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'America and Its Poor'

August 31, 1985

The Times is to be commended for bringing to the attention of the public (July 28-Aug. 1), "America and Its Poor." The reporters did an excellent job of presenting the painful truths of the underside of our system and society.

The letters that appeared (Aug. 11) responding to these articles showed some compassion, much criticism of the poor for having children, and there were those who had lived, survived and ultimately overcome the effects of the depression of the late '20s and early '30s. What was not mentioned was the fact that America's economic base has eroded. Times are different. Automation, robotization, factories and plants closing here and being established abroad, and military spending that creates more unemployment than jobs have all contributed to the present high unemployment.

This was forcibly brought home to me a few weeks ago when I appeared on a panel sponsored by the United Steel Workers, the symposium being held at a union hall in Huntington Park. To reach the location I drove down Slauson past closed plant after plant. Buildings deteriorating, dilapidated. What had been a thriving community had become a wasteland.

The union hall that used to be used for the purpose of hiring, was now used as a food distribution center for unemployed workers. This is happening across a nation once the industrial leader of the world. The unemployed with whom I spoke were bewildered, with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. They did not want handouts, they wanted jobs.

Each year billions are allocated in the defense budget for weapons research. Practically nothing for industrial research. To confront the problems of unemployment and consequently the poor, we need to re-think our priorities. We need to stop making it profitable for a corporation to close a plant here and build abroad. We need to have contingency plans for phasing out military contracts. For example, a shipyard closes in the United States and people lose their jobs. The latest to close was in Quincy, Mass., and thousands were thrown out of work.

In Sweden a shipyard was phasing out its contracts and plans were ready. By utilizing the buildings at the shipyard, and the workers' skills and supplementing these with retooled facilities and retraining programs, an impressive series of newly converted enterprises were set up. These include production of a giant cage, a floating installation for raising fish in a natural environment on an industrial scale; the Sanol Decontamination System, a system for cleaning up both large- and small-scale oil spills; an expanded container house that can provide living units or field hospitals that can be easily installed on a variety of sites, etc.

Other countries are involved in industrial research. West Germany is working on a plan to build anchored ships containing small windmills that would be installed in offshore locations and could generate as much as a 700-megawatt nuclear-fueled power plant etc.

We need to be creative and call again on that initiative and inventiveness that made us No. 1 where it counts--in the world's markets. A step in that direction is a bill presented in Congress by Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) It is HR 229, "The Defense Economic Adjustment Act of 1985." Readers should call their Congresspersons, urge that they be sponsors of this bill (there are 52 to date) and further insist that this bill be brought out of committee.

We could be putting millions to work building mass transit systems; housing that people can afford, revitalizing our railroad systems; improving air traffic control systems; repairing our infrastructure, etc. The jobs are there. What is needed is the will of the people to demand the reindustrialization of America.

GERTRUDE KERN

Los Angeles

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