Remarks by Tom Buffenbarger, International President, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers at the National Labor College, Silver Spring, MD

May 15, 2009

Over 28.5 million Americans are now unemployed, involuntarily working part-time or want a job but cannot find one.

To me, that is a national disgrace.

A week ago, the Department of Labor released its unemployment statistics for April, 2009. It reported that 13.7 million Americans were unemployed.

Another 8.9 million were reported as involuntary part-timers – their hours had been reduced and income slashed.

And 5.9 million Americans wanted a job but could not find one. They were “marginally attached” to the workforce.

So when the Department of Labor reported that over 28.5 million Americans were hurting, what did the wizards of Wall Street and the gurus of globalization do?

THEY CHEERED!

“The most intense spate of weakness is probably behind us,” said Michael T. Darda, chief economist at MKM Partners.

“It’s a confirmation that we’re in the early stages of a turn,” said Ethan Harris, an economic researcher at Barclays Capital.

Let me get this straight. The unemployment rate hits 8.9 percent … the S&P jumps to 929 … and Wall Street start popping the champagne corks.

All I can ask is: Are they nuts?

This is the worst economy in 75 years. And anyone who thinks otherwise is either delusional — or is working on a new Ponzi scheme.

So let’s not buy into their hype.

Let us offer a more pragmatic and reality-based solution to what ails the American people.

When people ask me “what does labor want,” I give them a four letter answer … JOBS!

Labor’s goal must be to win back the 28.5 million jobs that Americans have lost in this depressive economy.

I believe that the AFL-CIO can – and must – act as a catalyst for a new “JOBS NOW!” initiative.

The Fed can prod governments – local, State and Federal governments – to devise policies and programs to create jobs, put the unemployed to work, and give them back the dignity that comes from earning a pay check.

Senator Robert F. Kennedy once said, “I have seen proud men in the hills of Appalachia, who wish only to work in dignity, but they cannot, for the mines are closed and their jobs are gone and no one — neither industry, nor labor, nor government — has cared enough to help.”           

I care. And so do thousands of labor leaders and labor activists all across this nation.

Their solidarity — a common concern for each other — is the antidote to what ails America’s workers.

Bobby Kennedy often talked about 80 percent unemployment on Indian reservations, the abject poverty of the Mississippi Delta and the despair of the ghetto. He called it “this other America.”

And this is what he said:

“If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America.”

Today a new and more urgent national priority — the unemployment, underemployment and lack of jobs facing 28.5 million Americans — is upon us.

Every laid off worker – union or non-union – is our brother or sister. We are bound to them in solidarity, in a common concern for each other.

And it is in our power to end this national disgrace.

We need “JOBS NOW!”  

Not next year.

Not next month.

NOW.

Unemployed Americans are desperate. Their savings have vanished. Their 401(k)’s are now 101(k)’s. They’ve cut their living expenses to the bone. Their extended unemployment is running out.

Meanwhile, their government spends trillions to boost the confidence of bankers, brokers and investors. And those greedy bastards who created this national nightmare are living large, way too large.

So, it is time to cut the “can’t” – we can’t do this; we can’t do that.

If we can spend a trillion dollars to bailout AIG, GM, Fannie Mae and Wall Street, then we CAN provide temporary jobs for the unemployed – all of the unemployed who can and want to work.

I believe that Labor’s “JOBS NOW!” initiative must consist of:

  • a Works Progress Administration style jobs program to rebuild our manufacturing sector and put seven million Americans back to work – starting this year;
  • investment tax credits for renovating existing factories and the purchase of new machinery – bankable tax credits for when businesses return to profitability;
  • a tuition free, two-year commitment to post high school skills training that will provide our kids — and our unemployed brothers and sisters – with the skills needed to dominate global manufacturing;
  • investments in America’s long-term defense capabilities like the mid-air refueling tanker, the F-22 Raptor, the Army’s Future Combat Systems and the DDG – 1000 destroyer;
  • a Buy American law with teeth, razor sharp teeth; and
  • real labor law reforms – reforms that give workers a chance to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly without employer intimidation.

“JOBS NOW!” has but one objective — to put millions of American’s back to work immediately.

So let me paraphrase Bobby Kennedy. He described our objective in terms everyone can understand:

“We need jobs, dignified employment at decent pay; the kind of employment that lets a man – or a woman — says to his community, to her family, to his country, and most important, to herself, ‘I helped build this country. I am a participant in its great public ventures. I am an American.”

Leading such a great public venture – the creation of millions of JOBS NOW! – is what the American Labor Movement does best.

            And our very best is needed in these trying times.

            Thank you.