Monday, March 3, 2008

Let Freedom Ring

Ron Ault,
Metal Trades Department, AFL-CIO

On March 1, 2008, the U.S.S. New York, LPD-21, will be commissioned in an elaborate, traditional Naval ceremony capped by a bottle of champagne breaking across her expansive bow at Northrop Grumman Avondale Shipyard in New Orleans, Louisiana. 7.5 tons of steel taken from the World Trade Center wreckage is cast into her majestic bow. The image of that cowardly terrorist attack is forever superimposed into the American psyche. It is poetic justice that an avenging United States Naval warship should contain as part of its soul, a portion of the destroyed World Trade Center structure that took more than 3,000 innocent lives.

Let Freedom Ring! Nothing could tug at the heart and inflame the national passions of patriotism more than this fitting image. Our members built the USS New York. They put their blood, sweat and expertise as highly skilled shipbuilders into building the USS New York. Working in a noisy, dangerous, heavy industrial environment with high humidity and air temperatures often hovering at or near 100 degrees, our members take hundreds of tons of raw materials, miles of piping, valves and machinery, cast, forge, form, bend steel plate into complex shapes and weld the hulls into sleek, highly complex, modern warships with offensive capabilities unheard of just a few years ago. Our members install and test highly classified, sensitive electronics, advanced weapons and propulsion systems in these 21st century naval warships.

Our Metal Trades Council members have built, overhauled and converted thousands of such advanced Navy ships over the past 100 years and we are justifiably proud of the craftsmanship and quality of these ships as they steam out of our shipyards and take their place in the fleet protecting our nation. We know they are the finest and most capable such ships in the world, because we build every ship knowing full well that it will be our Sons and Daughters who sail these ships in harm’s way and fight our nation’s battles.

But there is another untold story hidden in the shadows of the magnificent U.S.S. New York. Meet Mr. J.F. Martinez, a long term employee of NG Avondale shipyard who has worked at Avondale for 29 years. Mr. Martinez is a shipfitter/welder, and a member of Boilermakers, Local Union 1814, one of the affiliated Local Unions of the New Orleans Metal Trades Council, AFL-CIO, the umbrella labor organization that represents all the blue collar workers who build ships at NG Avondale shipyard. Mr. Martinez is a worker who welded the steel from the World Trade Center into the bow of this great warship. “I am very proud that my skills and hard work helped build this great ship and that the steel I welded from the World Trade Center is part of this warship,” said Mr. Martinez. “I used to live in New Orleans East and after Hurricane Katrina destroyed everything I owned, I wondered if I would ever be able to rebuild my life and continue to build ships. It has been so hard and we aren’t there yet.” In fact, Mr. Martinez’s life is anything but normal. Married with two grown Daughters, he is one of the hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast workers who lost everything they owned, yet have struggled to maintain their dignity and rebuild their lives, while living in a FEMA furnished trailer.

While FEMA is evicting Gulf Coast families out of unsafe Katrina trailers, homeowners insurance is unaffordable and largely unavailable for Gulf Coast residents. Government could help by requiring private insurers to pool risks and resources to provide homeowners insurance and facilitate rebuilding the residential communities destroyed by Katrina and Rita. Government could do a lot to facilitate the reconstruction of the devastation, but it hasn’t. There has been no government coordination and streamlining of the various government agencies and programs into a clearinghouse of help for the hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens. Just think about where America is today…We are in a major Recession. Foreclosures are at record highs as homeowners join the unemployed and homeless.

The Gulf Coast must be rebuilt. There is no option. The longer we wait, the more it will cost. Rebuilding the Gulf Coast in 2008 is a hundred times a better economic stimulus than the paltry $600 tax rebate program of the Bush Administration (that you and I will have to pay for in taxes next year.) Just stop and think of the economic ripple effect across the entire U.S. economy of tens of thousands of new, good-paying construction jobs rebuilding 740,000 homes and 9,000 business destroyed by Katrina. America would have a booming economy this year; not a recession, doing the right thing by rebuilding the Gulf Coast. Our Government has the power and the ability to appoint a Gulf Coast Reconstruction Czar at the White House level to cut across all agencies and programs. Such a bold and decisive move would draw wide bipartisan support in Congress and could be accomplished in just days, if we had bold and compassionate National leadership.

Are you ready for a booming economy that works for all? It is up to us to demand more than lip service by our politicians. Let Freedom Ring!