Two members of Congress – both from Southern states – reaffirmed their solid support for the U.S.-flag maritime industry and the men and women who crew, build and supply those vessels before the MTD Executive Board.
Both Representatives Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) came before the board on February 20 as it met in Atlanta. While maritime was a primary focus of their remarks, both tackled other issues of importance.
Clyburn, who serves as the Assistant Democratic Leader in the House, has addressed the MTD Executive Board on several occasions, the latest being in 2009.
He reiterated his strong support for working people. “That is not to say that I will always vote the way you would like me to vote,” he said. “But I think that the last time I checked, I’m at 100 percent with you.
“But don’t worry if I’m not with you a hundred percent,” Clyburn continued. “But that don’t mean a thing. I’m not 100 percent with Emily, my wife [of 53 years], and she’s not 100 percent with me, but we are still hanging tough.”
He noted his life encounters helped mold his positions for those who work for a living: “And growing up in South Carolina, I grew up with a certain set of experiences,” he continued. “I understand what it is to sleep three in a bed. I understand what it is to see your parents sit down at the kitchen table and try to balance their books. I know what it’s like to play in your bathtub for the first time when it’s out in the yard waiting to be installed.
“I feel those experiences and I carry them with me every day when I walk to the floor in the House of Representatives. And when issues come before that body, I call upon those experiences when I have to make decisions about how to cast my vote.”
Commenting on collective bargaining and the role of unions in America, the congressman said, “Working men and women built this country into what it is today. And it seems to me to be something beyond sanity for us to be considering [let alone] passing laws and putting into place rules and regulations that take away the rights of people to sit down at a table and to bargain collectively.
“The fact of the matter is I don’t understand how it’s okay for people to be members of chambers of commerce and collectively offer work on their behalf and then say it is wrong for workers sitting down and collectively making decisions about their futures.” So when “issues come before that body that threatens that (the right for workers to collectively bargain), I’m always going to be there—remembering my parents, my cousins, my aunts and uncles and the experiences that they have had—when I have to make those decisions.”
Changing his focus to wealth and income inequality, Clyburn flatly stated, “We all know that that there is growing income inequality in this country.
“We just had the governor of my state propose that we raise the gasoline tax 10 or 15 cents and then offset it by reducing the income taxes by 10 or 15 percent,” he continued. “Something about that does not add up to me.
“So we’re going to put additional tax on all of the consumers? The people who are trying to put gasoline in their trucks so they can go out and earn a living? We’re going to increase their taxes and then cut the taxes on the upper income levels and then not have enough money to educate our children and enhance the safety net? We have to start talking with one another in an open honest way about these issues.”
Clyburn informed the body that he is working with other members of Congress to create a transportation and infrastructure measure that he hopes will benefit working families.
Clyburn closed by lauding the efforts of those present for working tirelessly to help make the American dream more attainable. “I thank you all for all you have done to support what I call a middle class economy. Supporting progressive programs for working men and women is what is going to keep us moving forward as a country. We cannot squeeze the middle class out of this formula and wake up one day and have a few people way at the top, a whole lot of people down on the bottom and nobody in the middle to balance it out.”
Congressman Scott opened his remarks by stating, “I’ve been a supporter for the maritime industry for a long time.”
His district includes the Newport News/Tidewater region of Virginia. Like Clyburn, he has served in Congress since 1993. He is the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Because of his background in both Congress and, prior to that, the Virginia General Assembly, Scott has a unique perspective on what it takes to ensure the continuation of a strong and vibrant U.S.-flag maritime industry.
“The success of the industry is dependent on the continued support of things like the Maritime Security Program and the Jones Act,” Scott told those in attendance. “The Maritime Security Program is an essential element for our national defense…it is a program that is a true example of public/private partnerships that provides the Department of Defense with sealift capability when needed, right on the spot and economically.
“So we’ve got to continue that program and the Jones Act which helps ensure long-term sustainability of the U.S. fleet, the health of the U.S. shipbuilding industry and helps protect hundreds of thousands of jobs.
“And, as far as I am concerned, you can’t have a strong maritime industry in this country without the Jones Act,” he said, “and so we have to continue the Jones Act and Title XI (the shipbuilding loan guarantee program) in order to protect good American jobs.”
Turning his attention to the disparity in wealth and income, Scott quoted the late President John F. Kennedy who once said: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
According to the congressman, that is not the case today. Based on the current state of affairs in America regarding wealth and income equality, Scott said: “…it looks like the rising tide just lifts all yachts.
“Since the 1970s, all of the growth in income has gone to the wealthiest among us. More and more, we are becoming a nation of haves and have nots. Since 1979, wages for the top 1 percent have gone up 138 percent, those in the middle 6 percent and for those on the bottom, it’s actually gone down. This trend in income disparity is even worse when you talk about disparity in wealth, because all of the gains in wealth since 1983 have gone to the upper 1 to one-fifth percent.
“This growing disparity in income and wealth threatens the future of the American dream and the future of our society, but we can do better!”
Focusing on raising wages and the positive impact such actions would have on the economy, Scott commented on Walmart’s recent decision to raise wages for its employees.
“Walmart did not increase wages for their health…they increased wages because they found that people had other options,” he said. “If you create 10 million jobs and factor in that we have a consumer-oriented economy, then you now have 10 million people buying cars, 10 million people going to restaurants, 10 million people buying houses and furniture and everything else. That will help improve the economy.”
To drive his point home, Scott used an anecdote of a minister addressing his congregation. “He said we got good news and bad news. Good news is that we have the money to build the new church; bad news is that money is still in your wallets.
“So the good news is that we have the money to create enough jobs so everybody can work; the bad news is that we’re spending it all on tax cuts for people who don’t need it.”
Regarding collective bargaining, Scott noted that across the nation, we’ve seen efforts to weaken the rights of workers to have a voice in the workplace. After recalling that the late Dr. Martin Luther King once labeled the labor movement as the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress, Scott added unions gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions and government relief to the destitute. It also provided workers new wage levels that met not only mere survival but also living wages and safe workplaces.
“Indeed, the labor movement is responsible for many basic rights that many people just take for granted,” Scott said. “The movement continues to work to ensure that working people in this country have a voice in the workplace and the right to bargain collectively with their employers.… We cannot address income inequality without a strong and thriving labor movement.”
Congressman Scott went on to say that while the labor movement is under attack, working families still have allies on Capitol Hill. “Many of us are committed to working with each and every one of you to push back on the attack on the American worker to ensure that we have a strong labor movement and making it stronger in America,” he said. “We need to fight together to fight for dignity for workers, including a higher minimum wage, overtime protections, safe workplaces and secure pensions. And we need to make sure that people continue to have a meaningful right to organize, bargain collectively and have a voice in the workplace.”