by John Mason
Seth Harris, Deputy US Secretary of Labor, spoke to a meeting of Philadelphia Labor leaders and activists in the offices of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO on Wednesday, June 20, 2012.
Harris spoke of his work in the Seafarers International Union, recalling that the president of that union told him, “Nobody ever really leaves the SIU,” and he added, “I feel that way about the Labor movement. I’m a congenital trade unionist; all my grandparents were involved in the needle trades unions, (like) the ILGWU, back in the early twentieth century. My parents were union teachers, AFT members, (and) my brother is a SAG-AFTRA member. So we have a lot of trade unionism in my family.”
Harris spoke of the Obama administration’s theme of “building an America that’s built to last.” That means, he said, building “an American economy that’s built to last, that’s strong on manufacturing, most particularly on the skill of America’s workforce.” Harris also warned of the “withering of the middle class” in America, “a chipping away of the middle class, a separation in our society that we really haven’t seen since the 1920’s. It feels almost like we’re traveling backwards through history; we started with the era of the robber barons and tremendous income inequality. Then you had the Depression, and you had essentially forty-five to fifty years of growth, where America grew together and there was a strong middle class.” During this time, added Harris, American workers showed their skills, the country’s manufacturing base was strong, and the interstate highway system was build.
But, he added, “In the last thirty years, we’ve been growing apart, and that was exacerbated by the Great Recession of 2007, which was visited upon us by a regime of deregulation and a massive transfer of wealth to the very top of society. We’ve seen incomes at the very top grow at an astronomical rate, while the vast majority of Americans are really struggling, to meet rising costs with flat incomes.” Workers are suffering, said Harris, because they’re not able to increase their incomes.
Under the leadership of President Barack Obama, and “the remarkable resilience of American workers,” said Harris, “the economy is growing again, we’ve created 4.3 million private sector jobs in the last 27 months, American manufacturing is creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990’s. The American auto industry is coming back (and) employment is growing in the American auto industry, they’re profitable for the first time and growing in market share for the first time since the 1990’s. The President has said we can’t go back to an economy that’s based on outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits.”
The federal budget proposals the President has laid out to Congress, said Harris, which show that “what you spend money on really reflects what your values are;” the President has called for “skills (training) for America’s workers and bringing back the American manufacturing center, and research and development in the American energy sector and other parts of the American economy,” as well as dealing with the unfair trade practices of other countries, “taking away tax advantages for (corporations) that outsource American jobs, and investing that money instead in folks who create jobs here in the United States.”