Labor Day 2011: Jobs First, Jobs Now

Sep 2, 2011 Issues: Labor

Labor Day is an important time to take stock of the state of working America.  From my vantage point, the picture is bleak. 

Our nation is experiencing a jobs crisis, and on two fronts.  First, millions of Americans who could and want to be working are not.  And for those who still have their jobs, their rights at work are under attack.  These two facts threaten America’s economic strength.

Jobs first and jobs now – that’s what Americans need most.  And it is what economists agree is necessary for our economy to recover.

Increasing employment is the lynchpin to nearly all of our economic troubles.  It will help reduce budget deficits by driving up consumer demand, spurring private sector productivity and more hiring, resulting in more revenue to the Treasury.  It will help homeowners avoid foreclosure.  And it will reduce demand for costly unemployment benefits and food stamps.

There’s a lot we can do to get Americans working now.

For example, we could put Americans back to work tomorrow repairing and building roads, bridges and schools.  We could get more police, firefighters and teachers working again who lost their jobs because of state and local budget cuts.  We could commit now that public and private aviation workers will not be laid off again, like they were in July because of a special interest agenda.

Congress should start now, with the ‘Make it in America’ agenda, or with my ‘Local Jobs for America Act.’ By directly supporting jobs in local communities, we can stimulate consumer demand, save or create a million jobs, and ensure essential services like transit and public safety.  The money we spend up front will result in lower deficits down the road.

Those are just a few of the things we should do right now. 

But politics is getting in the way, and the American people are sick of it.  The Republican-led House of Representatives opposes these jobs efforts. Congress has done nothing to create jobs all year long.  Instead, under pressure from radical political forces, it has starved the economic recovery, betting that a weak economy will help them win the next election.  

Economic growth, not austerity, will rescue the American economy.  We have tried shrinking the economy and sowing economic uncertainty for 8 months now, and it has failed.  It’s time for job creation and economic growth as our first order of business to strengthen our middle class.

Middle class Americans are the backbone of our economy.  When working people do well, America does well. But when those at the top do extremely well compared to the larger population, America suffers greatly, as we see today.

And, a strong middle class depends on strong unions and the protection of rights for all workers, whether they are union members or not.  That’s why the assault on the rights of working people this year is so dangerous to our overall economic health.

Corporate special interests and their political allies have sought every opportunity to dismantle bedrock labor rights that made our nation great.  

They have repeatedly attempted to repeal or limit protections of workers’ wages and to close the agency that protects their rights. And there are more attacks on the way. 

Republicans are pushing to make it easier to ship jobs overseas.  They’re willing to furlough thousands of aviation workers to force workers to give up key workplace rights.  And their highway and mass transit bill would cut 600,000 construction and related jobs.  They are fast making their mark as the ‘Pink Slip Congress.’

On Labor Day, let’s remember those who work so hard for their families and for our country.  And let’s be clear that America’s strength depends on creating jobs as the first order of business and defending the rights of all Americans at work, whether they are members of a union or not.  

Congressman George Miller (D-CA) is the ranking member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee and the Chairman of the House Democratic Policy Committee. Crossposted at The Huffington Post.