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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Three Ways Labor Can Fight Back


Time to Declare War

Three Ways Labor Can Fight Back


There’s no denying it: In politics and commerce, slogans are gold. No matter how inane or inaccurate, a clever slogan has a good chance of changing public opinion. Recall Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign from some years ago. That ubiquitous slogan resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in Nike sales….despite no one even knowing what the hell it meant.

Politics is worse. Smearing a candidate as “tax-and-spend,” attacking national health care as “socialized medicine,” portraying government assistance as a “nanny state,” calling fixed time-tables for leaving Iraq or Afghanistan “surrender dates,” using “death panels” to frighten the elderly—all of these visceral appeals have worked.

What unions need to do is join the party. They need to streamline their message, make it less cerebral and more visceral. While smears, innuendo and wild generalizations aren’t tactics that necessarily make you proud, they are tactics that tend to work. And, as the man said: If you want to win, you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.

Here are three approaches labor might consider taking.

Sponsor of the middle-class. Fortunately, the happy term “middle-class” still resonates with America, and, accordingly, the notion of the middle-class shrinking away (even though it’s happening before our eyes) still frightens people. Labor needs to pounce on this, make it their new equation: Sponsor of the middle-class = labor unions. Slogan: Since when was it a crime to want to be middle-class?

Labor must stop referring to groups or institutions as “anti-union.” That label won’t win enough supporters, not in today’s environment. Take the offensive and refer to them as “anti-middle-class.” Anti-people. Anti-family. Anti-prosperity. Merge this with the anti-government sentiment that exists in the country, turn it around and use it to expose those state governors who are trying to eliminate collective bargaining as tyrants. Power to the people….not the politicians!

Take what’s going on in Wisconsin and turn it into a Tea Party-like anthem. “Let the workers decide, not the government!” Depict what’s happening as a battle between good and evil—between the government and the workers—but make sure the public knows who the good guys are: police, firefighters, teachers. While nobody becomes a cop, teacher or fireman to get rich, they do hope to remain in the middle-class. What’s the government now telling them? That wanting to remain in the middle-class is now a crime? Have we as a country honestly fallen that far?

Patriotism. Accuse the anti-union forces of being “traitors,” of committing economic treason. Smear the anti-union forces the way progressives were smeared during the Red Scare days of the 1950s. Make it clear that if people really want to see some old-fashioned, patriots, all they need do is visit a union hall. Emphasize the fact that unlike Wall Street bankers, many union members are former military veterans. Also, publicize the fact that countries that are/were America’s enemies have outlawed labor unions.

Don’t be shy. Wave the flag. Buy ads that show union members proudly wearing their military uniforms, representing everything good about America. Contrast the U.S. with other countries. Use slogans like this: “North Korea bans labor unions.” Or this: “Union activists in Latin America are being systematically murdered.” And remind people that—unlike Wall Street bankers, who troll the world looking for profits—union members earn every nickel in this country, and spend every nickel here. Why? Because they’re patriots.

Don’t be shy about waving the flag. Indeed, patriotism could be the locus point where the Tea Party and labor intersect. Those anti-government TP’ers who say, “Give me back my country!” need to know that Big Business, in collusion with the government, is playing this country for suckers, maximizing profits while keeping working men and woman down, and that it’s only the unions who see working people as something more than “overhead.”

Safety net. The public needs to understand that without the resistance that unions provide, working people would be in economic free-fall, and that, in theory, they could continue falling until they hit the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour). And it’s labor’s job to let the public know that the same people who are out to destroy unions (e.g., U.S. Chamber of Commerce) are also on record as wanting to eliminate the minimum wage.

Labor needs to run ads using the example of Gen. Douglas MacArthur (a right-wing Republican) who insisted that post-World War II Japan establish labor unions. Why? Because MacArthur—Republican or not—knew that, without unions, management would have too big an advantage. Labor needs to quote Republican senator Orrin Hatch: “We need unions to make sure that working people have a legitimate and consistent voice.” (Business Week 5/9/94).

Because anti-union forces have declared war on labor, labor needs to declare war on them. And even though it could get ugly, we have to do it. They’re killing us here. Statistics show that the gap between rich and poor is widening. It’s time for unions to demonstrate not how reasonable they are, but how tough they can be. Worst case? We get our butts kicked. Best case? We put America back on track.

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”. He served 9 terms as president of AWPPW Local 672. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

Attacks on Unions Barking Up the Wrong Money Tree


Attacks on Unions Barking Up the Wrong Money Tree

by: Michael Winship, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Attacks on Unions Barking Up the Wrong Money Tree
Protesters continue to demonstrate against a proposed spending bill by Gov. Scott Walker at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis., on February 24, 2011. (Photo: Max Whittaker / The New York Times)

"More cheese, less sleaze!"

That was the funniest group chant at Tuesday's rally of several hundred union and other progressive activists outside the Manhattan headquarters of Fox News.

Several "cheeseheads" were in attendance, their noggins topped by the now familiar wedge-shaped, orange hatwear made popular by Green Bay Packer fans. On Tuesday, they were out in the twilight chill expressing their opposition not to lactose intolerance, but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's intolerance of organized labor. (Unadorned by cheddar, I briefly spoke at the gathering as president of an AFL-CIO affiliated union, the Writers Guild of America, East.)

Governor Walker continues his obdurate opposition to the state's public employee unions' right to collective bargaining, despite a willingness on their part to concede pension and health givebacks he claims would help close Wisconsin's alleged deficit. Meanwhile, there has been a decided increase on the sleaze end of the cheese vs. sleaze quotient, as evidenced in part by the prank phone call to the governor in which an online newspaper editor impersonating right-wing billionaire David Koch elicited from Walker a proposed scheme to lure back, then double cross, Democratic state senators who have prevented a quorum by retreating to Illinois. Further, when asked about planting troublemakers amongst the protesters, Walker told the trickster that he and his team had "thought about that" but decided not to. Apparently, all the really good disrupters are tied up in the Middle East.

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But of course, this isn't really about saving taxpayers money. but consolidating political power. Walker and such leading lights of the GOP leadership as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, among others, have decided that public employee unions make great punching bags, effective scapegoats for an outraged electorate and a satisfactory diversion from the real culprits of this grim, economic melodrama - the Simon Legrees of banking and finance who got us into this meltdown mess in the first place.

As Josh Dorner reported on the progressive ThinkProgress web site this week, "Instead of making the tough choices necessary to help their states weather the current crisis with some semblance of the social safety net and basic government services intact, Republican governors are instead using it as an opportunity to advance several longtime GOP projects: union busting, draconian cuts to social programs, and massive corporate tax breaks. These misplaced priorities mean that the poor and middle class will shoulder the burden of fiscal austerity, even as the rich and corporations are asked to contribute even less."

Dorner cites examples: in Arizona, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer proposes kicking some 280,000 off the state Medicaid rolls, but two weeks ago signed into law $538 million in corporate tax cuts. Florida Gov. Rick Scott's new budget calls for billions of dollars in cuts to essential programs and services to pay for corporate and property tax cuts of at least $4 billion. Rick Snyder, newly elected governor of Michigan, has asked for $180 million in concessions from public employees and more than a billion to be taken from schools, universities, local governments, and others, most of which could be avoided if he wasn't so deeply dedicated to giving business $1.8 billion in tax breaks.

Writing in the February 23 Boston Globe, Mark Erlich, executive secretary-treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters asks, "While there are legitimate and critical public policy issues about education reform, spiraling health costs, and pension liabilities at a time of state and municipal budget deficits, why is the fault laid at the feet of teachers, police and firefighters? Today's pension obligations are the product of massive investment losses, not excessively generous public pensions that, in fact, average about $19,000 a year. For that matter, a 2010 Economic Policy Institute study showed that, controlled for educational achievement, public sector workers actually earn less than their private sector counterparts."

So, instead of screaming about the advances public employee and other unions have made to preserve health care, job security and economic justice, angry voters should be asking what or who has been keeping them from obtaining the same. Nor does Wall Street's pillaging of private 401 (k) retirement plans justify tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye acts of covetous revenge against union pensions. As Erlich writes, "A generation ago, non-union workers often welcomed news of improved wages and benefits for unionized employees, recognizing that a rising tide lifts all boats. But ... at a time of sacrifice and insecurity, many would prefer to sink their neighbor's slightly bigger boat while wistfully hoping for a glance at a yacht in a gated marina."

The American middle class largely exists because of unions; it would be a tragedy of Greek proportions if, in frustration, resentment and fear, members of that class were to turn on labor and bring about their mutual destruction. Conservative Republican governors and their associates are barking up the wrong money tree. Don't reward corporate greed and malfeasance with yet more tax breaks and a blind eye to windfall bonuses. And don't punish unions for whatever success they've had protecting members and holding on to an ever-dwindling power base of American workers. That's just plain cheesy and sleazy.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wisconsin Protests Draw Thousands Of Workers Fighting For Key Union Rights

The Huffington Post

Wisconsin Protests Draw Thousands Of Workers Fighting For Key Union Rights


MADISON, Wis. -- On Friday, February 11, at the same hour that the world watched the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak resign his post, the newly appointed Republican Governor of Wisconsin quietly launched a ferocious attack on public sector unions -- and the very notion of organized labor in America.

For nearly fifty years unions have sought to safeguard and advance their rights through a process known as collective bargaining, which is the most powerful tool labor has for peacefully resolving disputes and ensuring workers a voice in negotiations on everything from fair wages to safety conditions and sick leave.

The bill championed by Wisconsin's governor takes dead aim at this process by stripping most state workers of many of their collective bargaining rights. Union leaders have responded uproariously, claiming that the bill effectively guts public unions of their most critical asset in a state that pioneered many of the fundamental fights for worker's rights. Political chaos has ensued on both sides. State Democrats fled the state last week to prevent a vote on the legislation, while many Republican governors -- some who already have similar bills on the table -- watch carefully to see, if the bill succeeds, how they might pass anti-union legislature in their own states.

(Check out a gallery of HuffPost readers' photos from the Wisconsin protests here.)

President Obama called the bill "an assault on unions." On the ground in Wisconsin, the growing crowd of protesters portray their actions as part of a once-in-a generation struggle to shape the dynamic that determines what voice workers will have in the workplace. They feel the eyes of the world upon them. Last Friday as millions swarmed the streets of Egypt in a "Day of Victory" rally, a young man posted a picture on his Facebook page showing a sign reading "EGYPT Supports Wisconsin One World One Pain."

In many statehouses in America, there are heated debates about how to handle mounting deficits and difficult budget cuts. Governor Walker's so-called "Budget Repair Bill" purports to address Wisconsin's $137 million budget shortfall. In addition to removing most collective bargaining rights, Walker's proposal would double the amount state employees pay for health insurance and increase contributions to their pension funds. Republican's say Walker's plan would save the state $30 million over the next three months and $300 million over the next two years. Proponents of the bill say that it is a pragmatic approach to difficult fiscal times.

"I'm just trying to balance my budget," Mr. Walker told the New York Times. "To those who say why didn't I negotiate on this? I don't have anything to negotiate with. We don't have anything to give. Like practically every other state in the country, we're broke. And it's time to pay up."


But labor historians, economists and policy makers say that addressing Wisconsin's deficit is not the full motive of the bill. As they see it, what's really happening is that Walker is seizing on an illusory budget crisis and using it as a battering ram to break public unions.

"It's a symbolically huge stab to see workers rights and mechanisms for conciliation being undone," said labor historian Josh Freeman. "I think [Walker's Bill] is about ideology, generally. There aren't that many worker institutions left in the United States. It's a real effort to take them down. And the budget is an occasion for this."

Indeed, in a conference call with reporters last week, leaders at two of Wisconsin's largest state workers unions -- the Wisconsin Education Association Council and AFSCME -- said that they would concede all of Walker's fiscal demands, if they could keep the right to collective bargaining.

"We want to say loud and clear: it is not about those concessions," said Mary Bell, president of WEAC. "For my members, it's about retaining a voice in their professions."

Walker has rejected this offer. "Doesn't work," he told USA Today. "And the reason, having been a local government official, is we've got 72 counties, 424 school districts, over a thousand municipalities. And like every other state, or nearly every other state across the country, our budget is going to have cuts in aids to local governments."

But union leaders insist that there is always something to bargain over, even if it is only the ability to bargain itself.

"I think what people need to see in this is that it's not just an attack on public service unions. It's really a concerted attack by powerful interests that really want to see working class people be brought down," said Rick Badger, the executive director of AFSCME's Wisconsin 40 council. "Walker claims there's nothing to bargain with. The message we need to get out there is that this could not be further from the truth."

As the crowd builds day by day, the tens of thousands who have showed up to protest Walker's bill claim their actions are much more than a battle over increased health insurance premiums and a cut to their pensions. Those who have gathered for days in increasing numbers in front of the Capitol -- in some cases, through the night, camped out inside the Capitol on sleeping bags and cardboard -- characterize themselves as figures at the heart of the struggle for the future of the American worker.

Other states are closely watching Wisconsin's example.

In Ohio, Republican Senator Shannon Jones proposed a bill which also seeks to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees and curtail binding arbitration rules for local governments. Last month, Ohio governor John Kasich said that if employees strike, "they should be fired." In response, last week thousands of protesters gathered in front of the Ohio statehouse.

Indiana is facing protests over a proposed Right to Work bill. Indiana has also proposed a bill which would limit collective bargaining rights for teachers. Union leaders and democrats are preparing for extended fights in both Ohio and Indiana.

"I think other states will be emboldened," says Rebecca Givan, a professor of labor relations at Cornell. "If [Walker's bill] passes there will be a ripple effect and states like Ohio and Indiana will move quickly. And other states will start to think that this is a viable option."


In Wisconsin, the demonstrations have been peaceful. Yet, Walker has attempted to pit law enforcement against protesters since his first announcement of the bill, which was accompanied by the suggestion that he might call in the National Guard to quell protesters. He told reporters at the press conference that the Guard was "prepared" for "whatever the governor, their commander-in-chief, might call for."

Additionally, in a move that might have further divided Wisconsin state workers, Walker exempted police and firefighters from his bill. Many observed that cops and firefighters tend to vote Republican and this might explain their exclusion. But far from turning on the crowd, Wisconsin police have acted as behind-the-scenes advocates for those opposing the bill in negotiations with state administrators.

The protests have been peaceful, with very few arrests. But on Friday night, according to sources inside the Wisconsin Police Department, the state's Department of Administration wanted to clear the Capitol building where people were camped out, singing, praying, and sharing stories late into the night. Those police assigned to the capitol refused to comply, arguing that as there was absolutely nothing going on and there was no need to act. After a "healthy discussion" (as one police officer put it), the discussion was dropped and those inside the Capitol stayed put.

No group has been more loved at the protests in Madison than the cops and firefighters. Everywhere they go, they are trailed by shouts of thanks and cheers. Day after day, police officers, in their civvies, gathered by the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial carrying signs pledging solidarity.

"This is not about the money," said George Silverwood, a silver-haired retiree with a bright white smile straight out of central casting. He was with the police force for 32 years, deeply involved with union negotiations, and said he can't believe what Walker is proposing.

"I sat at that table and arrived at a contract and saw how well that worked, year after year," Silverwood said. "Walker keeps saying, people shouldn't be shocked. Well, we're shocked. And we're angry."

Jamie Leonard, 35, has been a Wisconsin firefighter for 13 years. He lives a 2-hour drive from Wisconsin, but drove down to join the protests last week and plans to go again this week.

"I went to show support," Leonard said simply. "We need to show that, even if we weren't included, we support the public worker unions. We're with them."

"[Collective bargaining] has been in this state for a long time, and not having that, there are a lot of unknowns," Leonard said. "When you lose something, it's like a nice comfortable blanket. You take that away, and you think: are we just going to be left out in the cold? How will we be treated from here on out? Benefits are one thing but rights are something else. And that's what we're fighting about."

Many police are suspicious of Walker's real motives. Scott Favour, a Madison cop for 19 years exclaimed heatedly, "Governor Walker is not telling the whole story on what he's trying to accomplish. It's about breaking unions."

"You can't bribe the cops," Favour said, greeted with grins and high fives from fellow policemen.

There has been extensive debate about why Walker exempted police and firefighters from his bill. In a press conference, Walker simply said that the state has always treated local police and firefighters differently than other public workers.

Rumors swirled with ulterior motives. Was it payback for campaign support? Others felt Walker was too scared to go after cops and firefighters. Some thought, he was trying to bribe them. It's still not entirely clear why he carved them out of the bill.

The largest state police and fire unions in Wisconsin supported Walker's opponent in the elections, although the Milwaukee police and fire fighters unions endorsed Walker.

The Governor did not respond to several requests for comment.

Observers of the state's political climate say the support police and firefighters have shown in the protests over the last week is unprecedented in recent memory.

"Law enforcement officers go into the profession to be helpful to people," said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. "So they see this as an opportunity to continue doing that. I think they're worried about a whole class of people they work with who will be deprived of their rights, and the second thing is: We could be next."


The uncertainty about why the groups were exempted from the bill leaves a gaping unknown: Could their unions be the next on the chopping block?

"The reality is that he's trying to divide those within Wisconsin's various labor groups," Palmer said. "He wants to divide Wisconsin's house of labor so he exempts the two most popular groups and tries to let everyone else fend for themselves. I think that's the political reality."

Veteran groups were outraged by Walker's reference to the National Guard.

In the past, the Guard has stepped in to staff prisons when prison employees went on strike. But, in his comments, the governor did not specify what the Guard might be used for. And the history of the National Guard intervening in union protests in Wisconsin is brutal.

"It's hard to imagine why that had to be raised except to purposely stoke a fire," said Joseph McCartin, a labor historian at Georgetown University. "It's a painful history that Wisconsin has had in that respect and to raise the specter of calling in the National Guard seems totally unwarranted in this case."

The last time Wisconsin called in the National Guard was in 1886. The Guard, then called the State Militia were brought in to break a rally of Milwaukee workers advocating an 8-hour work day. The militia fired into a crowd of unarmed picketers; it's estimated that 5 to 7 workers were killed.


It's far from an accident that this struggle is being played out in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin workers have a deep and longstanding history with unions. It is the birthplace of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), one of the largest unions in the United states. Wisconsin fought the first fights to get unemployment insurance, worker's compensation, and public sector collective bargaining.

Jenny Sallmann a 37-year-old Nurse at the UW hospital thought of her father, a Wisconsin teamster, often while she was out protesting last week.

"He taught me never to cross a picket line," she said. "And he's pretty conservative. He believes that--" she paused for a several breaths. "Well, I can't talk for him, but he was in a good union and it helped him have a good paying job. He didn't have a college education, he didn't have a ton of money but he supported us by driving a truck and I saw that growing up."

On Friday and Saturday, the normally pristine interior of the Capitol was practically wallpapered with signs which place the protests in the context of a struggle for fundamental rights. "Worker Rights are Human Rights," "Egypt = 18 days, Wisconsin = ??" and "No! Not In My Wisconsin."

One woman held a sign reading ""My father stood her here in 1956 I stand here in 2011 in his place for his honor." Collective bargaining for public sector workers was first passed in Wisconsin in 1958, after years of protests and negotiations.

There are nearly three hundred thousand public workers in Wisconsin. On the streets, protesters talked of revolution. At night, union leaders gathered at the nearby Concourse hotel to strategize while others swarmed the statehouse, beating drums, and reading statements about how the bill would effect their lives. Last week, protesters read to gathered assembly members late into the night. When the assembly closed, and the members went home Friday night, they read to each other.

Walker's bill does allow collective bargaining on one issue -- workers would be to negotiate over wages up to the Consumer Price Index. Labor historians and economists view this as little more than an empty gesture.

"You're not allowed to negotiate for pension and benefit, you can't negotiate beyond the rate of inflation for wages," said Laura Dresser, a labor economist at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, "So workers know: They are stuck, even if economy gets better. Even if the state has money again, they are stuck."

Proponents of the bill say that taking away collective bargaining rights is crucial to maintaining a balanced budget in the future. Walker claims that collective bargaining has "stood in the way of local governments and school districts being able to balance their budget" and maintains that his bill is "modest."

But labor economists point to labor's long history of collaborating with states in times of fiscal trouble.

"The principle of collective bargaining is not that unionized people always get more," says Rebecca Givan. "The principle is that everything gets negotiated. Even if there's only a small amount of money on the table, how it's distributed gets negotiated not imposed."

State workers are quick to point out that they had already faced mandated furlough days and they are fully prepared for more pay and benefit cuts.

"Teachers all over the state have made concessions on their bargaining," Dresser continued. "We see hard times going forward. But what he's doing, what's duplicitous, is that he's using the budget stress to take on the infrastructure of collective bargaining and worker's voice. And so that's where we have to stand up."

Critics of the bill point to Walker's significant ties with the Koch brothers, two conservative titans of industry who are waging a war against the Obama administration. The brothers were Walker's second-biggest campaign contributor, and have long taken a "very antagonistic view toward public-sector unions," Mother Jones reports.

Meanwhile, the share of corporate tax revenue funding the state government has fallen by half since 1981 and, according to Wisconsin Department of Revenue, two-thirds of corporations pay no taxes.

"I'm not saying they don't have real budget issues," Freeman said, "But Wisconsin is not Nevada or California. And there are all kinds of ways to address the deficit, including cutting labor costs. What's interesting here is that after initially resisting it, the unions have actually agreed to all the cuts."

As for what the future holds for Wisconsin workers, if the bill should pass, Freeman points out that there are some indications of what might be ahead. This is the first time that collective bargaining has ever been taken away from a state, but 20 states never negotiated for it.

"This is not a new situation," Freeman said. "Unlike a lot of aspects of the law, labor law is really varied. You could argue that this is the further southernization of northern society, because in much of the south this is already the case. So look there and you'll see what you get."

On Monday, as the protests enter their second week, Wisconsin is frozen in a standoff. Last Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers fled the state to block a quorum and prevent the bill from passing. The Governor has the votes to pass the bill, but while the 14 Senate Democrats remain in undisclosed locations in Illinois, the legislature cannot move forward.


Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee) said Democrats were prepared to stay away "as long as it takes."


One unintended consequence of Walker's proposal is a significant brain drain, as the best and the brightest in Wisconsin's public sector either leave the state or retire.

Elizabeth Zahn, 52, is a Pediatric therapist and union member of 25 years. She has lived in Madison her entire life. She never thought she would contemplate leaving the state, until last week.

As a health care professional and union member, Zahn is concerned for herself, but also for those patients who are supported by state salaries who may no longer be able to afford her services.

After 25 years, she is scared about what the workplace will be like without a union to support her.

"I feel insecure without a union behind me. like there's no one watching my back. I've often been Laissez-faire with my involvement with contract bargaining thinking, oh there's someone watching out for me," Zach says, clenching her hands and looking down. "But now I'll have to figure this all out on my own and I don't know how that's going to work."

Zahn has a graduate degree from the University of Wisconsin in physical therapy and an excellent professional track record. She views Walker's bill as a slap in the face.

"There's no appreciation for me and what I can do," Zahn says. "And I'm going to move someplace where I can be appreciated."

Workers expressed a variety of reasons for leaving Wisconsin. The budget cuts are a factor, but many would stick it out if they felt that they still had a place at the bargaining table and hope for a more affluent future.

Matthew James Enright, 28, is a school teacher in Lancaster, Wisconsin, about 85 miles west of Madison. His wife, Jo Nelson, is a mathematics graduate student at the University of Wisconsin and member of the Teacher's Assistants Union. They moved to Wisconsin for Nelson's graduate program, but are considering relocating if the protests are unsuccessful.

The couple is rattled by Walker's exclamations that they are the "haves" in the state economy. Enright makes around $35,000 a year, and Nelson makes $13,000. They are burdened with student debt from college, and between the two of them barely scrape by.

"We have put off buying a dresser for a year and a half," Enright said, "And our dresser is falling apart! I'm okay with hand-me-down furniture," he paused. "I have a really good degree from a very respected program and it's every month we end up arguing about something with money."

And yet, when matters turned to collective bargaining, the couple became dramatically more heated, as though the financial burdens of life slipped away in the face of a greater need.

"It's the taking away my seat at the table," Enright said angrily. "That's what really bothers me."

"Even if the economy is to recover we'll never regain what we've lost here," Nelson chimed in.

Enright went on, "I don't see how the school will even really be able to afford to replace me, and other people like me who leave. And I'm pretty good at my job," he laughed. "I'm hard to replace."

Nelson is worried the bill will decimate the University as the best students and professors reach out to other universities. But early retirement is a sharp concern in Wisconsin as well.

"The more immediate problem," Rebecca Givan said, "is the rush to retirement. Because if people are worried about their pension being cut, they're already putting in their retirement requests now. So that's going to be a huge rush of all the most experienced workers putting in their retirement requests now."

But many are not calling it quits just yet.

Dianna James, an Affiliate Processing Technician at ASFCME 40, and member of the private sector union FSSU said that she was planning on retiring, but when Walker made his announcement, reconsidered her plans for the future.

"It's in my blood now," James said. "I'll be out there if it takes all year. My husband says: 'You're not retiring, are you?' I said, 'Oh I'm not retiring, I'm just starting a new fight.'"

"I just can't fathom--" James paused for a long moment, considering Walker's proposal to do away with collective bargaining. "I can fathom what they feel: and that's anger. Can I blame them? No. Because I feel the same emotion for them."

Editors Note: This piece originally cited reporting from Talking Points Memo which was inaccurate. Although Walker did pass tax cuts after taking office, TPM reported that these cuts were significant contributions to Wisconsin's current deficit. According to Politifact, the tax cuts Walker passed will cost the state a projected $140 million in tax revenue, but not until the next two year budget.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

US Workers: Resurgent or Waging a Rearguard Action?

February 19, 2011 at 04:08:14

US Workers: Resurgent or Waging a Rearguard Action?

By Stephen Lendman (about the author)


US Workers: Resurgent or Waging a Rearguard Action? - by Stephen Lendman

For decades, organized labor has been hammered after painful years of organizing, taking to the streets, going on strike, holding boycotts, battling police and National Guard forces, and paying with their blood and lives before real gains were won.

Important ones included an eight hour day, a living wage, essential benefits including healthcare and pensions, and the pinnacle of labor's triumph with passage of the landmark 1935 Wagner Act, establishing the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It guaranteed labor the right to bargain collectively with management on equal terms for the first time, what's now sadly lost.

After signing it on July 5, 1935, Franklin Roosevelt said:

"This Act defines....the right of self-organization of employees in industry for the purpose of collective bargaining, and provides methods by which the Government can safeguard that legal right....A better relationship between labor and management is the high purpose of this Act....it seeks for every worker within its scope, that freedom of choice and action which is justly his....it should serve as an important step toward the achievement of just and peaceful labor relations in industry."

Grassroots activism won important gains. Management gave nothing until forced nor did government, siding always with business, yielding only to stop sustained disruptive work stoppages, street violence or possible insurrection.

In 1935, a worried Congress and administration acted. After WW II, however, organized labor declined. Passage of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Labor-Management Relations Act was the first major blow. Harry Truman vetoed it, calling it a "slave labor bill," then hypocritically used it 10 times, the most ever by a president to this day.

Under Reagan, labor rights declined precipitously, beginning in August 1981 by firing 11,000 striking PATCO air traffic controllers, jailing its leaders, fining the union millions of dollars, effectively busting and declaring war on organized labor by a president openly contemptuous of worker rights.

From then to now, so are Democrats and Republicans, exacting a devastating toll thereafter. From union membership's post-war 1950s 34.7% high, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the following on January 21, 2011:

In 2010, membership ranks declined from 12.3% in 2009 to 11.9% currently, a shadow of its former self in collapse. "The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 612,000 to 14.7 million." Among public sector workers, 36.7% are organized compared to 6.9% for private sector ones, down from 30% in 1958, their peak.

According to 2009 BLS figures, organized public sector ranks surpassed private ones for the first time, even though commerce and industry employs five times more workers.

Today, the US Postal Service has three times more than auto companies, no thanks to corrupted union bosses colluding with business and government, betraying their rank and file. As a result, labor historian Paul Buhle sees organized labor collapsing, and labor author Robert Fitch compared American workers to "owners of a family car whose wheels fell off long ago. Each family member (now must rely) on their own two feet; they scarcely remember what it was like being able to ride together." They don't recall once having rights long ago stripped and lost.

Why? Because union bosses sold out, siding with employers, getting big salaries and fancy perks, and being more concerned with their own welfare than rank and file members they represent. Or so they claim.

Continuing where Reagan/Bush, Clinton and Bush II left off, Obama colluded with union bosses to impose his business-friendly agenda on working Americans, gutting their rights methodically since taking office.

Should his gutless response to Wisconsin protesters surprise? In a February 16 Milwaukee WTMJ television interview, he posed fraudulently as worker-friendly, saying:

"Everybody's got to make some adjustments to new fiscal realities," endorsing wage cuts to "save jobs," adding:

"Some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain, generally seems like more of an assault on unions."

This by a president who disdains working Americans. Many thought his election would end Bush era politics. Instead they intensified by trashing worker rights, including under an appointed Auto Task Force, eliminating tens of thousands of jobs, ravaging communities, imposing draconian new hire demands, and appointing a "pay czar" to reward management.

His administration endorses the "new normal," including 22% + unemployment, poverty wages, eroding benefits, and pensions targeted for elimination to help states and enrich corporate bosses more. Yet for some, he's a "people's president," a man with a message: "Change," and "Yes We Can." Yes he did, in fact, serve corporate interests, not loyal constituents he trashed for big money.

Feigning support for Wisconsin protesters, he said nothing about Governor Walker's threat to use National Guard force against them, a clear constitutional First Amendment assault.

Protesters so far are undaunted, their ranks growing and spreading across the state in solidarity, but to what avail. Expected passage of Walker's bill was only was delayed when Senate Democrats walked out. They took refuge in neighboring Illinois, ignoring a Republican "call of the House," sending police off to find them, a shameless political stunt.

Their maneuver, in fact, is delay, negotiate, co-op union bosses, and reach accommodation with Walker and majority Republicans. As a result, the fix is in to force first-step draconian measures, more coming later, including concessions on collective bargaining rights. Activists know the scheme well, University of Wisconsin-Superior Professor Joel Sipress saying:

"We all know that this is part of a broader assault on the ability of working people in this state and this country to have decent, humane lives. The same people who want to strip public workers of their rights - they're the same (ones) who want to say to all of us 'it is a sink-or-swim society.' We will not allow Wisconsin to become a state where the working people live off the scraps that are thrown to them by the economic elite."

Protests Spread to Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Perhaps Beyond

Building on Middle East and Wisconsin momentum, over 1,000 people rallied in Ohio's Columbus Statehouse on February 15, opposing Senate Bill 5 (SB5), a measure eliminating collective bargaining rights for 40,000 state workers, reducing it for firefighters, police, teachers, and others, as well as facilitating other draconian measures when existing contracts expire. They include wage and benefit cuts, elimination of seniority-based pay increases and job security, heading toward ending all worker rights, including empowering government to abrogate worker contracts in case of "emergencies."

Similar anti-worker schemes are proceeding in other states, including California, New York, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and eventually perhaps most, if not all, unless sustained Wisconsin momentum intervenes everywhere.

In Ohio, Republican legislators and Governor John Kasich (a former congressional Republican stalwart), support SB5. The bill's author, Senator Shannon Jones, backed it "to give the government flexibility and control over its workforce," leaving no doubt where she, Kasich and most state lawmakers stand - united against worker equity, job security, wages, benefits, and pension rights to make Ohio more "competitive" for business.

Angry workers responded, knowing their hard-won gains will be lost if SB5 passes which seems likely. Lashing out, a firefighter told AP: "When you take away collective bargaining, we have no rights at all." At a Columbus press conference, a retired state employee warned:

"We're not going back to the 20th century. We're going back to the 19th century. These are the stories that Charles Dickens wrote about, those kind of employers. If you allow this to happen, what comes next?"

Kasich said he's committed to SB5, regardless of public sentiment, adding that if passage fails, he'll prohibit state worker strikes in his upcoming budget proposal. In mid-February, addressing the Ohio Newspaper Association, he said:

"I can promise you that big-city mayors favor what I'm doing. They want this. They're not going to tell you that, but they want this," meaning, of course, he'll assure they get it and more.

Indiana workers take note. On January 27, AP's Deanna Martin headlined, "Indiana panel OKs bill limiting teacher bargaining," saying:

"A Republican-controlled Senate committee advanced a contentious proposal....critics contend would strip Indiana teachers of their collective bargaining rights." It's a measure Republican Governor Mitch Daniels supports as part of his sweeping education agenda.

If enacted, only wage and benefits negotiating will be permitted. Local contracts henceforth will exclude the right to bargain on evaluation and dismissal procedures, working conditions, and other related issues. Special education teacher Diana Koger told lawmakers that proposed measures strip teachers of all rights, giving school boards full authority.

Nonetheless, passage by Indiana's Republican seems likely, step one before targeting all state workers.

On February 18, Michigan's WILX television reported state worker protests over cuts, saying their message is "Enough is enough," rallying in the Lansing capital to make lawmakers and Republican Governor Rick Snyder listen.

Chanting "Legislators get the gold mine, workers get the shaft," they rallied outside the Capitol building against Snyder's budget proposal, wanting public workers to absorb $180 million dollars in cuts, including hundreds of eliminated jobs.

One worker had it right saying:

"They can fire every state employee....but you're not going to fix the budget cause you're not generating revenue. Everyone....is responsible for this debt, not just state employees, not just the poor, not just kids trying to get an education."

According to Ken Moore, president of the Michigan State Employees Association, "Let's close up the corporate loopholes where come of the big money's at. Let's close those up so we can get back to a reasonable budget." He wants workers to be part of the solution, not a casualty they're becoming as in other states across the country. As a result, Main Street America is becoming a wasteland, a backwater, facing inhumane third world harshness.

Dismissive Major Media Responses

On February 17, New York Times writer Monica Davey headlined, "Democrats Missing, Wisconsin Vote on Cuts Is Delayed," saying:

They walked out, "Republicans fumed," and Senator Michael Ellis called it "disgraceful that people who are paid to be here have decided to skip town." He's right because they're coming back to support a marginally changed bill too little to matter. The fix is in, worker rights are being trashed. It's disgraceful in Wisconsin and across America.

A same day Times editorial headlined, "Gov. Walker's Pretext," feigning worker sympathy clearly evident in shameless concluding comments, saying:

"Keeping schools closed and blocking certain public services is not a strategy we support and could alienate public opinion and play into the governor's hand."

Times management one-sidedly supports wealth and power interests, not populist ones it disdains.

So do Wall Street Journal op-ed and editorial writers, producing the print version of Fox News, Murdock, of course, owning both.

On February 18, the lead editorial headlined, "Athens in Mad Town (Mad for Madison)," saying:

Thousands of Wisconsin workers "swarmed the state capitol and airwaves to intimidate lawmakers and disrupt Governor Scott Walker's plan to level the playing field between taxpayers and government unions."

"Mr. Walker's very modest proposal would take away the ability of most government employees to collectively bargain for benefits," except for wages no greater than annual CPI increases.

Saying Mr. Walker has no other choice to close his budget gap, comments entirely omitted what's absent in all major media reports - making corporations and America's aristocracy pay their fair share. Nothing in The New York Times, Washington Post, WSJ, other major broadsheets or on corporate TV, backing monied interests, not worker rights they disdain.

On February 18, Washington Post writers Brady Dennis and Peter Wallsten lied headlining, "Obama joins Wisconsin's budget battle, opposing Republican anti-union bill," when, in fact, his rhetoric masks support.

"The battle in the states underscores the deep philosophical political divisions between Obama and Republicans over how to control spending and who should bear the costs," they said, when, in fact, they only disagree on timing, united in supporting monied, not populist, interests.

On February 18, Financial Times writer Hal Weitzman also ducked real issues headlining, "Wisconsin deadlock as Democrats flee budget vote," quoting Republican Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald saying:

Democrats were "not showing up for work....That's not democracy. That's not what this chamber is about."

What's not democracy, of course, is trashing worker rights, supporting wealth and power interests only, and mocking worker courage to confront power no matter how daunting the challenge.

Today, working Americans face losing more of their hard-won rights because bipartisan collusion intends to trash them. Unless mass activism erupts, America indeed is becoming a wasteland, a backwater on a fast track toward tyranny and ruin, a bleak future no one should accept.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at Email address removed. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour/ .

I was born in 1934, am a retired, progressive small businessman concerned about all the major national and world issues, committed to speak out and write about them.

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