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 0 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.