Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom has covered labor and politics for a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com, which includes more than 250 of his columns.
The nation's crumbling infrastructure is in very serious need of rebuilding. There's absolutely no doubt about that.
Miles and miles of roads, highways and airport runways need to be repaired or replaced, as do miles and miles of railroad track. Many bridges and other public structures need to be fixed. So do many streets and many street lights, many water and flood control systems, many park and recreation and port facilities' high speed train systems need developing and so does very much more that's vital to our daily lives.
Look around you. You can't possibly miss examples of crumbling infrastructure.
The AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions have been pointing that out for many years, and noting that the obviously needed repair and replacement work would provide jobs for many thousands, if not millions, of the unemployed, who need work as badly as the infrastructure needs it. Those jobs are good, relatively well-paying jobs – exactly what we need to escape the Great Recession that's continuing to plague the nation.
It's pretty much what was done during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when President Franklin Roosevelt, with the support of Congress, put together the Works Projects Administration, or WPA, to put millions of jobless Americans to work on building and repairing the infrastructure. It worked then, and it would work now.
Last month, President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers and the Treasury Department issued a report detailing the benefits of doing the needed infrastructure work, including the "long term economic benefits." The report also noted that a huge majority of Americans support spending tax money on infrastructure improvement.
President Obama's labor-endorsed plan for infrastructure improvements over the next six years calls rebuilding 150,000 miles of roads, laying and maintaining 4,000 miles of railroad tracks, and creating a new air traffic control system that would reduce delays.
President Edward Wytkind of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department hailed the president's plan for its promise of "putting millions of Americans to work in the type of good jobs that transportation investments have supported for more than a century."
Laborers Union President Terry O'Sullivan noted that "time is running out." He said, "We need to invest in our country, and we need to create jobs as soon as possible. It's a no-brainer – let's build our country, create jobs, keep America competitive in the 21st century and leave behind real assets for future generations."
Author Ezra Klein, writing in the Washington Post, put it this way: "infrastructure investment creates the right jobs, for the right people, doing the right things – and at the right time. Or, to say it more clearly, infrastructure investment creates middle-class jobs for workers in a sector with high unemployment and it puts them to work doing something that we actually need done at a moment when doing it is cheaper than it ever will be again."
He's right. Boy, is he right. Yet there's a considerable body of naysayers in Congress – most of them Republicans, as you might expect – who threaten to block the bills necessary for implementing Obama's ambitious infrastructure plans.
We need those bills passed in a hurry. We need the millions of jobs they'll provide. We need to carry out the long delayed modernization of our crumbling infrastructure.