THE AFL-CIO US trade union federation has condemned President Bush for his lack of any action in support of the victims of the recent tornadoes in Alabama and Georgia.
Its statement said: ‘In the play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the heroine Blanche DuBois says: “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
‘President Bush seems to hope there are lots of kind strangers out there to help the victims of the tornadoes that ripped through Alabama and Georgia last week – because his government certainly won’t.
‘While saying help is on the way, Bush told residents of Americus, Ga., to “hang in there,” and urged generous Americans to donate money to help. He said some of our poor citizens “may or may not qualify” for federal aid and “they are going to need the help of their fellow citizens.”
‘The fact that the most vulnerable survivors cannot expect help from the Bush administration sounds like more of the same to residents of New Orleans, who are still trying to get real federal help 19 months after their homes, jobs and lives were devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
‘During his recent trip to the Crescent City, Bush did not offer one more penny of new financial aid to New Orleans. Nor did he offer any help to rebuild the city’s institutions such as the schools.
‘Indeed, he added insult to the injuries faced by the city’s school children by visiting a charter school, while hundreds of students still are unable to attend any of the public schools.
‘Brenda Mitchell, president of the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO)/AFT, says Bush’s visit was a PR ploy on his part.
‘ “He wanted to show that the New Orleans experiment is a success and I resent it. He’s doing it on the backs of families whose lives were devastated by Katrina and the teachers who need a job and know how to do the job that needs to be done.
‘ “The charter schools are dividing our community further. The charter schools have selective admissions. He focused on a small number of students while the majority of students are in the Recovery District. And there’s evidence that charter schools are no better than public schools at educating our children.
‘ “I think he was insincere and disingenuous.”
‘Before Katrina hit, 128 public schools operated in New Orleans.
‘Now, only 55 have reopened. Thirty-one are autonomous charter schools, the largest group of charter schools in the nation.
‘The local Orleans Parish school district operates five schools. The state-controlled Recovery School District (RSD), which took over schools with performance scores below the state average, even if they were meeting yearly progress goals, operates the rest. Employees in RSD schools have no union representation.
‘In January, we reported that 300 New Orleans school children were shut out of schools and denied an education they badly need because the city says it doesn’t have enough space or teachers.
‘So, instead of studying in classrooms, 300 students were sitting at home waiting for space to open up in schools. Mitchell says there are no students waiting for space today, but that officials keep stuffing students into already overcrowded classes at the rate of 300 per week rather than hire more teachers.
‘What makes the plight of the schools even more outrageous is that thousands of school teachers in the city lost their jobs or were forced to retire when local officials closed schools to gut the teachers’ union.
‘Shortly after Katrina, some 4,900 public school teachers, mostly members of the UTNO, and 1,900 support staff were forced to retire or just lost their jobs.
‘At the same time, the federal government is dragging its feet on getting people who want to rebuild into new homes, even as the union movement and other private groups are doing all they can to assist in the rebuilding effort.
‘The AFL-CIO announced last June a $1 billion Gulf Coast Revitalization Program to build badly needed affordable housing, spur economic development and create family-supporting union jobs in Gulf Coast communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
‘Under the Gulf Coast Revitalization Program, investments by the AFL-CIO’s Housing Investment Trust (HIT), Building Investment Trust (BIT) and Investment Trust Corporation (ITC) will produce housing for low- and moderate-income working families and provide mortgage loans, good jobs and revitalisation of the hospitality industry, as well as health care facilities in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities.
‘The investments are expected to generate nearly six million hours of union construction work and result in $1 billion in development activity over the next seven years.
‘There’s no doubt the money is needed. Stephanie Grace, a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, wrote after Bush’s trip to the Crescent City last week, the president’s claim that $110 billion in federal funds has been sent to New Orleans is just plain wrong.
‘ “. . . it’s worth pointing out that, clear White House inference notwithstanding, the figure is not a true reflection of hurricane aid. It’s utterly misleading, at best, to include National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) claims in the total. The $16.1 billion that the NFIP has distributed so far went to policy holders who paid premiums to the government.
‘ “Also downplayed is that the money is being split among five states after three hurricanes, Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Louisiana’s share is $59 billion.
‘ “If he (Bush) had offered any new initiatives, it would have looked like he was. . . just trying to save face. But as bad as that would have been, coming all this way and offering nothing was worse.
‘ “But rather than bringing the Bush administration to task, some Republicans, such as former House Speaker and potential presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, blame the victims.”
‘He said: “And for 22,000 citizens in the lower Ninth Ward, the hardest-hit area, citizenship failed. They literally did not have the education, the training, the habits of responsibility, or the capacity to get out of the way of a hurricane.”
‘Bill Scher reports in Blog for Our Future, that Gingrich told the Conservative Political Action Conference last week a “deep investigation” was needed into this “failure of citizenship.”
‘Huffington Post’s Harry Shearer reacted to the comments, pointing out: “the folks in the Ninth Ward weren’t caught by a hurricane. They were surprised at 5:30 Monday morning (according to [Louisiana State University Hurricane Center co-founder Ivor] Van Heerden’s timeline) by an 18-foot-high wall of water as their federally built flood protection structure catastrophically failed.”
‘Who’s the uneducated one?’