The Workers' White House

U.S. Representative Dennis J. Kucinich
The Iowa AFL-CIO
Monday, February 17, 2003
Altoona, Iowa

Brothers and Sisters. I am Dennis Kucinich. I am a dues-paying member of the camera operator's union, IATSE Local 600, of the AFL-CIO. Tomorrow I am filing papers in Washington, DC to explore becoming President of the United States of America. Let us make 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue the address of Worker's Local Number One.

On this President's Day 2003, let us reflect upon another address. One made at Gettysburg, where Lincoln prayed that "a government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth." If I am elected President, this union membership card will be placed on my desk as a reminder that in America the people rule.

You are the "people" to whom the spirit of Lincoln speaks today. You in this room and you, who clean the streets of snow, who pick up the garbage, repair the potholes, keep the tap water running, keep the lights burning, and put out the fires. You, who plant and grow America's food, who sell the food in supermarkets, who prepare and serve it in restaurants. You, who drive the trucks and buses that deliver people and goods. You who work at the post office and deliver the mail. You who protect our neighborhoods. You who protect the future by educating our children. You who protect our health, who nurse the sick. You who make steel, who make machines which turn the wheels of society, make cars coursing through the streets of big cities, make trains which stream across the country side, and planes which soar through the air. It is you and you. You are the people of whom Lincoln spoke when he proclaimed a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

This election is about your right to have a government you can call your own, a people's President, a Workers' White House.

We know workers' influence has been diminished in our national government. The passage of NAFTA was proof enough. NAFTA promised new manufacturing jobs, but NAFTA has been devastating to America's workers. Three million jobs, many of them in manufacturing, have been lost since NAFTA passed. Each lost job represents dreams deferred or shattered. Each lost job represents a family and a home that was threatened. Health insurance that was lost. Retirement benefits jeopardized. Children's educational opportunities postponed. The US Trade deficit was $417 billion in 2001. NAFTA has exported jobs and imported poverty

NAFTA promised new export markets for US farm products. US farming had a trade surplus with Canada and Mexico between 1991 and 1994. That surplus has fallen by $1.5 billion since NAFTA. Let's look at how farm commodity prices have been affected. Between the 1994-95 growing season and the 1999-2000 growing season, US corn export volume fell by 11% and prices fell by 20%. Wheat exports dropped 8%, prices dropped 28%. Cotton exports down 28%, prices down 38%. NAFTA has accelerated the decline of small farms. Farms with sales under $100,000 are being lost at a rate which is six times greater than the rate before NAFTA went into effect.

NAFTA undermined workers' bargaining power. It has given corporations the ability to threaten to move unless cuts in wages and benefits are accepted. It has given multinational corporations the ability to sue governments which pass laws to protect the rights of workers, the environment or human rights if such laws affected their profitability. NAFTA has put profit above human health, human life and human decency. This is called free trade. They trade and we give up our freedom. NAFTA has cancelled workers' rights to economic justice.

What would a Workers' White House do? As President of the United States, my first act in office will be to cancel NAFTA . Under the agreement any party can give six months notice and withdraw from NAFTA.

I will exercise that authority and return America to a bilateral trading system: Trade with nations on the condition that they abide by principles of workers rights, minimum wages, human rights, no child labor, and environmental protection in their own countries.

An American president can restore the balance of power which has shifted through NAFTA, the WTO, and the International Monetary Fund, which has resulted not only in an undermining of the position of the American worker, but an increase in poverty world wide.

The sign over the headquarters of the World Bank? says: "Our dream is a world without poverty." The nightmare is that three billion people live on less than two dollars a day.

"Despite repeated promises . . . the number of people living in poverty has actually increased by almost 100 million. This has occurred at the same time that total world income has increased by an average of 2.5% annually," Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Steiglitz.

We cannot lift the cause of workers abroad unless the economic status and the rights of American workers are secure.

What would a Workers White House look like?

The current White House undermined collective bargaining and invoked Taft-Hartley to require Longshoremen who were locked out to go to back to work under terms of the existing contract. It was reported that the White House was considering using Navy longshoremen to replace longshoremen union workers in civilian ports.

NAFTA has placed the power of the federal government in the hands of multinational corporations, the White House used Taft Hartley to put the power of the federal government on the side of the employers.

What would a Workers' White House look like? It would protect the right to strike. ". . . There is no other bargaining but collective bargaining," civil rights attorney Clarence Darrow said. As President I will reject any request to force workers back to work against their will. Employers would have to negotiate in good faith with the workers.

What would a Workers' White House look like? It would fight every single day for national health care for all. No one in America should be without adequate health care. No one should be afraid to go to a doctor because they cannot pay for it. No one should have to worry about losing everything they have worked for in life because of a major illness.

Globalization, NAFTA, and national health care are three issues which even Democratic candidates do not want to talk about. I'll tell you a fourth. Everyone knows it is the sons and daughters of America's working men and women who are the first called into battle. It has always been that way. Except this Administration has not made its case to go to war against Iraq.

I am the only candidate in this race who actually voted against the war, who led the efforts in the House of Representatives over the last year, who organized 126 Democrats to vote against the war.

The facts are these: Iraq was not responsible for 911, for Al-Qaeda's role in 911, for the anthrax attacks on our country. The Administration has not made its case for war. Iraq does not have missile technology which can reach our shores. Iraq has not been demonstrated to have usable weapons of mass destruction.

Inspections should continue. They worked before. They can work again. Iraq was contained. It can continue to be contained. America's power is a deterrence to an attack by any nation.

This war is wrong. It puts at risk the lives of our servicemen and service women. It puts at risk the lives of innocent civilians in Iraq. Surely everyone understands that if we kill thousands of civilians, anger against America will rise and we will increasingly become less safe here at home.

We have a right to defend ourselves. It is a foundational principle. We also have an obligation not to make America less safe. Every grade school athlete knows the difference between defense and offense and America is about to go on the offensive in the world, for empire, for oil but not for us. This Administration, which is run by energy interests, gave a trillion dollar tax cut to the rich and is prepared to accelerate the transfer of wealth through a war which will cost at least $200 billion dollars and perhaps much more. No money for health care. No money for child care. No money for living wages. No money for Social Security. No money for Medicare. Only money for tax cuts for the rich and only money for war. That's your money they are spending to send your sons and daughters to their war. And in the end corporate interests will win while fresh new graves will be dug on two continents.

What would a Worker's White House do? Protect this nation when we are attacked, but not attack another nation so we are forced to protect the nation once again. Use diplomacy to work for disarmament everywhere, not only in Iraq. We have proven that deterrence is the way to avert annihilation. It is the only way. Once we set these weapons at work in the world the situation goes out of control and war breaks loose around the world.

Once again the hopes of people of two nations are being smashed by weapons in the name of eliminating weapons. Let us abolish weapons of mass destruction at home. Corporate control of government is a weapon of mass destruction. Joblessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Poor health care is a weapon of mass destruction. Poor education is a weapon of mass destruction. Discrimination is weapon of mass destruction.

Let us use hundreds of billions of our tax dollars instead for the restoration of the dreams of the American worker, to rebuild our economy and to expand opportunities for all. We have a duty to assert our human needs as a people and not to yield them for the base concerns of an unresponsive government: We have a right to a job. We have a right to decent housing. We have a right to health care. Peace is a precondition which makes all other rights possible.

Peace will protect the rights of workers. The administration has already used national security to try to roll back the rights of the American Federation of Government Employees. It is attempting to frustrate efforts of airport security workers to organize. Its anti-worker agenda includes not only strike breaking, attacking collective bargaining, it also includes cheating workers out of time and a half for overtime. This is the moment for workers all over America to strengthen the cause of peace and for all those who work for peace to rally to the cause of the American worker.

You can change the course of this election. Labor has the power. You, Iowa's union members, are the gatekeepers to the Democratic nomination. I call on you to use your power to put globalization on the agenda. Use your power to put NAFTA back on the table. Use your power to put national health insurance back on the table. And let's stop this war before it startsŠI ask you to consider using your power to choose a nominee from the House of Labor, one of Labor's sons, one of your brothers. You can change the course of this election.

What would a Worker's White House do? It would unite people. It would show them their power. It would work for prosperity and peace. It would create solidarity. The kind of solidarity which birthed this nation, the kind of solidarity which births unions, the kind of solidarity which will create a rebirth in America.