Both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have passed a bill to extend unemployment compensation. The extension is for "up to"; thirteen additional weeks of benefits, with limited provisions for additional extensions in states with the highest unemployment rates. President Bush signed the bill into law on Saturday, March 9, ending months of wrangling over this basic worker-fairness issue.
UE Political Action Updates
A just-released report has exposed the activities of the "American Legislative Exchange Council" (ALEC), a corporate front-group with major operations in every U.S. state capitol. Produced by the Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the report is entitled; "Corporate America’s Trojan Horse in the States: The Untold Story Behind the American Legislative Exchange Council."
The Bush Administration decision to slap 30% tariffs on certain imported steel products this week was welcomed by America’s battered steelworkers. The news comes not a moment too soon; the steel industry has been so utterly undermined by the dumping of low-wage imported steel that a total of 31 major steel companies are in bankruptcy, with more than one hundred thousand steelworkers on the unemployment line. The Bush decision is the first relief - however small and temporary - for manufacturing workers in many years.
The recent collapse of LTV Steel and Enron, among others, have placed incredible strains on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the federal agency that insures defined-benefit pensions for U.S. workers. The LTV pension shortfall is the largest in PBGC history, more than $1 billion dollars. The Enron tab is estimated at more than $125 million dollars. The PBGC takes control of pension plans when companies declare bankruptcy, are grossly underfunded, or where mismanagement threatens the solvency of the plan.
Despite the Enron fiasco, President Bush and the Republican leadership have renewed their push to liquidate the Social Security safety net. In back-to-back speeches yesterday and today, President Bush tried to revive the thoroughly discredited idea that Social Security assets should be invested in the stock market through "personal accounts.";
The Interim National Council (INC) of the Labor Party met on February 15th, and laid plans for the coming Constitutional Convention to be held July 25 - 28 in Washington, D.C.
The INC meeting was convened at the headquarters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), where Labor Party National Organizer Tony Mazzocchi laid out plans for the coming convention. INC members representing all major affiliates took part in the discussions about the coming convention, as well as discussions and exchanges about ongoing Labor Party work and prospects.
The House of Representatives, after an all-day and all-night session, finally passed the Shays-Meehan campaign finance bill (HR2356) by a 240-189 margin. The bill would drastically reduce the amount of money that could be given to political parties directly, and would also ban broadcast advertising within 60 days of an election if the ad specifically mentions one of the candidates in the respective election race. The bill would not take effect until after the November elections later this year, and contains several other small changes to election finance laws.
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill providing a 13 week extension of unemployment benefits for about 2 million laid-off workers. The February 6th Senate vote closely followed the collapse of Democrat and Republican negotiations on a wider economic stimulus package for the nation.
More than a dozen Senate and House Committees are "investigating" the still-unfolding Enron swindle. On February 7th, the House Energy and Commerce Committee finally subpoenaed several current and former Enron bosses to testify, and most declined to answer any questions, citing their Constitutional right to do so. Meanwhile, federal law enforcement has still failed to mount the kind of investigation that is already two months overdue.
Our elected lawmakers have returned to Washington, D.C. for the second session of the 107th Congress. And with few exceptions, the momentum for the moment has been captured by Bush and the Republican House majority. President Bush, fresh from his recent State of the Union speech in late January, is pushing hard for more corporate tax cuts and vastly increased military spending. Any chances for real tax relief, extension of unemployment benefits, or health care assistance for working people are dwindling with each passing day.