Not the wars. Not greenhouse gasses. Not even the deficit. The issue most important to Americans is jobs.
Despite that, jobs failed to make an appearance in the State of the Union address.
The talk was all about business. Business was doing better. Business needed taxpayers to help pay for research and innovation. Business will get government help to eliminate pesky regulations. Business must have lower taxes.
The most telling statement was this:
“We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.”
Especially because it wasn’t matched by a companion:
“We have to make America the best place on Earth to work.”
The speech expressed a policy in which business is the focus of government, taking precedence over workers. The American colonists created a government for their own benefit; they did not constitute an agent to serve business. A policy giving corporations primacy is risky for American workers.
The state of the union noted that happy days are here again for corporations and banks:
“Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.”
Never mentioned, however, were the 14.5 million unemployed Americans, the sustained record rate of foreclosure, and the increasing poverty and food bank reliance among citizens of the richest nation in the world.
The state of the union outlined a plan under which the government will coddle corporations, essentially proving companies government welfare using American workers’ tax dollars. If businesses create jobs for workers as a result, fine. If they don’t, there’s no plan to exact a penalty.
For example, under the policy described in the speech, American workers will fork over tax dollars to pay for research and development for businesses that are sitting on a record $1.8 trillion in cash reserves — hoarding it rather than creating jobs.
The president said:
“Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”
Maybe it will create new jobs. Hopefully. But no guarantees were offered. Mentioned as a business success story in the speech was a Michigan company, Luma Resources, which began manufacturing solar shingles with the help of a $500,000 government grant. It created 20 jobs, $25,000 a job. American taxpayers might think that’s a little pricey, but what’s worse is the potential for Luma Resources to go the way of Evergreen Solar, squandering the corporate welfare.
Evergreen, the third largest maker of solar panels in the U.S. and recipient of at least $43 million in corporate welfare, announced earlier this month it would close its main American factory in Massachusetts and move manufacturing to China. Eight hundred Americans will lose their Evergreen jobs by April.
Evergreen officials said China will give the company even higher amounts of corporate welfare, which, of course, makes sense since China is not a capitalist country. Its economy is government controlled. And that government routinely violates international trade regulations – by providing banned subsidies to industries and by deliberately devaluing its currency.
No matter how better educated American workers get. No matter how much more innovative. No matter how much more productive. No matter how many tax dollars the government spends on research and development, if the corporations that benefit move manufacturing overseas, the American workers who paid for it will suffer.
In fact, it’s more than suffering; it’s betrayal by their government that provided tax benefits to companies for off-shoring jobs. It is betrayal by their government that fails to stop violations of trade laws by countries like China that lure away firms like Evergreen.
At the end of the State of the Union speech, the president said:
“From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.”
An ordinary American dreams of a family-supporting job, owning a home, saving enough to pay for a child’s college education, helping to build a safe community. Corporations aren’t Americans, no matter how often the U.S. Supreme Court grants them rights that the U.S. Constitution guarantees to human beings. Businesses aren’t citizens. Their allegiance isn’t to America. It’s to profits. They dream only of dollars. They concede no responsibility to family, community or country.
They were not included when the president said:
“Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater — something more consequential than party or political preference. We are part of the American family.”
The top priority of the American government must be making America the best place on Earth for Americans. If that’s good for corporations, great. The government must never place American citizens second.
*This post originally appeared in United Steelworker’s Blog on January 31, 2010.
About the Author: Leo W. Gerard is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and chairs the labor federation’s Public Policy Committee. President Barack Obama recently appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations. He serves as co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of the Apollo Alliance, Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute. He is a member of the IMF and ICEM global labor federations and was instrumental in creating Workers Uniting, the first global union.