Killing the Working American

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by Jack Random
enate Republicans have made their stand.  Unable to find their foothold against a $700 billion bailout for the financial institutions before the election, they have suddenly relocated their collective courage in opposition to the $14 billion loan package to save the auto industry.  

Twenty-one Senators who voted for the financial bailout switched sides to oppose the auto bailout [1] on the grounds that the United Auto Workers was unwilling to sacrifice wages.  They made no such demands of the financial behemoths that were deemed “too big to fail.”  

Aside from the not insignificant matter of $686 billion (some say it could be trillions when the Federal Reserve’s cloistered dealings are factored in), what differences between these two ideologically similar events justifies a wholesale change of heart?  

First and foremost, the employees of the institutions of finance (I refuse to call it an industry when it produces nothing of intrinsic value; in fact, its recent product has had negative value) have no union representation.  Here lies the not-so-secret revelation:  Republicans despise labor.  Never mind that the UAW has made concession after concession to aid the struggling industry compete in a global economy, for over five decades the party of the elite has waged an effective legal, political and propaganda war against organized labor, largely succeeding in persuading American workers (the majority of the electorate) that unions somehow work against their interests.  (If you believe that, how would you like a new home financed by pigeon droppings?)  

As the economy remains precariously balanced at the edge of a cataclysmic fall, hemorrhaging jobs at a rate unseen in decades, it should be clear that the Republican anti-labor philosophy is not only morally bankrupt but so far removed from economic realities that it has brought us to the state of desperation we find ourselves in today.  They are now willing to risk turning a deep recession into a global depression.  

In the waning days of an eight-year reign of arguably the worst policy blunders in American history, Senate Republicans have chosen to use their last bullet for a shot at the heart of the American worker.  

The ignorance and/or audacity, the insensitivity and mendacity, of those twenty-one Senators is beyond belief.  

For those who would argue that conservatives are finally showing the courage of their convictions, where was it when the financial sector came begging?  

The second major distinction between the financial and auto bailouts is that the former happened before the election.  The honorable Senators knew full well that if they blocked the financial bailout the market would immediately implode and an already discredited Republican brand would lose even more decisively at the ballot box.  

The difference now is that the Democrats are taking control of government.  To be absolutely candid, if the market tanks and the economy falls into full-scale depression it is not their problem.  Two years from now they can and will blame it on Obama and the Democrats.  

Remember this when they accuse the opposition of playing politics with the welfare of the nation.

From 1948 to 1958 over thirty percent of the American workforce was represented by organized labor and the entire workforce benefited.  The ensuing decades saw a steady decline in union representation, falling below twenty percent in 1985 and slipping to 12.5% in the most recent data available.  

The rise of labor marked the establishment of the American middle class, the consumer class, the foundation of today’s economy, and its decline has foreshadowed the fall of the middle class and the crumbling of our economic foundation.  

If we are to reverse that crippling trend, it must begin with the autoworkers.  We can guide them and help them to create a new industry geared to the green economy that will serve as a model to the world and mark the path forward or we can do nothing while they fail and watch another million decent paying jobs vanish.  

There is hope for the auto industry in the current crisis and it comes from the most unlikely of sources.  Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulsen has indicated he may be willing to provide funds from the financial bailout to the beleaguered automakers.  If there is any hope for his own redemption, he will not fail to act.  

The change we need begins with the auto industry but it does not end there.  Labor shares some of the blame for its own decline by yielding to the temptation of corruption and by standing for protectionism in the form of tariffs rather than standing for international labor rights and living wages.  They have been late to oppose global “free trade” and in the end that is the only way out of our growing economic conundrum.  They must do so now and reform their own practices to ensure that corruption does not once again become standard procedure.  Workers must not only be represented but invested in the success of a business operation.  

Legislatively, rebuilding labor will require at long last the repeal of the most repressive anti-labor law ever to visit the halls of congress:  The Taft-Hartley Labor Act of 1945.  An amendment to the National Labor Relations Act, it extended the concept of “unfair labor practices” to labor itself.  It prohibited wildcat, jurisdictional, political and solidarity strikes.  It banned secondary boycotts, closed shops and secondary picketing.  It enabled states to pass “right to work” laws [2] effectively prohibiting the right to organize.  It enabled the federal government to break strikes by injunction, which Ronald Reagan famously employed to break the air traffic controllers strike in the 1970’s.  

All of these prohibitions tear at the fundamental rights to organize the workforce and effectively represent their interests.  None have a place in a modern democracy.  

Unions today have chosen to make their stand on the Employee Free Choice Act.  It is nothing more than an affirmation of the principle of majority rule in the workplace and should pass both houses of congress under the Obama administration.  It is so fundamental that anyone who opposes it can accurately be described as an enemy to the working class.  

Our failure to uphold the rights of labor within our own country has prevented us from leading the cause of labor worldwide.  It is one of the primary reasons labor was omitted from trade policy in the brainless march to a global economy.  

While a member of the International Labor Organization, America (along with China, India, Russia and Britain) is notably absent from those nations that have ratified the core conventions delineating the fundamental rights of labor.  Nor has the United States ratified the 1998 Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.  These conventions and principles concern freedom of association, collective bargaining, employment discrimination, forced labor and child labor.  That the United States has not signed on to these rights no less chosen to champion them is shameful and must be reversed.  

It is clear why we have not acknowledged the basic rights of labor.  We fail to fulfill them at home and fail to expect them of our trading partners.  

When it comes to labor rights, we are the source of the problem.  We are the reason labor exploitation has been institutionalized for corporate profit.  

One of the most important reforms the new president and the Democratic congress can make over the next four years is to reassert our leadership in human rights, including the rights of labor.  That means repealing Taft-Hartley, passing the Employee Free Choice Act, abolishing “Right to Work” laws, ratifying the core conventions of the International Labor Organization and revising trade agreements to reflect the rights of labor.  

It is not only the right thing to do; it is the only way to save the global economy.  


[1. Twenty-one senators who voted FOR the financial bailout but voted AGAINST the auto bailout:  Republicans: Bennett (UT), Burr (NC), Chambliss (GA), Coburn (OK), Coleman (MN), Corker (TN), Ensign (NV), Grassley (IA), Gregg (NH), Hatch (UT), Hutchison (TX), Isakson (GA), Kyl (AZ), Martinez (FL), McCain (AZ), McConnell (KY), Murkowski (AK), Thune (SD).  Democrats: Baucus (MT), Lincoln (AR), Reid (NV).]  

[2. Right to Work States: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming.]


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