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Richard Trumka Headshot

Calling on All Working Americans to Stand Up and Fight

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The news is out: The Wall Street bankers we bailed out are giving themselves 2009 cash bonuses of a half million dollars on average -- not including stocks. Compare that with the $32,390 annual median wage for regular workers, and you find a formula for outrage.

The people who tanked our economy, took $700 billion in taxpayer money and refused to make job-creating loans are getting rewards that range into the millions.

Not bad for a year in which Main Street lost 4 million jobs.

No wonder people are mad.

When Wall Street needs help, elected leaders respond with bold and swift action. When Main Street cries for help, we get gridlock. No health care reform, no financial reform, no labor law reform, and a slow, timid effort on job creation.

The anger out there is well-deserved. Workers are hurting. We haven't seen so much militant sentiment demanding job creation and basic fairness since hundreds of thousands of people came to Washington for the March for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

The Massachusetts Senate election last week signaled a working class revolt -- against business as usual and against politics as usual.

An AFL-CIO poll taken election night showed just how fed up people are -- they want results, and aren't seeing any.

Four out of five voters said their most important issue was strengthening the economy and creating more jobs. Controlling health care costs was next on their list, with 54 percent citing that as the main determinant of their vote.

And they said Democrats have not overreached on jobs, the economy and health care -- they have under-reached.

Forty-seven percent said their concern about Democrats is that they haven't succeeded in making needed change, while only 32 percent said they made too many changes too quickly. Even voters for Scott Brown were more concerned about a lack of change (50 percent) than about making too many changes too quickly (43 percent).

Contrary to what we're hearing from the corporate media, the Massachusetts election wasn't a referendum on health care reform (Brown actually lost among the 59 percent of voters who picked health care as one of their top two priorities). But it did send a clear message that voters rejected attacks on the middle class like the proposed excise tax on health care benefits. Voters who thought their health care would be taxed voted by 64 percent for Brown, while those who did not think so voted by 54 percent to 40 percent for Coakley.

The election was no endorsement of the Republican agenda either -- in fact, 58 percent of voters disapprove of the job being done by congressional Republicans.

Here's what one grassroots union leader learned from his experience in the Massachusetts race:

A year ago, the Democrats crowed that the Republicans were "irrelevant." Today, the Republicans think the Democrats are mortally wounded. Both are wrong. In our non-ideological party landscape, in hard times whoever strikes the best pose of wounded underdog wins. The same anger that elected Obama was hijacked to elect Scott Brown: "We want change!"

There was no outpouring for a right-wing agenda in Massachusetts. Brown only received 50,000 votes more than McCain. But Coakley received 850,000 fewer votes than Obama. The Republican base remained energized. The Democratic base and independent supporters stayed home.

Unless elected leaders and candidates deliver on job creation and the economy -- they're going to join the growing numbers of jobless Americans.

Members of Congress from both parties need to heed the wake-up call from Massachusetts and start taxing Wall Street wealth to create millions of good jobs fast. To get elected in 2010, they're going to have to PROVE they'll create the jobs we need in an economy we need with the health care we need -- and those who made the mess should pay the bill. Voters have heard too much talk already.

America's union movement is leading a broad uprising of working people ready to make sure elected leaders and candidates get the message and don't forget. Don't just watch for us in the streets -- join us.

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