Illinois Unemployed Demand Mark Kirk Vote with Working Families not Wall Street
Over 300 unemployed workers and members of labor and community organizations across Chicago united to protest recent votes of 10th District Congressman Mark Kirk on jobs and unemployment.
Led by the Chicago Jobs with Justice's Unemployed Workers Council, the activists united to demand immediate action to create jobs. "We need jobs and until we get them of course we need unemployment benefits. Mark Kirk is voting against both", said Carole Ramsden, an unemployed union electrician and member of the Chicago JwJ Unemployed Workers Council.
On August 10th, Kirk promised to vote to support legislation that would have prevented layoffs of teachers for local school districts facing budget shortfalls due to the ongoing economic crisis. One day later, in Washington, Kirk reversed himself and voted against the legislation saying that the bill would have added to the deficit, even though the analysis of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office showed that the legislation would actually reduce the deficit in the long term by a billion dollars. Congress passed the bill without his support.
"Our kids need teachers, and our economy can't withstand more job losses. This bill saved 6,000 jobs in Illinois. Why on earth is Kirk voting against that? Because it adds to the deficit? Well, then why does he support extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires?" asked John Kugler of the Chicago Teachers Union.
Kirk has also voted repeatedly against extending unemployment benefits since November 2009, again attributing his opposition to an unwillingness to add to the budget deficit despite the general consensus among economists that in an economic downturn short-term deficit spending is preferable to further shrinking the economy by ending benefits to the unemployed. Furthermore, Kirk has said he favors extending the Bush Administration's tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires which would add over $100 billion to the national debt.
Chicago's workers, employed and unemployed, came out in force to demand that Kirk stand on the side of working families and hold Wall Street accountable.
"We need jobs now! Here in Illinois because of the stimulus, we have Put Illinois to Work which is employing 25,000 parents in Illinois and adding millions to the Illinois economy. This is the kind of program that we need and we need it to continue and to expand to employ the rest of the 600,000 folks out of work in Illinois. We can do this by creating a federal jobs program and if Mark Kirk and the Republicans are worried about the deficit, then let Wall Street pay the tab. It's a simple concept to apply to our economy: you break it, you buy it!"
"Instead of solutions, all we are hearing, mostly from Republicans, is about how the unemployed are lazy, stupid and drug addicts. We didn't create this crisis-it wasn't our greed and irresponsible lending and investing that brought the financial system down. We just want to work and take care of our families. And since Wall Street created this mess, we think they should pay to clean it up," says Lorraine Mora-Chavez, an unemployed college professor who is also a part of the Unemployed Workers Council. "The experience of being unemployed is torture-constant stress and worry and watching all that you have worked for slipping away: your savings, your 401K, your home. We need jobs now; not insults and indifference."
Reverend Michael Stinson of the General Assembly Church of Englewood said, "this protest highlights the need for jobs in urban America and particularly highlights the need to extend the Put Illinois to Work Program for the state of Illinois. This is a measure that can be taken immediately to continue to have 25,000 people retain their jobs going into the new year. Losing these jobs at the end of September will be catastrophic for families that have been impacted by foreclosures, flooding and the economic downturn.”
Stinson says that he can see the difference in his parishioners who have been able to participate in Put Illinois to Work. "I see a change in their posture; they stand a little straighter, smile a bit easier, they are hopeful. They have pride in their ability to provide. Folks want to work, to contribute, to be needed and to bring home that paycheck. We should do anything and everything to keep it going."
The Chicago JwJ Unemployed Workers Council will be continuing to highlight the need to create jobs through community events and public actions. The fight is expected to heat up as the November elections near and folks who lost their jobs as the financial crisis took hold in 2008, begin running out of benefits this fall. The last extension of benefits that Congress passed, amid fierce Republican opposition, will run out again in November. With no new jobs on the horizon, it is expected that another extension and the creation of a Tier V level of benefits will be called for, though concerns about the deficit seem to dominate the debate in Washington. In the meantime, over 600,000 people in Illinois are still out of work. Without benefits the unemployed will continue to add to the increasing foreclosure rate and be desperate for means of subsistence. Nationally, by the end of 2010, 3.5 million unemployed workers will lose their benefits in an economy without new jobs being created.