Nobody left to speak

By Ellen Ratner

I have penned a slight variation on Martin Niemoller’s haunting quote:

When they sold out the steel workers, I did not say anything because I was not a steel worker.

When they sold out the textile workers, I did not say anything, because I was not a textile worker.

When they sold out the service workers, I did not say anything because I was not a service worker.

When they sold out the transportation workers, I did not say anything because I was not a transportation worker.

Then they came to sell out me, nobody was left to speak for me.

I could list many more who have been sold out in the new economy to include the small businesses that have historically been the backbone of our economy. They have been consumed by the super-sizing of America a la Wal-Mart and Company.

Here are the facts: 2.5 million jobs have been lost since 2001. According to labor statistics, the few jobs that are being created, pay on average 21 percent lower than the wages for the lost jobs. President Bush explains this unpleasant fact away by saying that what we are witnessing here ladies and gentleman is an economy in transformation.

I agree – our economy is transforming its way overseas along with our standard of living. The economy is transforming, but the American worker is not. Take for example, my friends in Duffield, Va. This southwestern Virginia area used to depend on agriculture, then textiles, then call centers. Now what?

It doesn’t take an Enron accountant to figure out why it makes sense to move overseas, particularly when George W. Bush’s tax policies reward wealth over work within our borders. Delco Auto Parts is an excellent example. I heard recently that the health-care costs for workers in their one remaining U.S. plant exceed the entire operating costs of their six plants in China.

While President Bush can identify the problem (a giant sucking sound from all directions on the American job market) it comes as no surprise that he has no real plan to transform the American work force. He has thrown a few scraps to the masses with community college educational opportunities or his new, flex-time initiative. Of course, flex time only applies when you have a job. These policies are like taking random baby steps. Our workforce needs directed policies, programs and incentives in order to preserve the middle class and transform this workforce to be able to compete in a global economy.

The president has had over three years to address the other costs embedded within the American work force that make it difficult to keep jobs within our borders. He has done nothing. President Bush is Missing in Action in the health care crisis, arguably the biggest financial burden for companies in our economy. Pensions are another iceberg waiting to be crashed into.

The president’s way of addressing these crises is to effectively say that the days of working for a company for 30 years with health-care benefits and a pension are gone. This is one area where his words and actions match up. Under his command, United Airlines was denied federal loan guarantees. United did not ask for a handout. They wanted the government to co-sign a $1.6 billion dollar loan that they obtained from other creditors. The government told United Airlines that they could do fine without the governments co-signature. As a result, United announced last week that they will likely default on $8.3 billion worth of pensions.

Other airlines say they will have to flush their pensions as well in order to be competitive. The dominos start falling rapidly in this scenario from industry to industry. Guess who will pick up the tab? Yes, the taxpayers. Financial analysts predict this pension crisis will make the savings-and-loan bailout look like the cost of a “Made in China” T-shirt. Of course, the president should be no stranger to the magnitude of the savings-and-loan crisis. His brother Neil was up to his ears in it.

Here’s the rub: Under the leadership of George W. Bush, the government didn’t co-sign a $1.6 billion loan for United Airlines. Now we have a pending multi-billion-dollar crisis on our hands.

If all of this bad news is true, then what is sustaining this economy? Answer, consumer debt. Thanks to Al Greenspan’s generous interest rates, Americans have mortgaged and refinanced their backsides in perpetuity. Consumer credit-card debt is higher than ever before. This is no way to run an economy.

This is a time for real leadership. Our workers and way of life are under attack, (and I’m not talking about jihadists). We have sunk over $128 billion dollars into Iraq and the tab is still running. For what? Our soldiers are being ordered to wage a war at the gates of one of Islam’s most sacred sites, and potentially unleash a holy war the likes of which we have never seen.

The economy is stalled due to fear and an unwillingness to invest in America and American workers. Meanwhile the president wants to talk about the definition of marriage. You may not like John Kerry, but we need change. To quote a Republican friend of mine, at this point, I’m a Yellow-Dog Republican. That means I would vote for a yellow dog over George Bush.