President Obama: MIA in Labor’s Struggle

by Walter Brasch

           As expected, Michael Moore, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka were in Madison, Wisc., to support and rally the workers in their fight against the union-busting governor and Republican-dominated state legislature.

           But, so were union members Bradley Whitfield, Susan Sarandon, Tony Shaloub, and dozens of musicians and singers, including Peter Yarrow who, as part of Peter, Paul, and Mary, was at almost every major social protest for more than 40 years.

           “This is not merely a protest on the steps of the Capitol here in Madison,” said Shalhoub, “this is the birth of . . . a nationwide movement destined to restore the rights of workers, to safeguard quality education for our children and to reassemble and reconstitute the fragmented and wounded middle class.” Shalhoub, who won three Emmys, was born in Green Bay; his sister is a Wisconsin teacher.

           “Workers,” Sarandon told a crowd of almost 100,000, “had to organize, go on strike, defy the law, defy the courts to create a movement which won the eight-hour workday and caused such a commotion that Congress was forced to pass a minimum wage law, Social Security, unemployment insurance and the right to assemble in collective bargaining.”

           Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) told thousands of cheering protestors they had to “reclaim the essence of economic justice before it is lost on the corporate scaffold.” Former senator Russ Feingold, the only senator brave enough to oppose the PATRIOT Act when it was created, said the actions of the governor and legislature were “an outrageous assault on working people.”

           The people, the workers, were there when newly-elected Gov. Scott Walker first announced, Feb. 11, he was going to demand hard concessions from the public sector unions. They were there when he lied about the budget and his intentions. They were there when the truth came out that at the same time Walker and his Republican cabal were taking away worker rights and demanding more wage and pension sacrifices, they were also assuring significant tax rebates and making innumerable promises to Big Business. They were there when a Wisconsin Policy Research Institute poll revealed that in less than a month Walker’s approval rate had plunged to only 43 percent. And they were there after he signed a bill, March 13, deviously manipulated through the Senate in the middle of the night, to strip collective bargaining rights of public employees.

           But, while the masses protested the shredding of their rights, not at any rally anywhere in Wisconsin were several people who should have been there. Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.),  House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (R-Calif.), Vice-President Joe Biden, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis have been conspicuously absent. So are almost all major national Democratic political leaders, obviously afraid to publicly support their largest constituency, the American working class.

           One person, more than any other, needed to be there, if only to prove that campaign rhetoric and one’s promises mean something after the election.

           During the 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. Barack Obama told energized and reinvigorated crowds, both small and large, “If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself [and] I’ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States of America because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.”

           As president, Obama may be wearing comfortable shoes, but he hasn’t gone to Wisconsin to stand by the workers, nor has he ever walked a picket line at least in the past two years. His only public comments, and even then weak ones, were to call the actions in Wisconsin an “assault upon the workers,” and several days later to add,  “I don’t think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified, or their rights are infringed upon.” It was a statement that could have been said by any Democratic president-and most Republican ones as well.

           There are dozens of reasons and excuses why President Obama is not in Wisconsin. The one that seems to be most probable is that going into a re-election campaign he doesn’t want to alienate any of his constituencies. It’s doubtful, however, that anyone on the extreme right wing will vote for him, no matter what he does or doesn’t do. It’s also probable that the core of the Democratic party-the unions and workers, the youth, the alienated and disenfranchised, and those who believe in social justice, who awakened in 2008 to give him a mandate for change-may give him only lukewarm approval or, worse, be silent in 2012. They have every reason to believe they had been betrayed.

           Good presidents do what is best for the country. Great presidents, however, do not only what is best for the people, but are also willing to speak to the courage of their beliefs, of their principles, even if it may be unpopular among many of their constituencies. They don’t put their “finger in the air” to judge what’s popular. Republican Theodore Roosevelt, and Democrats Franklin Delano Roosevelt and “Give ’em Hell, Harry” Truman were among the great presidents. If Barack Obama doesn’t soon speak out on behalf of the working class, he may find his legacy mired in the struggle to become even a good president.

           [Walter Brasch is an award-winning columnist, and the author of 16 books. You may contact him at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

 

On Taking It Back, Or, Wisconsin Recalls, Explained

News is suddenly moving so fast that it’s becoming hard for me to keep up; that’s why we’re not finishing the story today that we just began Tuesday. You know, the one about Titan Cement suing two North Carolina residents who appear to be doing nothing more than speaking the truth.

Unfortunately, other important news has forced itself to the front of the line, and it’s going to demand that we break schedule, whether we like it or not.

That’s why today we’re going to be talking about Wisconsin, and how workers there are fighting back against the State’s Republican legislators and Governor, who seem to have gone out of their way this past three weeks to govern without the consent of the governed.

It’s kind of chilly today in Wisconsin…but I can assure you, things are heating up fast-and it ain’t because of spring.

“I will tell you this: Any business where two partners don’t trust each other, any business where one party says, ‘You need to do X, Y and Z because I told you,’ is a business that is not only not run well, it is a business that can never be as successful as it can be,”

–Former National Football League Players’ Association executive director DeMaurice Smith

As so often happens, we need a bit of background:

In Wisconsin, a recall involves first, the collection of signatures, then, if you get enough, a recall election.

Once the proper papers have been filed, those who want to recall an elected official have 60 days to gather signatures for a recall petition that equal 25% of the number of votes cast in the prior gubernatorial election in that “political subdivision”.

What that means in English is that if you’re looking to recall a State Senator and the last time a Governor ran, 50,000 votes were cast in that Senator’s District, you need to gather 12,500 signatures in 60 days to force a recall election in that District.

The election is not to ask the question: “Should this officeholder be recalled?”

Instead, the incumbent will run against other candidates, and whoever has the most votes either keeps or takes over the office.

It is possible that multiple candidates will emerge from within the same Party; if that happens a “recall primary” election is held.

A primary would take place four weeks after the signatures are turned in, the recall election itself would be six weeks after, and both elections would be held on a Tuesday; all of this according to Article XIII, Section 12 of the Wisconsin Constitution.

You can’t recall someone until after they’ve been in office for a year, so the Governor can’t be recalled…today…but because the Senate elects half of its Members every two years there are a group of State Senators who can be recalled; they were elected in 2008.

If three Republicans were to be recalled and replaced by Democrats, the State Senate would change from majority Republican to majority Democratic.

If you’ve ever been to Embarrass, Wisconsin (home of The Chair That Grew), you’ve visited Robert Cowles’ 2nd District. (For the record, it’s more or less 100 miles due north of Milwaukee, and there’s some football team that plays in Green Bay that’s also in his District.) He’s been a Senator since 1987, and in ’08 he ran unopposed. His District voted 52-46 for Obama over McCain in ’08, and chose Bush over Kerry by almost exactly the same margin in ’04.

I do not have a feel for who might run against him, but I have some calls out to try to get an answer; if I learn more, we’ll add it to the story.

One Senator who might be in trouble is Alberta Darling (so far as I know, she’s unrelated to cricket great Joe Darling), who represents District 8, which is basically Milwaukee’s northern suburbs.

In ’08 she only won by 1007 votes (of about 100,000 cast).

It’s worth noting, however, that her District cast the most votes for Governor in 2010; as a result her opponents will be required to gather more valid signatures than in any other District (20,343, by one reckoning).

Her opponent last time was Sheldon Wasserman; he’s a former State Representative, an OB/GYN from Milwaukee, and a member of the State’s Medical Examining Board.

(On a side note, it looks as though the Governor might be messing with the Board as well; he refused to allow two recent physician nominees selected by the Board to be seated, and he’s apparently looking to nominate his own people.)

Just as in District 2, this District voted for Obama in ’08, and Bush in ’04.

Sheila Harsdorf, who currently chairs the Senate Committee on State and Federal Relations and Information Technology, was sent to Madison to look after the interests of the State’s westernmost District, “The Fightin’ 10th“, as Sir Rev. Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, would say.

Even though she thinks State workers are taking too much from the public Treasury…her relationships with the Federal Government are so good that she had no problem taking in $195,000 in Federal farm subsidies over a ten-year period for Beldenville’s Trim-Bel Valley Farms, of which she just happened to be a 50% owner as recently as 2008 (for all I know, she may still be an owner, more current information was unavailable).

This is another one of those Districts that went for Obama in ’08 by about just the same margin as it went for Bush in ’04.

Luther Olsen of the 14th (located about 40 miles or so due north of Madison) is another farm owner; he owns 20% of Waushara’s Riverview Farm; they also happily accepted at least $58,502 of your money and mine, because Olsen, like Sheila Harsdorf, apparently believes that’s a better use of our money than, you know, paying a public school teacher or something.

(Fun Fact: did you know Golda Meir, the former Prime Minister of Israel, used to be a Milwaukee public school teacher?)

Olsen did not face an opponent in ’08…and once again, this District went Obama in ’08, Bush in ’04-although it went about 4 points farther for Bush than for Obama.

And that brings us to Randy Hopper.

This District (the 18th, which most notably includes Oshkosh and Fond Du Lac) is another one of those Republican seats that are considered among the most “gettable”; that’s because just 163 votes separated Hopper and his ’08 opponent, Jessica King.

There’s also this:

“I have a lot of correctional facilities, a couple universities, and a couple of tech schools [in my district]. I have the second largest population of state employees in the state.”

Hopper also chairs the Senate Education Committee…and there’s also a story going around that his wife is telling people that he’s been providing some “private lessons” to his 25-year-old mistress down in Madison; this according to the MAL Contends… blog-and that’s not going to help a family-values candidate.

He owns two radio stations, one an AM-talk Ag Report and Hannity broadcaster, the other an FM station that caters to the “music at work” market; this may allow him to mitigate some of the potentially-about-to-occur bad publicity, and certainly can’t hurt at election time.

Perhaps the most unrepentant Republican during this process has been Glen Grothman of the 20th (which actually, literally, includes Fredonia, and that has to have some deeper meaning…), and he can afford to take a strong stand.

This guy might well be a mortal lock in this District: the Sheboygan area is one of the most reliably Republican-voting regions of the State over the past 30 years, and of all the Senate candidates who faced opposition in ’08, he won with a larger margin of victory than any of ’em. (He didn’t get 61% of the vote in ’08…he won by 61% of the vote.)

(Fun Fact #2: Our friends at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel created these two most excellent voting trend maps for your dining and dancing pleasure; they illustrates how Wisconsin can swing wildly back and forth between Republican and Democratic “electoral domination”.)

Moving on: Mary Lazich, of the 28th, occupies another seat that is going to be tough to get-her District encompasses Milwaukee’s western suburbs (a reliably Republican voting region; in both ’04 and ’08 Republican Presidential candidates won with over 60% of the vote), she did not face an opponent in ’08, and this is another District that will require more than 20,000 signatures to force an election.

“…Fate has been hounding me like a Mormon missionary with an Amway franchise…”

–A. Whitney Brown, appearing on the television show Almost Live!

We’re going to complete today’s “Recall Roundup” with one of the most vulnerable of all the Senators: Dan Kapanke, the Senate Majority Caucus Chair (and a pretty good “get” if you’re running a recall campaign). He’s from the 32nd, which is all the way across the State from Milwaukee, on the Minnesota border, pretty much in Wisconsin’s southwest corner.

He won by less than 3 points in ’08, his District voted 61%-38% for Obama over McCain…and 53%-46% for Kerry over Bush in ’04, which is the largest margin of any of the 8 Republican Senators currently under recall threat. (Go back and have another look at those voting trend maps, and look at what’s happened to this corner of the State.)

He’s hard right on social issues, but the Farm Bureau loves him.

He is quoted as saying that he expects the signature gathering effort in his District to be successful (only about 15,400 signatures are needed) …and he’s also quoted as having the belief that there is such a thing as a Wisconsin State Senate arrest, despite the presence of an “immunity from arrest” clause in the Wisconsin Constitution.

As of March 8th, 57% of voters in the 32nd would rather have “generic” than Kapanke in a recall election, and they had to close the road outside his house on Friday to keep the hundreds of peaceful protesters gathered there safe.

Now before we close today…we need to offer “big ups” to DavidNYC, who posted a fantastic interactive results spreadsheet at the Swing State Project site; we’ve been referring to it a bunch in this story and you should have a look at it yourself.

And with all that said, that’s today’s “scorecard”, folks, and you can keep track of all the races-or volunteer to help-from one handy location: WisconsinRecall.net…so bookmark the spot, help out any way you can, and let’s start with Wisconsin…and then move on to Ohio and Indiana and Michigan next.

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News & Notes March 7, 2011

It’s shaping up to be a big week.  Tomorrow Gov. Corbett will unveil his budget encompassing a reported $2.5 billion in cuts.  Expect sweeping rollbacks in state aid to education.  In one fell swoop Corbett may undo all the progress made in eight years under Ed Rendell.  The state has spent decades cutting education funding while increasing mandates to schools.  This simply passes the buck to school property taxes.  Corbett and the Repubs aren’t likely to change their game plan.

Sen. Bob Casey was in Sinking Spring to stump for Judy Schwank in the special election held next week.  The event was at the IBEW so I didn’t attend.  I don’t support unions who pour thousands of dollars into Republican campaigns.  The electricians should be looking to Wisconsin to see the end result of such misguided spending.

With the Governor’s budget due out tomorrow and the PA-11 election a week away will Larry Medaglia support austerity spending, cuts to local schools and the resulting increases in property taxes?  With his no new taxes pledge the Berks County Register of Wills is on record as not supporting a tax on the extraction of gas or the closing of corporate tax loopholes.  Closing the Delaware Loophole alone would increase revenues substantially and force major corporations doing business in Pennsylvania to pay their fair share.  Most pay little or nothing and this isn’t fair to state businesses competing against them for business.

I hear calls, from both left and right, for military intervention in Libya.  This is reckless.  The establishment of a no fly zone without UN authority is an act of war.  We know Ghaddafi would then attack American forces and we know he has that capability.  Firing rockets at Naval forces and shooting down American jets would draw us into a civil war in which would become another Vietnam or Iraq.  Very bad policy and very bad judgment.

More fallout from news that fracking fluid is radioactive, something I’ve been pointing out for months, is that now public water systems are going to begin testing drinking water for radioactivity.  I have to say, as a kayaker, I’m worried about paddling Pennsylvania rivers at this point.  We know, for example, that trucks filled with waste fracking fluid are coming from New York state to Pennsylvania water treatment systems such as Fogelsville, and that these systems are totally inadequate for treating such fluids.  Radioactivity is just one of the things they cannot treat, heavy metals and toxic substances are others.  Treating sewage sludge is quite different from treating fracking fluids.  How much poison is being dumped into our rivers?  Millions and millions of gallons per river folks.  Millions…

I watched CNN interview Republican consultant Ed Rollins this morning.  I was so disgusted with their failure to challenge his lies I turned it off.  Rollins repeated the oft told myth that the stimulus was a failure.  In fact it saved all these austerity budgets in the states for two years and saved or created over 3 million jobs.  Almost every working American got a tax cut in the bill.  If CNN isn’t capable of challenging false statements made on the air it shouldn’t be on the air.

BP has stopped paying local people damaged from its giant oil spill last year.  They are reneging (surprise, surprise!) on their obligations.

Big Business Paid For Their Beds, Now Republicans Have to Lie in Them

by Walter Brasch

           Historian and satirist Thomas Carlyle said “a lie cannot live.” However, Mark Twain casually remarked, “It shows that he did not know how to tell them.”

           More than a century later, newly-elected Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature have proven themselves to be “quick studies,” having learned how to tell whoppers about the working class and unions. Here are just a few.

           LIE: The public workers’ pensions are what caused much of the financial crisis not just in Wisconsin but throughout the country. Gov. Walker has repeatedly said, “We’re broke . . . We don’t have any money.”

           FACTS: Wisconsin had a $120 million surplus whenWalker came into office in January. Had the newly-elected Republican-dominated Legislature in January not given about $140 million in special tax breaks (also known as “corporate welfare”) to business, the state could have had a surplus, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. About two-thirds of all Wisconsin corporations pay no taxes at all, according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

            Wisconsin could also save significant expenses by having state-employed fiscal analysts, not Wall Street investment counselors, handle the entire pension investment portfolio. Wisconsin pays about $28 million to state managers to handle about half the portfolio; it pays about $195 million to Wall Street investment brokers to handle the other half, according to the 2010 annual report of the Wisconsin Investment Board.

           Noam Chomsky, in an interview with Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now,” correctly points out, “the population in the United States is angry, frustrated, full of fear and irrational hatreds. And the folks not far from you on Wall Street are just doing fine. They’re the ones who created the current crisis.” The Great Recession has also cost states revenue, not because of the workers’ salaries and pensions but because the values went down because of lax oversight primarily during a Republican administration. Even with the Wall Street crisis, and lower-than-expected revenue, the Wisconsin pension fund is fully funded, able to meet its obligation for several years, according to the independent PEW Center for the States.

           Columnist Robert Greenwald says the “shortfall” would be wiped out if Wisconsin brought home only 151 troops from the war in Afghanistan. If the U.S. left Afghanistan completely, the state would save $1.7 billion, according to Greenwald’s analysis.

           LIE: The reason the Republicans throughout the country want to end collective bargaining by the public service unions bargaining is to bring fiscal responsibility to the states.

           TRUTH: In January 2010, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 decision along party lines declared that corporations enjoy the protection of the First Amendment. This meant that companies could increase funding and advertising for candidates. As expected, the Chamber of Commerce and corporate America gave vast amounts of money to Republican and conservative candidates; labor donated to liberal and Democratic candidates, who traditionally support the working class. In the 2010 mid-term election, seven of the top 10 donors contributed to conservative and Republican candidates. The other three in the Top 10 were labor political action committees. Eliminating collective bargaining for public sector workers would destroy the union movement and significantly reduce the influence of labor in campaigns. Walker has already shown his colors and intent when he was caught in a radio prank. On Feb. 23, Ian Murphy, editor of The Buffalo Beast, pretended to be billionaire David Koch, a supporter of far-right causes, and a major contributor to Walker’s gubernatorial campaign. Punked by the 20-minute call, Walker seemed to be little more than a sycophant for Big Business. The Republicans’ reaction? Instead of worrying about possible ethics violations by the governor, the Republicans planted a bill into the legislature to criminalize prank phone calls

           LIE: The unions are greedy and won’t budge.

           FACTS: The 267,000 Wisconsin public sector workers, as well as all elected officials, Democrat and Republican, do pay very little to their pensions. However, the unions have already said they’d be willing to pay a higher contribution, essentially taking an 8 percent pay cut, and negotiate fairly other parts of the contracts. Gov. Walker not only refused to budge on his autocratic stand, he refused to take calls from elected Democrats and bluntly told the Milwaukee Journal, “I don’t have anything to negotiate.”

           LIE: Gov. Walker’s proposal affects every union in Wisconsin.

           TRUTH: He exempted firefighters and police from his draconian assault upon unions, possibly because he was attempting to get support from the first responders, while mining sympathy from the public. What he didn’t count on was that the firefighters and police unions are firm in their opposition to the abolishment of collective bargaining.

           LIE: Gov. Walker says he’s just helping the worker when he argues for elimination of the “dues check-off,” saying the workers would have more disposable income.

           TRUTH: Eliminating dues check-off would cripple unions, which would have to rely solely upon voluntary contributions.

MYTH: Gov. Walker enjoys wide-spread support for his stand against the unions.

           TRUTH: Walker has been governor less than two months. If the election were repeated, he’d receive only about 45 percent of the vote, according to the independent Public Policy Polling (PPP) of Raleigh, N.C. More important, while only 3 percent of Republicans voted for Tom Barratt, the Democratic candidate in the November election, 10 percent of the Republicans say they’d vote for him in a new election, according to PPP. The Republican governors of Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Indiana have said they will not follow Walker’s lead, and will support the rights of public workers to bargain collectively. The massive protests in Wisconsin-more than 100,000 in Madison on the same day-and throughout the nation give evidence that Walker doesn’t have the popularity he and his supporters believe. A New York Times/CBS poll, released March 1, indicates only about one-third of the nation supports the campaign against public sector collective bargaining. A week earlier, an independent USA Today/Gallup poll had almost the same results.

           LIE: The protestors are unruly, and should be arrested for violating the law.

           TRUTH: The First Amendment gives people the right to assemble peacefully. There have been no arrests because there have been no crimes committed by the protestors. Further, when the governor and the Legislature demanded that protestors be thrown out of the state capitol, and not allowed to stay overnight, the chief of the Capitol Police refused to do so, believing the order was a violation of Constitutional rights. In contrast, Walker had actually considered, then rejected, the idea of planting troublemakers among the protestors-a “dirty trick” that dates back to the ’60s.

           LIE: Public sector union workers are overpaid.  

           TRUTH: A USA Today analysis, published March 1, shows that, on average, public service workers, with wages and benefits included, are paid about $2,500 more per year than those in the private sector. In Wisconsin, the difference is only about $1,800. However, government workers usually are “older and substantially better educated than private sector workers,” according to researchers Robert Pollin and Jeffrey Thompson, professors of economics at the University of Massachusetts. But, again contrary to the lies spewed by the anti-worker Rabid Right, individual union workers, when compared to the same criteria as private sector workers, actually earn 4 percent less income, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research. In Wisconsin, public sector union workers actually earn 4.8 percent less total compensation, according to research published in February by the Economic Policy Institute. One statistic stands out. “The average member of AFSCME, our largest public-sector union, earns less than $45,000 a year,” says author/journalist Bill Press, “and retires after a career in public service with a whopping pension of $19,000 per year.”

           LIE: Public service union workers are lazier than non-unionized private sector workers.

           TRUTH: Strong labor unions generally have higher productivity, according to independent research done by Harley Shalen of the University of California, because there is less turnover, better worker communication, better work conditions, and a better-educated workforce.”

           [Walter Brasch, during a 40-year work career in mass communications has been a member of several unions, in both the private and public sectors. He is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the author of 16 books, including With Just Cause: Unionization of the American Journalist. He can be contacted at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

News & Notes February 28, 2011

Today is the final day of AdultBasic.  Tomorrow 42,000 Pennsylvanians will awaken to a life with no basic health care coverage thanks to Gov. Corbett.  Democrats offered to trim legislative budgets or use their surplus to fund the program to no avail.  ABC used to be paid for by the Blues with excess revenues.  The PA Blues are sitting on billions in retained profits but have no cash to maintain this vital program?  Perhaps it is time to revisit their non profit status.

The Oscars were last night which explains why I was late getting going this morning.  The snorefest began with a neat dream sequence for hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway.  She was refreshing and made few errors while he was resplendent in white tights during the opening number then seemed stoned the remainder of the night.  The event dragged on and on and on.  Why couldn’t they have found real singers?  I actually saw The King’s Speech and thought it wonderful.  Kudos to Colin Firth who was nominated last year for the film A Single Man.

Gov. Scott Walker failed to listen to the thousands who protested at all fifty state capitols Saturday and ordered his Capitol building emptied last night.  Gov. Walker, that is the people’s Capitol, not yours.  Protesters remained in their building.  Perhaps we need a giant rally this weekend in DC.  Here is a 92 year old standing up for Wisconsin at Saturday’s rally in Harrisburg:

Let’s remember, it wasn’t public workers or pensions which created the deficits but failed Republican policies.  Dick Cheney infamously said “deficits don’t matter.”  They do but where were all these Tea baggers when George W. Bush doubled our national debt in eight years?  His tax cuts for the rich, two unpaid for wars and recession are what created the deficits.  Where were these morons then?

Be careful if you have a miscarriage in Georgia.  A new bill in the GOP’s war on women would make that a capital offense.

Treasurer Rob McCord is touting how much unclaimed property has been returned to the people.  Funny, I’ve had a claim in for over two years and his Department won’t even respond.

Another gas well exploded late last week near the Ohio border.  Fracking fluid in storage facilities blew up.  This is what we’re injecting into our drinking water and rivers. The New York Times reveals just how much fracking fluid is being used to pollute our waterways.

The hacker group Anonymous has taken down Americans For Prosperity, the Koch brother’s astroturf group supporting the Tea Party.

Unions & Supporters to Rally Saturday

Rallies will be held tomorrow in every state capitol supporting workers in Wisconsin.  66 rallies in total will be held with 40 organizations co-sponsoring.  We’re one of the participating blogs.  You’ll be able to follow the events online as we’ll be Tweeting and sending Twitpics of the events.

The Wisconsin Assembly (comparable to our State House) voted for the bill stripping union workers of most of their collective bargaining rights yesterday.  This means if a single Democratic Senator is brought back to Madison they can pass the bill.  The legislation would prevent unions from negotiating anything but wage increases and even those cannot rise above the consumer price index.  This prevents unions and workers from negotiating grievance procedures, workplace safety, productivity issues, local rules, and all the other critical benefits workers gain from being organized.  They have already agreed to wage and benefit reductions in spite of the fact these funding shortfalls are the result of decreased corporate taxes.

Teachers and public employees in Wisconsin have agreed to pay for Gov. Walker’s corporate tax cuts from their own pockets and only want to preserve the rights to collective bargaining.  The Republicans are intransigent in their opposition.  The Governor has sent Wisconsin State Police to their homes to forcibly bring them to the State Capitol.  This is why they have fled the state.  Very reasonable compromises have been agreed to by the unions in the face of stonewalling.  This means the entire purpose of this legislation is union busting.  If they are successful in Wisconsin they attempt this elsewhere perhaps here in Pennsylvania.  We must stop them and we can do that with a massive show of support tomorrow.  Wear Badger red to show your support for our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin.

All the rallies commence at noon.

Philadelphia:  Broad St and JFK Blvd

Harrisburg:  Capitol steps

Trenton, NJ:  125 West State Street

Trenton, NJ 08625

Dover:  Legislative Hall/Legislative Mall, Court St. Dover Delaware

Annapolis:  100 State Circle, MD State House Annapolis, MD 21401  

Ironically, Anti-Union Republicans Need Unions

By Walter Brasch

There are a lot of ironies in the Wisconsin fight between the Republican-dominated legislature and the working class.

           On Tuesday, Feb. 22, the State Senate unanimously passed a resolution to honor the Green Bay Packers for winning the Super Bowl. Every one of the players is a member of a union.

           Of course, only the 19 Republicans in the chamber voted for the resolution; the 14 Democratic senators, co-sponsors of the resolution, were in Illinois. They were in the neighboring state because newly-elected Gov. Scott Walker, supported by Big Business, the Tea Party, and far-right conservatives, had ordered the unionized state police to bring every Democratic senator into the capitol in order to assure a quorum. Needing one more member, the Senate couldn’t pass any fiscal legislation.

           Walker and the legislature thought they could ram through a union-busting measure, disguising it under a cloak of balancing the state budget. All they needed were 20 senators-19 Republicans and, for that elusive quorum, one Democrat, even if he or she voted against the bill. The only reason the state had a deficit, they lied, was because of union wages and benefits.

           The unions had already said they would accept what amounts to an 8 percent cut. But, Walker, acting more like a caricature of a Fat Cat Boss, refused to negotiate. His demands, if put into law, would essentially “gut” public worker unions.

           For two weeks, beginning Feb. 14, thousands of government workers and their supporters came to Madison to defend unions and collective bargaining. At its peak, more than 70,000 were in the streets of the state’s larger cities. One of those protestors was all-pro cornerback Charles Woodson, the Packers’ co-captain, one of those honored by the Legislature. Woodson, strong in his condemnation of the governor and Legislature, said he was honored “to stand together with working families of Wisconsin and organized labor [who were] under an unprecedented attack to take away their basic rights to have a voice and collectively bargain at work.”

           There are more ironies.

           Thousands of anti-union voices have cried out that they don’t need unions. However, even the most rabid anti-union reactionary has benefitted from labor’s push for a 40 hour work week, overtime, better working conditions, the enactment of rigorous child labor laws, and basic benefits, including vacation time and sick leave.

           Unions also led the push to create the National Labor Relations Board, which gives further worker protections, while restricting excesses, both by unions and employers; and the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires all private contractors on federal projects to pay wages equivalent to what union workers would earn, even if their own companies are not unionized. The “prevailing doctrine” has led to better wages and employee training in the construction industry, according to labor historian Rosemary Brasch.

           Unions were primarily responsible for creating the rise of the middle class, thus elevating the poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised. With weaker unions, says economist Richard Freeman, “the U.S. will be slower in developing policies to help the disadvantaged and poor . . . and to protect consumers, workers, and shareholders from business crime and dishonesty.” All social programs, according to writer/activist Harvey Wasserman “can trace their roots to union activism, as can the protection of our civil liberties.” Strong labor unions generally have higher productivity, according to independent research done by Harley Shalen of the University of California, because there is “less turnover, better worker communication, better working conditions, and a better-educated workforce.”  Further, merely the threat of unionization at a company usually leads to improved work conditions as employers, using extraordinary means to impose anti-union bias into their companies, nevertheless, will improve the lives of their workers solely to avoid collective bargaining and union benefits.

           Anti-union rhetoric also leads people to believe that the generous health benefits that governments give to unionized workers has led to the current financial problems, all of which are absorbed by the taxpayers. But, the truth reveals another irony. Better health benefits actually result in lower costs to the taxpayers. Most of the 50 million uninsured are members of working families, and have lower incomes, making them eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), funded by taxpayers. Unable to pay even the co-insurance costs, low-income workers usually use medical facilities only when there are critical problems, thus jeopardizing their own health, and resulting in less productivity and more long term care, all paid by public programs. Uninsured patients also pay more for health care, and are more likely to stay impoverished because of health costs, according to recent studies by the Kaiser Foundation on Medicaid and the Uninsured. Medicaid payments in 2008 were about $204 billion.

           And in the ultimate irony, Rush Limbaugh, who called union workers “bottom-feeding freeloaders,” Glenn Beck, who miraculously linked trade unionism with Communists, socialists, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the United Nations, and numerous other conservative commentators are all members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), an AFL-CIO union.

[Next Week: Lies and the truth in Wisconsin. Walter Brasch, an award-winning journalist, is author of 16 books, including With Just Cause: Unionization of the American Journalist. He has been a member of several unions, including The Newspaper Guild, Communications Workers of America, International Association of Machinists, the United Auto Workers, the Association of State College and University Faculty, and three in the entertainment industry. You may contact Dr. Brasch at walterbrasch@gmail.com]

News & Notes September 29, 2010

Things got a bit crazy there last week between preparing for my trip, changing the plans to drive instead of flying, having the lightning strike then spending four days on the road all the while campaigns and events were happening.  There’s tons of stuff to get to so I might do more than one News & Notes today catching up.

While I’m here in New Mexico’s state capitol I might mosey over to the Roundhouse and rustle up some information on this state’s experience with shale gas drilling.  The energy companies have been in some New Mexican areas fracking for gas for several years.  I’ll see what I can dig up.

Meanwhile the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center has their latest report on Marcellus Shale severance tax rates and its interesting.  The industry, through its bought and paid for mouths in the legislature, is claiming falsely that SB 1155 calls for a severance tax rate of 7.3% which puts it below that of western states which include property taxes on top of the gas tax to bring an effective rate of 7.9%  The gas drillers haven’t left any of these states for “greener pastures” and New Mexico’s shale gas is a fraction of that in the Marcellus formation.  These are scare tactics designed to let them exploit a non renewable resource belonging to Pennsylvanians.

President Obama was in Albuquerque yesterday before traveling to Wisconsin trying to motivate liberal Democrats to vote.  He and VP Biden, who was at Penn State, are criticizing us for being “whiners.”  The White House is so f*cking tone deaf it is beyond comprehension.  Instead of castigating those it betrayed they should be apologizing and begging for understanding.  I’m simply astounded by their cluelessness.

polls seem to be all the place this fall.  I’m not sure, going forward, how accurate any polling is.  More and more of us are going to cell phone only, especially the youth, and are outside the scope of traditional polling.  I also think these samples are highly sensitive to whomever happened to be contacted and show a divergent electorate.  I think anything can and will happen in November.  For example last week an F&M poll showed Mike Fitzpatrick leading Patrick Murphy by double digits in PA-10, something I found hard to comprehend.  Yesterday another poll puts Murphy ahead by 3.  The only poll which counts will be the one on election day.

Veterans and labor are joining other groups to do canvassing and phone banking at a feverish pace.  While organizations such as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads are pumping $50 million into ads this year the work on the ground remains the focal point of voter contact.  The Citizens United decision is having a serious impact on this race as billionaires are dumping millions into anonymous contributions.  You, the voter have a right to know who is funding these ads.

Manan Trivedi has a very effective ad attacking Jim Gerlach for his giant faux pas attacking his opponent for being out of the district for eight years.  Manan explains why to the voters with this ad:

Commonwealth Court went after Big Pharma Bristol-Myers Squibb for gouging Pennsylvania taxpayers last week.  They caught the company cheating us for drugs for the senior prescription program.  Businesses are constantly crying about all the regulations they are forced to endure but if they weren’t all crooks these wouldn’t be necessary.  Honest people don’t need someone holding them accountable, crooked ones do.  This is but one more example.  I’m fed up with Chamber of Commerces crying and whining about this through their elected representatives.

On my drive west through Pennsylvania Saturday I heard a radio ad by Pat Toomey touting his experience as a small business owner.  Toomey’s family owned and operated several restaurants in the Lehigh Valley, presumably with the funds he earned on Wall Street.  Pat co-owned the business but never managed or operated it, his brothers did that work.  Pat Toomey was in Hong Kong then working for an Enron investor who was caught defrauding shareholders:

I’ve nailed down what Toomey did during that year: His campaign confirms to me that he did research on capital market formation in southeast Asia for a company owned by the billionaire Chan brothers, one of whom, Ronnie Chan, was a former Enron director who settled a massive $168 million lawsuit brought against the company by shareholders.

Toomey’s boss has been fighting democratic progress in China and is tied to China’s refusal to float their currency.  That policy is costing millions of American jobs.