DNC Convention Kicks Off

Democrats kick off their 2012 national convention today in Charlotte.  Mary Kay Henry, President of SEIU obviously missed the memo about Labor boycotting this insult to them (NC is a right to work for less state) and will speak in thew 6-7PM time slot.  Maryland Gov. Martin O’Mally, a leading candidate for 2016, speaks tonight along with Mayors Cory Booker and Anthony Villaraigosa and the headliner First Lady Michelle Obama.  You won’t want to miss the speech by NARAL President Nancy Keenan and I imagine the term “legitimate rape” will come up.

The convention is being streamed live here.  The Party platform is available here.  Caucuses began meeting yesterday, odd since it was Labor Day, a traditional Democratic holiday.  No one organized labor is pissed off at the Democrats.  Pennsylvanians Mayor Michael Nutter and Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz will be speaking.

I can’t afford to cover these conventions, no one covers my blog expenses and we don’t have advertising so not much will be available at the blog.  This year I’m also not covering Democratic Party candidates.  Dems keep closing their meetings to the press so why spend all that time and money going to Charlotte or doing interviews with candidates or covering their events?  Since they don’t want press coverage they won’t get it here.

Labor Must Counter Balance Corporate Power

On this Labor Day organized labor is more threatened than at any time in my life.  Blamed for our economic ills stupid people forget it was Wall Street and Organized Capital that collapsed the economy driven by greed and short minded selfishness.  Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectionism makes everyone out only for themselves.  Organized Labor, by its very nature, rejects that credo by bringing the power of thousands of individuals together to forge progress for all.

Today we celebrate those victories, reflect on the past and warn everyone of the future.  The War on Workers began in Wisconsin and spread across many states where conservatives gained control of government.  Right to Work laws which really mean the right to work for less threaten everyone’s wages.  Wages are at their lowest levels since 1947 because organized labor is at its lowest level in decades.  Power exists with corporations because they’ve taken it from workers through legislation.  When you vote Republican you vote against your own financial interests.  You vote to reduce your income and gut your retirement.  If gay marriage, abortion and endless wars mean more to you than your own survival you get what you deserve.

Workers fought and died for the right to organize.  From our own Molly Maguires to the massacres at factories a hundred years ago Robber Barons have sought to limit the power of the people to organize.  They are doing it again and Romney/Ryan will continue these attacks.  Wisconsin became the storm center of the anti-worker movement and they want to spread their poison all over the nation.  Labor finally took a stand this week and refused to attend the Democratic National Convention when spineless Party leaders chose to host the event in right to work for less state North Carolina.

Unions brought us the weekend, eight hour work days, sick days, vacations, retirement pensions, health care benefits, the minimum wage, overtime, safe workplaces, child labor laws, unemployment compensation and created a middle class.  Which part of that don’t you like and appreciate when you bash unions?  No it wasn’t easy and sometimes force was used to forge progress just as force was used to thwart these gains.  Corporations employ many more thugs to bust unions, kill workers and threaten families than any union has to protect them.

There is no capital without labor.  It is the product of labor and we must remember that for an accumulation of capital someone labored to make it.  As Abraham Lincoln said “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”  Progressive Republican Teddy Roosevelt reminded us that organization is the key:  “It is essential that there should be organization of labor. This is an era of organization. Capital organizes and therefore labor must organize.”

If corporations can engage in capitalism then so can workers and that s the essence of organized labor:  the power gained by capitalizing on the collective efforts of all to counter balance the tyranny of Capital.  John Locke said “All wealth is the product of labor.”  If we allow unions to be decimated we all suffer.  Newt Gingrich and others on the presidential campaign trial even called for the abolition of child labor laws this year.  They’re coming for your health care and all the rest of the gains of the Twentieth Century will fall thereafter if we’re not careful.

You’re responsible for your own vote, make it count for something positive.

Don’t Count Out the Labor Movement

by WALTER BRASCH

Almost every conservative political columnist, pundit, commentator, blogger, and bloviator has written about the decline and forthcoming death of the labor movement.  

They happily point to Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker shortly after taking office in January 2011 took advantage of a Republican majority in the House and Senate to ram through legislation that stripped numerous collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. Among collective bargaining rights are those that assure decent working conditions and a fair grievance process to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory discipline.

The Republicans point to Ohio, where Republican Gov. John Kasich, with similar legislative support, signed legislation in March 2011 that restricted collective bargaining rights for public sector employees.

They point to state after state where Republican legislators, with the financial support of private industry, have brought forth self-serving bills to oppose collective bargaining.  

The conservative mantra is to pander to the middle-class pocketbook by creating a pseudo-populist appeal. The right-wing claims they are the ones who care about the people enough to cut government spending, which will lower all kinds of taxes. They altruistically scream that inflated payrolls and pensions caused economic problems, and the best way to help those who are struggling in a depressed economy is to lower those costs by curtailing the perceived power of unions. It sounds nice; it’s also rhetoric encased in lies.

Numerous economic studies have shown that the pay for public union employees is about the same as for private sector employees in similar jobs. And in some jobs, public sector workers earn less than non-unionized private sector workers, leading to professionals and technical specialists often switching jobs from government to private industry, usually at higher wages and benefits.

So what, exactly, is the problem? Tax cuts. Bill Clinton left office, having given the nation a strong economy. During the Go-Go years in the first part of the 21st century, under the Bush-Cheney administration, states and the federal government created tax cuts for individuals, and held out generous tax cuts, tax waivers, and subsidies to corporations. The Republican theory was that these tax cuts would eventually “trickle down” to the masses by stimulating the economy.

What happened is that instead of benefitting the masses, these forms of wealthfare and corporate welfare have done little to stimulate an economy that was heading down because the Republican executive and legislative branches, preaching less government, didn’t want government interference in financial institutions, the most politically conservative business. As a result of deregulation or, in many cases minimal regulation oversight, came the twin catastrophes of the Wall Street scandals and the housing mortgage crisis that spun the nation into the deepest recession since the Depression of the 1930s.

But you don’t hear the Republicans tell you they caused it, only that a run-away economy is because of those fictional high government salaries that need to be cut.

Joseph Slater, professor of law at the University of Toledo, says because of the 2008 crisis, states experienced massive budget shortfalls because growing unemployment decreased tax revenue. The problem in the states and the federal government, Slater told NEA Today, isn’t because of collective bargaining, “because some of the worst state budget problems are in the small handful of states that prohibit public sector collective bargaining, states like Texas and North Carolina.” However, said Slater in an article for the American Constitution Society, “states with strong public sector collective bargaining laws . . . have smaller than average deficits.”

In response to conservative calls to curtail “pension abuse” in the public sector, Slater pointed out that “the vast majority of states don’t allow unions to bargain over public pension benefits,” and that some of the worst pension problems are in the so-called right-to-work states that have no public employee unions.

In contrast to the all-out assault upon the workers by Republicans, Govs. Dan Malloy of Connecticut and Jerry Brown of California, both Democrats, have been reducing budget deficits, sometimes with a heavy hand as they slash programs and the number of workers, in consultation with the unions and without curtailing union rights. Unionized workers in both private and public sectors have taken temporary pay cuts or agreed to taking vacation days without pay. Few corporate executives and no state legislators have willingly matched the sacrifices of the workers.

Now, as for those conservatives who are dancing on what they think are the graves of the working class labor movement. There are  a few stories they aren’t happily reporting.  

In Wisconsin, the recall election of Scott Walker did fail, as out-of-state individuals, PACs, and corporations contributed about two-thirds of his $30 million campaign to keeping him in office, as opposed to his opponent raising only about one-eighth of that amount. However, in subsequent elections, all three Democratic senators survived recall votes, and two of six Republican senators were recalled, leading to a change in Senate membership from 19-14 Republican to 17-16 Republican, but effectively blocking a “super majority” from ramrodding further anti-worker legislation into law.

In Ohio, voters overwhelmingly rejected, 62-38 percent, the new Ohio law that stripped collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. In defeat, Gov. Kasich, whose attacks upon collective bargaining were a central part of his campaign, said “It’s clear the people have spoken.”

Monday is Labor Day. It’s more than just picnics and a three-day weekend. It’s a time to honor the working class, and the unions that gave them the rights of collective bargaining. They may be struggling but they are far from dead.

[Walter Brasch is a syndicated social issues columnist and author. His latest book is the critically acclaimed journalistic novel, Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, which has an underlying union theme. He is a proud member of several professional and trade unions, including The Newspaper Guild/Communication Workers of America.]

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Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.