EDITOR’S NOTE: This AFL-CIO report on younger American workers fits with so much that we care about here. Thanks to Tula Connell of the AFL-CIO and Liz Shuler, the union’s secretary-treasurer, for sharing it with us.
As newly elected secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, I traveled the country this fall, talking with workers and hearing their concerns. The economic crisis is causing a lot of pain. So many people have no jobs, no health care—and are even losing their homes. And as I looked into the faces of young workers, the reality hit home that these young people are part of the first generation in recent history likely to be worse off than their parents.
This is a tragedy.
The AFL-CIO and our community affiliate, Working America, recently surveyed young workers—and I’m not talking about 17- and 18-year-olds. I’m talking about 18- to 34-year-olds. In the past 10 years, young workers have suffered disproportionately from the downturn in the economy:
Young workers are living the effects of a 30-year campaign to create a low-wage workforce. It succeeded.
For decades, the far right led an anti-government, anti-investment, feed-the-rich-and-starve-the-poor drive that gave us an era of deregulation, privatization and job exporting.
At the same time, corporations and government attacked unions and workers’ freedom to form unions and bargain for decent wages and benefits. When unions are strong, paychecks grow and workers have benefits like health care and pensions.
When unions are under attack, paychecks shrink. Pensions vanish. Health care becomes the emergency room.
What’s left is not working for young people—or any of us. It will take a broadly shared sense of wartime urgency to replace today’s low-wage economy with a high-wage, high-skills economy. The first step must be immediate action to address the nation’s jobs crisis, with five essential steps:
1. Extend the lifeline for jobless workers.
2. Rebuild America’s schools, roads and energy systems and invest in green technology and green jobs.
3. Increase aid to state and local governments to maintain vital services.
4. Fund jobs in our communities.
5. Put TARP funds to work for Main Street with job-creating loans to small businesses.
We’ll took these initiatives to the White House Summit on Jobs and then to Congress for urgent action.
It’s time to rebuild an economy that works—an economy based on prosperity, that we can be proud to pass on to our children, and theirs. And we need young people to lead the way. That survey I mentioned earlier shows they are ready.
We’re planning a major summit for young workers after the first of the year to bring all our ideas and voices together. When crises hit, it’s young people who drive change.
Martin Luther King Jr. was 26 when he led the Montgomery bus boycott. At 25, César Chávez was registering Mexican Americans to vote. Walter Reuther headed strikes demanding GM recognize its workers’ rights starting when he was 30. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was 33 when she drafted the declaration of women’s rights.
Young people are being hard in this jobs crisis. But I believe they provide much of the fuel we need to get out of it.
Read more: afl-cio, cesar chavez, elizabeth cady stanton, gm, health care, jobs, labor, liz shuler, martin luther king jr., Pensions, politics, tarp, unemployment insurance, unions, walter reuther, working america, young workers
by Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer
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