By Rob Mirabito, Carpenters Local 33 (personal capacity)
“How long’ve you been out?”
This is a question commonly asked by one construction worker to another. It used to be “Where are you working?”, then “Are you working?” Now it seems safe to assume that if you depend on construction to live, you’re struggling.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s October 8th report, the official unemployment rate for construction climbed to 17.2% this month, losing 21,000 jobs and keeping its place far ahead of the national rate (9.6%). This puts the industry near a fourteen-year low.
“It has taken less than four years to erase a decade’s worth of job gains as the industry suffers from declining private, state and local construction demand,” said Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors of America’s chief economist. “No other sector of the economy has suffered as much for as long as construction.”
The fact that our infrastructure has been allowed to deteriorate as far as it has is disgraceful. Our roads are terrible which costs those driving on them more money in repairs, not to mention the safety concerns.
A Federal report released on October 11 suggests that neglect of our infrastructure is also hurting our economy. Congestion alone is thought to cost us billions in lost productivity.
In addition to roads and bridges, we are seeing our schools and libraries being closed. The New York Times reported that housing authorities would need $22-32 billion just to maintain the inadequate system we have now. Housing, schools and libraries – to put it simply – we need them. By rebuilding our nation’s transportation infrastructure, we could create 3.7 million jobs – 600,000 alone in manufacturing, according to a new action plan released by the Apollo Alliance (http://www.apolloalliance.org/).
The market has failed to address these needs, so it’s time for the labor movement to start pushing the issue. We need the unions to stop relying on big contractors, corporations and politicians to provide jobs and start demanding them. The case is being made for us, but this isn’t enough. Union leaders may claim that the Democratic Party gives us a seat at the table, but in reality we’re on the menu.
Unions need to mobilize their members on a large scale and give a lead to all working people to put pressure on those in power to demand a massive national jobs program. We can start by building links with other unions and community groups to build rallies and other actions to demand infrastructure, housing, schools and libraries. These projects are in all of our interests.