Unions and OWS openly together at last: "Day of Action" planned for next week

Three major national unions plan to join members of the Occupy Wall Street movement for “We are the 99 percent” protests next Thursday. The AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union and the Laborers’ International Union of North America are eager to piggyback on the press of OWS — all to call for increased infrastructure spending. MoveOn.org and the American Dream Movement also plan to join the party.

The Hill reports:

Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO’s director of government affairs, said labor has been frustrated by Republican-led filibusters in the Senate to block the parts of President Obama’s jobs bill that would increase infrastructure spending.

“It is an effort to focus public attention on repairing bridges and help with the jobs crisis. The Congress seems to be unable to do either at the moment with Republicans blocking these measures,” Samuel said.

The “Day of Action” will feature one march from Albany to New York City and another from a Verizon call center in Maryland to McPherson Square in Washington D.C. (Why Verizon? The company has been embroiled in a labor union dispute.) MoveOn also hopes a little protesting will occur at structurally sketchy sites to illustrate the need for funding for repairs.

It’s true Republicans recently opposed the Rebuild American Jobs Act, a portion of the president’s jobs bill that calls for $60 billion in increased infrastructure spending at the price of tax hikes. Even Republicans who have previously supported increased federal funding for infrastructure voted against it, including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who serves as the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent suggests this opposition was motivated by a desire to spare the rich a teensy-tiny surtax. But I’d argue that it says something that even those who consider infrastructure important still opposed the bill. In other words, Republicans didn’t oppose it because they like potholes. They just recognize the president’s bill is unaffordable. Furthermore, the only bipartisan position on the bill was against it. Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska both opposed it, as well.

As a reminder, other options exist to improve infrastructure. State and local governments are best positioned to know what needs improvement in the first place. In Indiana, for example, Mitch Daniels tackled the problem of a money-losing toll road head-on by selling a toll road to a private (foreign) company. His decision was highly unpopular at the time, but, ultimately, proceeds from the deal “unclogged a massive backlog of projects and funded hundreds of new proposals without increasing taxes or adding to the debt,” as one writer put it. Federal funding isn’t the only way to tackle the infrastructure problem.

Why aren’t the labor unions asking for infrastructure improvements at the state level? Might it be because state governments would be better positioned to balance their own budgets if public-sector unions weren’t bleeding them dry? Gas taxes and toll road fees are rarely reinvested in infrastructure because states are overcommitted. If these unions really want better infrastructure, perhaps they ought to show a little more support for efforts to balance state budgets.