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Kicking Underdogs When They’re Down

1:00 am in Economy by Leo W. Gerard

Americans love an underdog. Maybe it’s an artifact of the American Revolution, when a rag-tag rabble of farmers and frontiersmen defeated the disciplined and well-provisioned military of the most powerful nation on earth.

Even though the United States has usurped most powerful status, Americans still ally with Davids in contests with Goliaths. They love to see a top dog taken down a notch. They rooted for the perennial loser Red Sox in the 2004 World Series and reveled in the win by America’s unseasoned ice hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

That’s why the sudden surge of right-to-work (for less) legislation is so confounding. Right-to-work (for less) laws are perks for the wealthy, for the top dogs. These laws facilitate destruction of unions. The concerted action of a labor union is a tool that workers use to win fair wages, benefits and conditions from the powerful, from the likes of massive multi-national corporations. At a time of dwindling union membership, at a time when labor union participation is so small as to be nearly negligible, state legislatures across the country are taking up right-to-work (for less) laws that will further decimate union ranks. They’re kicking the underdog when it’s down.

Despite the derisive “big union boss” label that right wingers throw at labor leaders, unions are not the big dogs. Union representation in the United States has declined steadily since the 1950s, following federal legislation in 1947 impeding unionization. Just after World War II, about 35 percent of workers belonged to unions. And those who didn’t benefitted from the higher wages and good benefits that union workers negotiated because non-union employers felt compelled to provide competitive compensation. Last year, the percentage of U.S. workers in unions fell to 11.9, the lowest in more than 70 years.

As unions atrophied and the recession raged, the median income of working Americans declined. Meanwhile, at the top, the big dogs who run corporations continued awarding themselves colossal compensation and bonus packages. Median compensation for executives quadrupled over the past four decades. Last year, most executives got big bumps, whether their companies did well or not. Now, income inequality is greater than at any time since the robber baron days of the 1920s.

Still, somehow, legislatures across the country are rooting for CEOs, the top dogs, and bashing unions. Lawmakers in Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona, Oklahoma, Idaho, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and South Dakota have attacked public sector unions. Politicians in South Carolina, Minnesota, New Hampshire, even Michigan and West Virginia are pushing right-to-work (for less) legislation. Read the rest of this entry →

False Fear: Cyborgs Instead Of CEOs

8:06 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Cyborg

Cyborg by mize2oo5, on Flickr

The nightmare for far too many is Cyborgs. The public fears HAL, the 2001 Space Odyssey computer that killed astronauts rather than forfeit its objective.

So terrified of the sentient machine, citizens overlook the allegory. The soft-spoken, reasonable-sounding HAL behaves exactly like a greed-driven, multi-national corporation. The corporate mission is profit. With 29 workers massacred in a Massey mine explosion and 11 slain in the BP oil rig explosion in just one month last year, greedy corporations have shown they’re willing to kill rather than forfeit their profit objective.

In America, the UK and Europe, the entities that should be feared — greedy corporations — are pulling politicians’ strings. Reckless speculation by multi-national financial corporations took down the world economy, creating the worst recession since the Great Depression. Governments – in the UK, Europe and America – used worker tax dollars to bail out the banks. Now those big banks are granting outsized bonuses and pay packages to their executives while demanding that governments balance recession-ruined budgets with cuts to social services, education, pay and pensions for government workers and worker’s rights to collectively bargaining for better lives.

Workers, students and pensioners in the UK and Europe have protested these measures for a year, from general strikes in Greece to national strikes in France. In the U.K. students, in the largest numbers since the 1960s, protested education fee increases. Last weekend, the U.K.’s Trades Union Congress (TUC) organized the March for the Alternative in which a quarter million demonstrators walked for five hours in London to protest austerity imposed on workers while corporations get breaks.

The diamond-crusted rich on both sides of the Atlantic have determined that workers and the vulnerable will pay the consequences of the bankster-caused recession. And they’re exploiting the financial crisis to strip workers of collective bargaining rights, preventing them from ever regaining what they’ve lost.

That is what’s going on in Wisconsin — and in a half dozen other American states where right-wing legislatures and governors are passing or pressing for legislation decimating workers’ rights to collectively bargain, even after workers accepted pay cuts to help balance budgets.

The disingenuousness of these right-wing governors in blaming public employees is clear. First of all, many of the state leaders granted huge tax breaks to corporations, lowering the states’ anticipated revenues, then demanded state workers bear the brunt of filling budget deficits.
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Wisconsin Subterfuge Violates American Democratic Values

8:10 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his crew of country club conservatives this week brutalized the nation’s democratic traditions to secure legislation demanded by big corporations and billionaire conservative financiers like the Koch brothers – legislation stripping workers of collective bargaining rights.

Walker & Crew succeeded in terminating workers’ rights – but they achieved that only by violating traditional American democratic values. They positioned themselves with dictators who act against the will of the people, deny free speech rights and suppress protests.

They violated the state’s open meetings law, breached the right of Wisconsin residents to rally in their own state capitol building, and contravened conventional standards of fairness by voting to deny workers their rights without assembling a quorum of senators.

Free speech and free access to government protect America’s democracy. Walker & Crew disregarded First Amendment rights repeatedly.

Just this week, Walker & Crew locked protesters out of their own capitol building in Madison. They locked the few protesters already in the building out of the meeting rooms where senate and house members voted. They denied access even to progressive Wisconsin Assembly members, one of whom climbed through a colleague’s window to gain access to his workplace.

In the weeks since Wisconsin’s 14 progressive senators fled to Illinois to prevent the chamber from achieving the quorum needed to vote on a measure spending the people’s money, Walker & Crew also shut down access from the capitol to a web site posted by protesters. And they severely restricted protesters’ access to the capitol where a sit-in and sleep-in began in mid-February.

Protesters, who peacefully gathered in Madison in the tens of thousands, began chanting, “Whose house is it?” referring to the capitol. “It’s our house,” they responded.

That’s not the way Walker & Crew saw it. They said voters gave them control of the people’s house in last fall’s elections. That, apparently, means to them that they don’t have to listen to the will of the people anymore. Polls show a large majority – more than 60 percent – of Wisconsinites oppose stripping workers of collective bargaining rights.

Walker & Crew didn’t listen to the people. And they repeatedly attempted to shut the people up. The First Amendment was written and adopted to protect the people from that kind of oppression by political leaders.
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On Women’s Day, GOP Attacks Women

8:48 am in Labor, Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

Not like Valentine’s Day, which is about love and chocolate, or Mother’s Day, which is about sentimentality and breakfast in bed, International Women’s Day is about equality and autonomy.

The first commemoration occurred on March 19, 1911, a time when most governments in the world, including the U.S. and Canada, barred women from voting and most employers refused to hire women, ghettoizing them in sweatshops.

Six days after that first international call to action for women, flames engulfed such a sweatshop, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City, killing 146 workers, the vast majority of them young women aged 16 to 25, some of whom jumped to their deaths from the 9th floor rather than burn.

Women can vote now. They can hold most jobs, though not all, including combat positions in the U.S. military. And their pay is only 75 percent of men’s. So the struggle for equality and autonomy is not over. Yet the GOP is intent on setting women back. If the Republican governors across the country succeed in confiscating collective bargaining rights from public sector workers, women will be hurt most.

The grotesque working conditions at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, including locked and blocked exit doors, a failed fire escape, and fire hazards such as oily floors and wicker baskets of scraps, will be invoked on this centennial commemoration of International Women’s Day, as they were during observances in the early years after the tragedy. These conditions epitomized the very kind of oppression that International Women’s Day had been created to eradicate.
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In a Democracy, Freedom of Assembly Trumps “Free Enterprise”

8:01 am in Economy, Labor by Leo W. Gerard

Sign at pro-workers rally, Madison WI. (photo: WxMom via Flickr)

It’s illegal in America now to buy or sell a human being, but a recorded telephone conversation between a Republican governor and a guy he thought was a billionaire benefactor shows that it’s still possible to own a politician.

Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker didn’t have time to talk to Democratic leaders or union officials about his anti-union legislation – a proposal that has incited protests by tens of thousands for more than a week in Madison. But he jumped on the phone for 20 minutes this week when told the caller was billionaire David Koch, who was Walker’s second largest campaign contributor, who provided $1 million to a GOP fund to attack Walker’s opponent and who bankrolls radical libertarian organizations and the Tea Party.

Republicans like Walker, owned by billionaires like Koch, are fulfilling demands from corporate interests that government “free” enterprise by slashing corporate taxes and regulation. Over the past three years, America has suffered the consequences of a government under-funded after tax breaks to the rich and under-performing after years of lax regulation. The result: a growing federal deficit, the Wall Street collapse, the BP oil spill and the deaths of 29 Upper Big Branch miners. Still, Republicans want more government atrophy. That would leave only one restraint on corporate control of the economy, environment and government.

That one restraint is labor unions. A union is workers using their constitutionally-guaranteed freedom to assemble, the right to get together as a group, in this case a labor organization, to negotiate collectively with employers for better wages, benefits and working conditions.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →