LaborTalk for December 20, 2011

Democrats and Republicans Play Politics
With Jobless in Limbo over Benefits
Our Leaders Have No Actual Response to Attacks on Unions

By Harry Kelber

While millions of jobless workers waited anxiously to find out whether Congress would extend their payroll tax cuts and continue their unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, hopefully through 2012, they received contrasting news that left them angry and confused.

Last Saturday, the U.S. Senate approved a "compromise" ruling that would allow the payroll tax break and UI payments to continue for another two months — and that the issue would be reviewed by the new Congress in March. The measure was approved by a bi-partisan vote of 89 to 10, with 39 Republicans Senators supporting it.

But a few hours later, House Speaker John Boehner, in an interview on "Meet the Press," made it clear that his Republican caucus was against the two-month pay cut extension. He said it would be "just kicking the can down the road."

At its formal meeting on Dec. 19, the House, voted down the Senate's two-month extension bill. The surprising setback raised the specter of a year-end tax increase that would cost the average middle-class family $1,000 a year.

If Congress does nothing to help the unemployed, 160 million Americans will lose UI benefits at the start of 2012. Economists have warned that a do-nothing policy toward the unemployed could have a serious drawback to the nation's fragile economic recovery.

While leaders of both chambers of Congress and President Obama had to adjust their holiday plans, 160 million Americans would be faced without the UI lifeline assistance, starting the new year.

AFL-CIO Leaders Maintain Their Silence and Continued Inaction

Except for an occasional comment about the plight of unemployed Americans, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and his coterie of international union leaders have done virtually nothing to fight for a year's extension of unemployment insurance benefits, even as both Democrats and Republicans play political games to serve their own interests.

What has happened to Trumka's promise to create an "independent labor voice" that would speak up for working people? Why has he refused to respond to any of the questions we have asked him during the past critical months? What, exactly, is he doing about the widespread attacks on union rights, except to comment on them and ask union members to keep on sending e-mails to Congress?

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The most seemingly sure deal was for a $33 billion package of bills to keep the Social Security tax paid by most workers at 4.2 percent, rather than 6.2 percent; extend unemployment benefits for those already receiving them, and avoid reductions in Medicare payments to doctors. The measure would be effective through February.

The AFL-CIO, with its 12 million members, is one of the most powerful political organizations in the nation. Shouldn't it intervene in a situation where workers are being short-changed by both Democrats and Republicans?

So what are AFL-CIO leaders actually doing to fight for worker rights? How are they defending us? Why won't they answer our questions? Why can't they propose actions that would command the attention of congressional lawmakers?

What do we do if Trumka and his colleagues continue to act as though they own the AFL-CIO and it's none of our business how they run it?

Are union members satisfied with this kind of leadership? If not, what do they propose to do about it?

LaborTalk will be posted here on December 23, 2011 and on our two web sites www.laboreducator.org and on www.laborsvoiceforchange.org.

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