Harriet Island Labor Day Gathering

As many labor advocates might say, ‘it’s not been a picnic’ the last few years for working people. As Mark Weisbrot says, “No matter how you slice it, most US workers are worse off than they were at this time last year. The average real wage – that is, adjusted for inflation – has actually fallen over the past year. This is in spite of the fact that the economy has grown by 4.7 percent. In other words, even when the economy is growing, most of the people who make it grow aren’t getting anything out of it.”

At the annual Harriet Island Labor Day Picnic I joined thousands of other Minnesotans to hear John Sweeney, Mark Dayton and Sen. John Edwards address the crowd. All pointed out the sorry record of the Bush administration and its inability to create jobs and the harm it has done to working families.

“Bush’s policies are part of the problem, not part of the solution.” Says Robert L. Borosage,

— Wages aren’t keeping up with prices; jobs are scarce, and the ones that are being created offer less in wages and benefits than the ones that are lost. Bush’s tax-and-trade policies have generated more jobs in Shanghai than in Cincinnati. And his opposition to increasing the minimum wage and efforts to strip workers of overtime literally takes money from workers’ pockets.

— Healthcare costs are soaring, forcing companies to cut back on benefits. Bush has no plan to address the healthcare crisis. Worse, he pushed through a prescription drug plan that actually prohibits Medicare from negotiating a better price for seniors, while sustaining the ban on importing cheaper drugs from abroad. The nonpartisan Consumers’ Union concludes most seniors will end up paying more for drugs. Bush turned a $500 billion benefit to seniors into a giveaway to drug companies — whose executives, not surprisingly, are big contributors to the president’s record campaign funds.

— Schools are overcrowded and under repaired. One-in-three schools use trailers as classrooms. Teachers are leaving the classroom at alarming rates. Up to 15 million children are home alone after-school, even as after-school programs are cut. Colleges are being priced out of reach of more and more families. But Bush broke his promise to fund his own education reforms, earning rebuke from state legislatures, including even Republican bastions in Utah and Virginia. He broke his promise to increase the level of Pell grants, the leading government college scholarship program. And now his budget calls for cuts in education across the board — starting the year after the election.

Many workers found their retirement dreams shattered in the stock market bust, with companies like Enron fleecing workers of their savings. Bush’s reform excluded workers from supervision of their company retirement plans, and would make it easier for executives to provide pensions for the top floor while doing nothing for the shop floor.

Bush’s Social Security plan calls for deep cuts in guaranteed benefits in exchange for individual risk accounts, mirroring the hit workers took when companies drastically cut their contributions in the switch from pensions to private retirement accounts.

But the dominant message was the Edwards theme that “Hope is on the way,” that with the election of John Kerry and Edwards, things can be turned around. It was a beautiful day, and with music in the background, Local members of the Lakes and Plains Carpenters and Joiners union served up burgers for the crowd.

I am proud to be a union member, a union building representative, a union negotiator, and am proud to have the support and to be endorsed by a number of labor unions:

Minnesota AFL-CIO

Education Minnesota
Int’l Union of Operating Engineers – Local #49
Minn Utility Labor Council PAC

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