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Capitol Hill Shop Steward

After September 11
We Need

As featured in
Labor Party Press

From workers' rights to the economy to aid for unemployed workers (not to mention health care), it's time that we demand some answers from our lawmakers ...

Tragedies like September 11 bring out the very best and the very worst in people. The dirty deeds have been done, the World Trade Center is still smoldering, and thousands of dead remain unburied. Germ warfare has been unleashed. The economy is in a tailspin. Things have been turned upside down.

But before even one more day passes, it’s time to seek out the whole story of what has happened. Something has gone dreadfully wrong here, and it’s time for all of us to start demanding some answers from our national and state lawmakers, to hold our elected officials to account. Here are a few questions for lawmakers.

1. On Human Rights:

Does Congress plan on finally recognizing the basic human rights of our public-sector workforce? It’s great that Congress passed and Bush signed the legislation mandating that most airport security jobs be federalized. But why the term limit? And what about protecting their union and bargaining rights? Who are we to lecture the world about "human rights" when millions of public-sector workers in dozens of states are prohibited from joining a union and bargaining with their employer?

While congratulating Congress for coming up with the agreement to federalize airport screeners, American Federation of Government Employees president Bobby Harnage said that the union was "alarmed and disappointed" by the plan’s "failure to ensure that federal employee screeners have the same rights as other federal employees." In fact, the new law leaves all significant issues of employment for the screeners at the discretion of the Secretary of the Department of Transportation.

"There is no plausible justification for denying federal employee screeners the rights and benefits afforded to other federal employees, such as health insurance, life insurance, retirement benefits, workers’ compensation, veterans preference, equal employment opportunity rights, rights to organize collectively and be represented by unions, and whistleblower protections," said Harnage. "The bill," he said, "effectively consigns federal employee screeners to second-class status."

2. On the Recession:

What are we going to do about our recession? It’s obvious that our economy has taken a real hit in the wake of September 11. And of course, the economy was already heading south before that.

That noted, does Congress plan to step back and take a look at why this has happened? Do they plan on looking into why you can’t find a U.S. flag that is made here in the U.S.? Or why you cannot find 10,000 other products that used to be made in the U.S.A.? Does Congress plan on considering whether or not our deliberate shift from a manufacturing economy to a service and tourism economy really makes any sense? Will our nation’s job-killing trade policies be reversed?

3. In the States:

What about the crisis in the states? Out in the state capitols, the recession is playing hell with virtually every state budget. State legislatures are now busy cutting services and laying off workers in between bursts of flag-waving. And all of this is happening just as millions of poor and unemployed working people are in need of vital relief and services.

Are we going to ask our governors and legislatures why so little was done to plan for this day? Why did they spend the last decade cutting taxes on business, cutting out services, and fooling around with every kind of privatization scheme imaginable? Why are many of our state unemployment compensation systems still paying out starvation-level benefits and then for only a few months at best?

4. On Health Care:

With anthrax showing up all over the place, and with other diseases for sale all over the world, when is Congress going to establish a real national health care system? Any elected lawmaker who still refuses to support a plan for genuinely universal health care after this is just plain unfit for office. Period.

5. On REAL Assistance to Working People:

Is Congress going to provide some real assistance to working people who have been injured since the attacks, or are they just going to bail out big business? Companies like GM, GE, and IBM have purchased enough votes in the House of Representatives to win passage of a bill to give them hundreds of millions of dollars in handouts. To be ripping off the taxpayers like this in ordinary times would be bad enough, but doing it while the World Trade Center is still burning is an outrage. Will Congress investigate and prosecute this corruption?

That’s just a quick list. I’m sure you have your own. Let’s get busy. Let’s fight back. Let’s stop listening to excuses from Republicans and Democrats about why working people have to sacrifice. We’ve sacrificed every hour of every every day, and we sacrificed the most on September 11. And I have just one more question: What have you done since September 11 to build the Labor Party?

Chris Townsend is political action director of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE).

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