FULFILLING OUR NATION'S PROMISE
Some very disturbing economic trends have become a hallmark of the economy of the United States. Growth in the U.S. economy now benefits only those in the top income brackets. Income for those not at the top of the pyramid has mostly been stagnant and some have even lost ground. This is a new development in America, and it has happened as a result of economic policies that the present administration and others in government fought hard to put in place. If those who shaped this economy continue to have their way, and the vast majority of Americans continue to be denied their share of the fruits of our nation's economy, America will soon be a very different country from the one that has been the hope of the world for 200 years.
The American middle class and the post-World War II expansion of the U.S. economy would not have occurred without government policies and programs such as Social Security, the G.I. Bill, expansion of education opportunities, Medicare and the civil rights laws that ended legal segregation. Of equal importance were the laws allowing unions to organize and bargain collectively.
AFT members are typically middle-income Americans, and like most middle-income families, two salaries are usually needed to maintain a middle-class standard of living. As economic growth continues to flow almost exclusively to those at the top, it won't be long before even two full-time salaries won't be enough to keep our members in the middle class. One of the most important responsibilities unions have is to protect and improve the economic status of their members. Years of experience shows us that, contrary to claims of those at the top who relentlessly pursue their own economic interests, gains in the economic status of union members benefit all who work for a living.
The AFT has fought successfully over the years for the economic rights and interests of its members through militancy, collective bargaining, political action and by building alliances with groups and organizations that share our members' beliefs in a just and inclusive society. The lion's share of AFT resources has gone toward organizing new members in public employment and healthcare as well as in our traditional education jurisdiction. It is an ongoing goal of our union to secure the benefits of trade unionism and collective bargaining for all. The economic facts of life in America today make it clear that we must do even more if we expect the next generation of Americans to enjoy the rights and standard of living that has come to define America to the world.
Over the past 25 years the American labor movement has been in decline. That decline must be reversed. The rights, benefits and standard of living of AFT members depend on a strong labor movement. In fact, without the strength and support of the larger labor movement in the 1950s and 1960s, the AFT might not have broken through and been successful in many places. We still need that strength, because without that kind of unity and power, the progress we have made could easily be reversed.
Most of what the pundits tell us about America's workers is wrong. Americans working in manufacturing are the most productive workers in the world. The capabilities of our construction industry, our research and development of new products, and development of more efficient solutions to problems are far ahead of the rest of the world. The United States is one of only a handful of nations with a space program, and none of the others are in the same class as the U.S. Supporting all of this technological prowess and profitability is an education system that, for all of its problems, provides a quality education for a greater number of students than any other school system in the history of the world. The AFT has not been silent about the shortcomings and the need for improvement in our nation's schools. Many of those who join us criticizing our schools fall silent when the successes of American education are examined. The failings of American education are often measured against a standard that does not exist in the real world. In the context of the task we have been given, our education system is a real world success story. The AFT will continue to build on that success and we will continue to fight those who are willing to stake the future of American education on untried theories and discredited panaceas.
The U.S. economy has become a one-way street. Wealth generated goes in one direction only: to those at the top. An examination of governmental policies and corporate practice reveals the reason for this one-way street. First and most important is the decline of unions in the private sector. It has become popular to blame unions for the decline of whole industries. Excessive pension and retiree healthcare benefits are cited as the reasons whole sectors of our economy are in trouble. What is never examined are the unilateral decisions corporations made to ignore their responsibility to fund retirement costs and instead use that money elsewhere, therefore gambling that they would be able to meet their obligations out of future profits. Abuse of pension funds by corporate managers ranges from using money that should have funded pension obligations for other corporate expenses to the massive fraud of the Enron Co. Private sector pensions are under the exclusive control of the corporations offering them. Unions played no part in the decisions that produced the current pension crisis in manufacturing, transportation and other industries.
Union participation in the management of their pension systems could have prevented mismanagement of these funds by acting as a needed check on the recklessness of those whose fiscal irresponsibility has destroyed the pension plans and retirement security of millions of American workers. A lifetime of work should result in a secure retirement.
A second major cause for the economic one-way street is government tax policy. The current administration responds to every economic challenge with a plan for more tax cuts for the very wealthy. Tax cuts without reductions in government spending produce ever increasing federal deficits, funded by the issuing of government securities. These securities are bought by foreign governments, wealthy individuals and institutional investors. The rich benefit from the tax cuts and then benefit a second time by buying government securities and collecting interest on them. This pattern constitutes an almost perfect formula for driving wealth to the top economic strata. Tax rates were sharply cut during the 1980s with the promise that lower rates would be paid for by the elimination of the tax preferences for the rich. Initially the lower rates were accompanied by the elimination of tax preferences but only for a while. Over time, the tax code has again become loaded with tax breaks that benefit the very wealthy and, of course, the lower tax rates were not adjusted to compensate for the return of tax code preferences.
The loopholes in our tax code that benefit the very rich should be removed, and proposals such as the bill pending in Congress to repeal the federal inheritance taxes should be defeated. Reform of the tax code is a crucial first step in the fight to reduce the deficit and bring fairness to our economic system.
Healthcare costs have become an anchor on earnings and on the prospects for economic growth. The Toyota Co. recently decided to locate a huge new plant in Ontario rather than expand its facilities in the United States because Canada had universal health coverage and much lower healthcare costs, according to a story in the New York Times in July of 2005. Canada's health coverage makes manufacturing there less expensive than in the United States. Fighting for our members' economic interests means fighting to provide healthcare to all and to control healthcare costs:
RESOLVED, that the AFT expand and develop progressive ideas that support working people and improve its capacity to organize, bargain collectively and be effective in political action and to reach out to like-minded groups to rebuild a progressive coalition that advances our economic agenda; and
RESOLVED, that we recognize that, even if we do all the things within our capacity, success will depend on rebuilding the strength of the American labor movement, a goal to which we are fully committed.