Tackling the Jobs Crisis


April 2012


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SIU President Michael Sacco examines the nation's jobs crisis and some possible solutions


Both during the most recent Maritime Trades Department executive board meeting and then the AFL-CIO executive council meeting that followed, much of the discussions centered on jobs and the economy. Our nation’s financial state and still-too-high unemployment promise to be the most important issues in this year’s national elections, which means we will all hear different plans and ideas for digging out from the recession.


The AFL-CIO laid out some realistic, promising strategies during last month’s meeting. But let me back up for a second, for those of you who are new to our union. The AFL-CIO is a federation of 57 unions, including the SIU, representing more than 12 million working men and women. I have served on the federation’s executive council for many years; our affiliation helps give the SIU strength beyond our numbers.


Those affiliated unions are autonomous, and I can tell you without giving away any secrets that it’s not always easy to get dozens of union leaders to agree on something. Heck, once in a while it feels like it’s hard to get us to agree on anything. Some of you may have been aboard ships like that. But our ultimate solidarity is very real and very much intact, and when it comes to a blueprint for creating and keeping good jobs at home, we are clearly united.


One of the first points we tackled at the AFL-CIO meeting was the need to stop rewarding companies that send jobs overseas. And that starts by changing the focus of our national economic policy from one of maximizing the competitiveness and profitability of corporations that only maintain headquarters somewhere on U.S. territory to one of maximizing the competitiveness and prosperity of the human beings who live and work in America.


Note that we didn’t say companies don’t have the right to turn a profit. We’re not fools – we know that America’s working families can’t succeed unless their employers are doing well. But we are saying that U.S. businesses still can make money by keeping their production here. I’ve said it for years: The national economy is every bit as real and arguably more important than the global economy. We don’t have any interest in protectionism, and Seafarers in particular undoubtedly appreciate the importance of having imports and exports to ship. But it’s like the instructions you receive on an airplane, when they’re explaining how to use the oxygen masks – you’d better get yourself squared away first, or you won’t be able to help anyone else.


Something else the council agreed upon is that, to encourage domestic investment and lay a stronger and more stable foundation for long-term growth, it is essential that we tackle the problems of wage stagnation and economic inequality. This will mean changing our labor laws so that all workers who want to form a union and bargain collectively have a fair opportunity to do so. What it also means is making full employment the top goal of our economic policy. We can do that by, in part, shrinking the trade deficit and eliminating incentives for offshoring.


Once again, we’re not talking about doing economic harm to other countries. We instead want to make it easier for them to rely on domestic incomes as sources of growth. A key to that step is establishing suitable minimum standards for the global economy, stopping the race to the bottom, and in the process, creating new markets for American manufacturing.


The executive council summed it up like this: “We can no longer rely on household debt, real estate bubbles, tech bubbles, stock bubbles or any other kind of bubbles to fuel our economic growth. We cannot go back to a low-wage, high-consumption economy. We need bold leadership to draw the right lessons from the mistakes of the past 30 years and forge a new model of economic growth in which we make things in America again, workers can form a union and bargain collectively if they want to, working people can afford to buy the things they make, the U.S. economy produces as much as it consumes, everybody who wants to work can find a good job and prosperity is broadly shared.”


Lofty ambitions? No. This is how our families, our union and our nation were built. We cannot allow the American Dream to fall further and further out of reach.



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