April, 2003 Op-Ed in Burlington Free Press

By James Haslam, Director, Vermont Workers’ Center

Vermont’s working people are facing the greatest economic crisis in recent memory. Workers in Vermont and around the country are working harder, longer, and more productively than ever before, and yet we are being laid-off by profitable companies, asked to shoulder the costs and risks of health care, and watching our retirement savings being ripped off by unscrupulous corporate criminals. And while failing corporations like the airlines get bailed out with public money, laid-off workers whose unemployment benefits have run out see only cuts to the social programs that help us heat our homes, afford our rent, and feed our children.

In the midst of all these problems, working people need for our political and community leaders to stand up and confront this recession with programs and policies that make the lives of workers better, not worse. We need economic stimulus that puts money in the pockets of workers, who will spend it and boost the local economy, rather than the pockets of the very wealthiest members of our society. We need a universal health care system which covers everyone rather than continued attempts to shift the costs and risks of health care onto workers. And we need an adequate social safety net so that economic downturns do not push workers into bankruptcy, homelessness and despair.

During the Great Depression, workers, seniors and religious leaders stood up to demand that the government confront the economic crisis. The resulting legislation – Social Security, the Fair Labor Standards Act (which created the minimum wage), and the National Labor Relations Act (which legalized collective bargaining) – combined with public works spending, came to be known as the New Deal. The New Deal eased the immediate crisis by putting money in workers’ pockets, pushed the country toward recovery, and insured that recovery, when in came, benefited working people.

Now is the time for working people and community members to mobilize to demand change. We need to support workers in the K-12 schools, at our nursing homes, hospitals, universities and grocery stores, who are standing up for livable wages. We need to insist that our political leaders work towards a fair economy by creating livable wage jobs, guaranteeing health care for all, and preserving an adequate social safety net. Come to the March for Livable Wages and a Fair Economy in Burlington on April 12th, because united, we can make our economy a fair economy for all.