Labor and the American Dream
Meeting of Jay Democrats
January 4, 2006
Labor issues define who we are as Americans. There are many issues involved, and they are all connected.

It is not just union versus non-union. It is the minimum wage and illegal immigration on one end of the spectrum, and corporate outsourcing of high-paying jobs on the other. It is pensions and Social Security. It is education and national health care, NAFTA and CAFTA. It is also a national recognition that the workers of America are the driving force in this country.

Let's start at the beginning, and at the bottom.

Ten years ago I advocated for the minimum wage being a living wage, or at least raised to $6.50 per hour. That's Maine's minimum wage now, $6.50 per hour, but last fall Senator Olympia Snowe voted with the Republican majority against raising the federal minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $6.25 per hour over 18 months. While no Maine worker was affected in the short term, Snowe's vote showed she was willing to put Maine businesses at a competitive disadvantage with out-of-state companies that can continue to legally pay sub-poverty-level wages. It is just another example of the Republican war on the poor. Olympia Snowe is a general in that war.

But there's another, a huge, ramification of having a minimum wage that is not a living wage for a single adult. If the federal minimum wage were a living wage, people could afford to go to work at jobs that are now being filled by illegal immigrants. Our dear President George Bush keeps saying Americans don't want to do those jobs. But American workers are not fools. It's not the hard work, long hours or backbreaking labor that is keeping American workers away. It's the pay. Most Americans are not willing to work full-time at a job that does not pay enough to keep food on the table, clothes on their backs and a roof over their heads. Why should they?

Couple a national living wage with a clampdown on companies that hire illegal workers, and watch our illegal immigration problem disappear.

At the other end of the spectrum are NAFTA and CAFTA, and the outsourcing of high-paying jobs. It doesn't matter how much education you have, if no one in America will hire you for a job you're trained to do.

I came out against NAFTA in the fall of 1993, before the ratification vote in Congress. Not surprisingly, I also came out against CAFTA, which was passed by the Republican Congress this past fall. If we get a Democratic majority back in Congress, we have a chance of withdrawing from both treaties. We can also change the laws, to make outsourcing of jobs more difficult and expensive for multi-national corporations.

Protectionism? You bet! I believe it is the job of Congress to maintain and promote a thriving economy IN THIS COUNTRY. And that means doing whatever is necessary to keep Americans working.

One program that would do a lot in that directions is national health care, Medicare for all, if you will. The massive layoffs at General Motors is a stark example of what our lack of national health care is doing to our economy. I predict that if unions did not have health care as a bargaining issue, contracts would be easier to negotiate. On the other side of the coin, I've heard from tons of workers who would love to start a small business, but who are staying at jobs they dislike because the family needs the health care benefits. National health care would prompt an entrepreneurial explosion like this country has never seen before.

Pensions and Social Security must also be stabilized. With most workers now changing jobs several times during their working lives, pensions must be as portable as Social Security. That may involve some standardization, but it also will require employer cash in the kitty, instead of empty promises. And Social Security must be stabilized, by lifting the cap on wages, by extending FICA to unearned income, or by any number of other solutions. The point is that we need, as a nation, to recognize our government's responsibilities toward its poor, its elderly, and its disabled, and to act accordingly.

Of course before we can do any of this, Congress needs to deal with two elephants on the table the Iraq War and the tax cuts for the wealthy. The Republicans are driving this country into bankruptcy by waging a horribly expensive and tragically unnecessary war, at the same time they give obscene tax cuts to their wealthy friends. Then, with not enough money in the federal kitty, the Republican choice is to wage more war on the poor, cutting food stamps, home heating assistance, Medicare, Medicaid.

Is this the country we want to live in?

That's the new theme of my campaign Vote for the America you want to live in. In the Democratic primaries, and in every election, check out the candidates, and vote for the one who most closely represents the America you want to live in. Trust your instincts. Don't try to figure out who other people are most likely to vote for. The only way we're going to turn this country around is for people like us to elect people like us to office.

That's the concept I'm working on, and I'm putting my trust in Maine people to make it happen. Thank you.