Edwards campaigns on jobs

Edwards campaigns on jobs
 
Date October 12, 2004
Section(s) Local News
   
 
By PETER HUSSMANN

Editor

Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards preached to the choir at a town hall meeting in the Newton high school gymnasium on Monday, and his voice hit resonant chords with the party faithful.

The North Carolina Senator hit upon the party’s major themes in the final weeks before the presidential election, noting the president refuses to admit the quagmire he’s created in Iraq; is out-of touch with the crisis he’s failed to address in health care; and has focused his efforts as president for what’s best for big business at the expense of ordinary working Americans.

But it was the issue of jobs, and Newton as an example of what has been happening to the American manufacturing base, that brought Edwards back to Jasper County just 22 days before the November election.

“So much of this campaign is about you,” Edwards said to those laid off Maytag workers in attendance after being introduced by Brenda Breckenridge, who herself was laid off after more than seven years on the job. “The truth is, all the folks at Maytag that have been laid off and all the workers at Maytag are worried. American workers can compete with anybody. They just need a chance.”

Labor’s strong presence was felt often during the forum as Edwards received standing ovations for plans to stop the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs, ways to increase job opportunities in rural America and the administration’s inability to create jobs during his term in office.

“George Bush will be the first president in 70 years who has failed to create jobs during his administration,” Edwards said, something to which he was certain Newton residents could relate.

Employment numbers at Maytag‘s production plant have been reduced by approximately 1,000 during the last several years, with the most recent layoff of nearly 200 people coming two weeks ago. Workers with more than seven years of experience are now on layoff.

Salaried positions at Maytag facilities in Newton have also been targeted for elimination as part of the corporation’s strategy to integrate Hoover and Maytag Appliances under one company. The impact in Newton, which will continue through the end of the year, could result in the loss of as many as 500 salaried positions.

Maytag also recently closed its refrigeration plant in Galesburg, Ill., and shifted production to a new plant in Mexico and operations in Amana. Sixteen hundred positions were eliminated at Maytag‘s Illinois operation. Although jobs were created at the Amana facility, Maytag recently announced pending layoffs at the plant, just weeks after a new contract was approved between the company and the union.

Maytag has said the moves were necessitated by the stiff competition in the world-wide appliance industry. At the same time, the company has noted, the majority of production work remains within the United States.

Late last week, the September job growth report indicated 96,000 new jobs were created in the month. Edwards said he was certain the president would tout the report in Wednesday’s final presidential debate but said the figures really show a dim job market.

“That’s not enough to take into account the new people entering the work force,” he said. “And hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers have given up and fallen off the unemployment lists.”

The vice presidential candidate, who won Jasper County in the January caucuses, said the type of jobs created under this administration are not comparable to the type of jobs being lost.

“Thirty-thousand of those jobs were in fast food,” he said. “They are not the type of jobs where you can support a family. The kind of jobs created are nothing like the ones lost.

“They are going to try every way they know how to put lipstick on that pig,” he said. “You can put on all the lipstick you want but at the end of the day it’s still a pig.”

Edwards said that the current administration believes that outsourcing American jobs to workers in other countries is a good thing.

“Outsourcing is good, this administration says,” Edwards said. “I’ll tell you what would be good; outsourcing George Bush and Dick Cheney.”

That chord struck laid off Maytag worker Don Larkin personally. Sporting an anti-NAFTA T-shirt, Larkin said he was laid off two weeks ago because of the policies of President Bush.

“I don’t know why this election is even close,” he said.

Under a John Kerry presidency, Edwards said, tax benefits that lure businesses to produce overseas would be eliminated and replaced with tax cuts for those businesses keeping and expanding operations in the United States.

“The best products are built right here in America and Newton, Iowa,” Edwards said.

Questions from the audience also focused on the needs of middle class workers and the revitalization of rural America.

A Kerry administration, Edwards said, would “champion” the causes of the middle class over big oil companies reaping the profits of high gasoline costs, pharmaceutical companies benefitting from high prescription drug costs and insurance companies making profits from rising health care premiums.

“It’s a question of whose side you are on,” Edwards said. “You can’t be on the side of big oil, HMOs, pharmaceutical and insurance companies and at the same time be on the side of the American people. The middle class desperately needs a champion. We’re always going to be with the middle class.”

Edwards said the coming election will determine much about America’s future.

“You know what’s at stake in this election; the people of Iowa understand,” he said. “This is the most important election of our lifetime. We are out there fighting for voters, fighting for you with every fiber of our being. And we are going to keep fighting. But whatever we do, we can’t do it by ourselves. We need you to give us the ability to restore America and bring back its integrity with other countries … where once again people will look up to the United States.”

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