year, recruiting 200,000 new members a month this summer. Working America now has 1.5 million members.
And we’ve just developed a new partnership with the nation’s largest organization of worker centers so that we can work with day laborers and other traditionally non-union groups to protect all workers’ rights.
We’re also making progress in reforming labor law so that it supports workers’ freedom to form unions: We now have 216 co-sponsors in the House and 44 in the Senate for the Employee Free Choice Act.
And, because we believe that America’s workers badly need and deserve a raise, we’re working in 19 states on legislation or ballot initiatives that would raise the minimum wage, as well as working for a national raise.
Finally, at the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we’ve made the first major infusion of private capital, from any source, into the region with a $1 billion investment program for housing and other infrastructure in the Gulf.
But we’re now entering the home stretch of this year’s election season, and so, I would like to turn things over to Karen Ackerman, the AFL-CIO’s political director, who will describe our campaign plans for the fall, and the advances we’ve made over the past two years in our political program that will make this our most impressive effort yet.