Nader Blasts Plutocrats, Bush & Iraq War: Calls for ‘Congress Watch Locals’
June 26—Ralph Nader, Green Party candidate for president in 2000 and probable candidate in the 2004 election, showed up in Baltimore today. He began his “People Have the Power” tour on the east side of town in the working class neighborhood of Dundalk, at the gritty Steelworkers Union Hall. Despite the sweltering weather, he showed a lot of enthusiasm in urging his audience to take on the political system.
Nader started by railing at the “deindustrializing of America by greedy corporations that don’t have any allegiance to the country.” Free trade, he said is only a “theory, that is based on an 18th century economy. It doesn’t apply to the modern age.” He underscored, “You can’t have free trade with a dictatorial regime like China, where workers are paid 28 cents an hour, where there are no labor unions, no laws against polluters, where there are brutal factory conditions and where child labor is endemic.”
The one-hour rally was sponsored by the Community College of Baltimore County’s “Labor Studies Program” and a Nader organization called “Democracy Rising.” As a result of the 2000 election, the Green Party members now hold over 170 public offices nationwide. As the standard bearer for the Greens, Nader pulled in close to 3 million votes in that last election, a two percent increase over his 1996 numbers.
The locus for the rally, Local 2609, the Steelworkers Union Hall, had a lot of emotional symbolism. Not far from that site is the sprawling Sparrows Point steel plant, once owned by the Bethlehem Steel Co. This is the same facility that, during WWII, employed over 35,000 union workers. Today, it is down to a paltry 2,140 steelworkers. Sadly, Bethlehem Steel, the former owner, has filed for bankruptcy.
Nader emphasized how just “400 individuals in this country received $70 billion in income last year. This top one percent of the rich are equal to the bottom 95 percent of the other income producers in the economy. The bottom one third of the workers earn the lowest ‘living wage’ of any Western country. We have over 47 million workers making from $6 to $9 an hour. For most Americans things are getting worse,” Nader said.
“The steel, shipbuilding and auto manufacturing jobs are vanishing too,” Nader reports. “According to the U.S. Labor Department, manufacturers cut 53,000 workers in May, 2003, after dropping 95,000 in April. Since July, 2000, the statistics reveal, that sector alone has lost 2.6 million jobs. The nation’s unemployment rate is at 6.1 percent, the highest that it has been since 1994.”
The Green Party leader said, “Consumer debt is at $7.5 trillion, an all-time high. Twenty percent of kids in this country are hungry and living in ‘dire’ poverty, another twenty percent are living ‘near’ poverty.”
George Bush was referred to as the “selected president” by Nader. He pointed out how Bush, when he was a part-owner of the Texas Rangers major league baseball team, made an easy $13 million profit on its sale mostly because the taxpayers picked up the cost of building a new stadium for the team. He called that an example of “corporate welfare.”
The Green Party organization opposed the U.S.-led war with Iraq. Its platform champions cutting the defense budget by half over the next 10 years, converting the economy to a “peacetime” use. It also endorses campaign finance reform, “a ban on Political Action Committees,” and restrictions on “soft money” contributions. On the Middle East, the Greens support “the right of a people to self-determination,” and peace based on “respect for civil liberties and human rights.”
Nader said the Iraq War has been a “disaster for the country, costing over $75 billion.” He added that it was promoted by “chicken hawks” against the best advice of the retired military and policy-making establishments. The Bush-Cheney Administration, he said, is a “radical regime.” As for the president himself, Nader continued, “He got us into war based on false statements, based on gross and misleading assertions. If that is not an impeachable offense, it is hard to find one that is. Bush is nothing but ‘a big corporation’ as president, disguised as a human being.
“The Military-Industrial Complex has been out there looking for new enemies,” Nader continued, “Terrorism has replaced Communism. What about the governments that commit terrorism? Killing innocent people is terrorism, too. When governments do it, they say, ‘Oh, sorry about that.’
“People must get organized and fight back,” Nader insisted. He suggested forming “Congress Watch Locals” comprised of 500 activists in each of the 435 congressional districts. These activists would hold the senators and representatives accountable. “What is needed is to reinvent the fighting spirit of the 60s and 70s in this country and to take our government back from the corporations and the plutocrats,” said Nader. “Today, the rich own or rent the politicians.”
“The challenge,” Nader concluded, “is to put civic values over commercial values. If the people get organized, they can do it. The first rule of democracy is to show up. Our country is at stake. The time to act is now.”
William Hughes is the author of Andrew Jackson vs. New World Order (Authors Choice Press) and Baltimore Iconoclast (Writer’s Showcase). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This story was published on July 12, 2003.