Remember the fear in 2008? Think of the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. Wall Street melting down. Pension savings disappearing. Housing values plunging and foreclosures skyrocketing. Three million workers losing their jobs.
It had all the makings of another Great Depression. As Barack Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009, he faced a dilemma. In this crisis he could play it safe and hold steady on his predecessor’s path of pampering the rich and pandering to corporations, pretending that possibly, eventually, some benefit would trickle down to workers. Or President Obama could keep candidate Obama’s promises of change.
He went with change. He focused on workers, believing restoration of the nation’s great middle would drive economic recovery for all. He secured an economic stimulus package and rescued the American auto industry. Both measures worked to halt, and eventually reverse, the previous year’s relentless economic decline. Both, as well as other changes President Obama has proposed, emphasize creating and securing jobs for everyday workers. He wagered on American workers. And it paid off.
As unemployment slowly eases, as the Big Three automakers report huge profits and hire workers, as the stock market slowly climbs and foreclosures slowly drop, Republicans, particularly the GOP presidential candidates, refute it all. They simply deny that the stimulus created the 1.2 to 3.3 million jobs that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reports it did. They continue to insist that America should have let Detroit go bankrupt. Instead of betting on American workers, they would double down on Bush’s tax breaks for the rich, subsidies for fabulously profitable corporations and deregulation of Wall Street.
GOP front runner Mitt Romney supported the government bailout for Wall Street but opposed rescuing GM and Chrysler. Like so many Republicans, he’s all for preserving the jobs and institutions and million dollar bonuses for executives. But Republicans offer nothing but cutbacks and pain for workers.
They want to cut back food stamps, raise the retirement age, slash funds for education and Pell Grants for college, slice Medicaid and repeal the health care reform law that will lower the deficit while enabling 32 million uninsured American to get coverage. At the same time, all four GOP presidential contenders would lower or eliminate corporate taxes and further cut levies on the wealthiest so much that their budget plans would increase the national deficit that they’re so keen to criticize.
They’re betting that more tax cuts for the rich will prompt reinvestment and economic resurgence. That’s the gamble former President Bush took when he twice cut taxes on the wealthiest. After seven years, here’s how Bush’s bet on the rich paid off: the economy and jobs were contracting at an alarming rate. Remember the fear in 2008?
Now, three years later, after President Obama placed his faith in workers, the nation’s economic outlook is brighter. As is that of GM and Chrysler.
Both companies suffered managed bankruptcies. Tens of thousands of workers lost jobs. Retirees took health care benefit cuts. Remaining workers accepted pay reductions. Plants and dealerships closed. It was pain all around.
Now, GM is back as the world’s number one automaker, making the highest profits in its history. Chrysler is growing faster than any other American car company. Ford is investing $16 billion in its American operations and plans to bring thousands of jobs back from overseas. Altogether, the industry added 200,000 jobs. In addition, rescuing the industry meant preserving hundreds of thousands of jobs in auto parts factories across America, and all the service jobs they support.
Here’s what President Obama told the 2012 United Auto Workers convention about his wager on them:
“I placed my bet on American workers. And I’d make that same bet again any day of the week. Because three years later, that bet is paying off for America. Three years later, the American auto industry is back.”
In the past few weeks, President Obama has doubled down on his wager on working Americans. He has called for a tax break reversal – ending the deal corporations get for shipping jobs overseas and instead giving it to those who move jobs back on shore. And, just last week, he demanded an end to the $4 billion in subsidies that taxpayers give massively-profitable oil and gas companies, explaining:
“You can either stand up for oil companies, or you can stand up for the American people.”
Republicans immediately attacked the President for the proposal. They criticized him for talking to the auto workers as well. While Republicans regard workers in general as second class citizens, not to be given the deference they reserve for the rich, members of the GOP particularly despise auto workers because they’re members of a labor union. Republican lawmakers hate unions – maybe even more than they loathe President Obama. They can’t tolerate any organization of workers that succeeded in bargaining with fat cat factory owners for weekends off, paid sick days, good pensions and middle class wages, even though the GOP lawmakers themselves benefit from decades of union activism by receiving weekends off, paid sick days, good pensions and very decent wages.
Obama, by contrast, told the auto workers he was honored to be with them, to bet on them:
“It’s unions like yours that fought for jobs and opportunity for generations of American workers. It’s unions like yours that helped build an arsenal of democracy that defeated fascism. It is unions like yours that forged the American middle class – the greatest engine of prosperity the world has ever known.”
It’s a sure bet: Wagering on workers is a winner.
Leo W. Gerard also is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and chairs the labor federation’s Public Policy Committee. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. He serves as co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute. He is a member of the IMF and ICEM global labor federations and was instrumental in creating Workers Uniting, the first global union. Follow @USWBlogger
Posted March 6, 2012 at 8:00 am, in From the USW International President