Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chamber of Commerce vs. Labor Unions: Guess who Wins?

Labor is the great producer of wealth: it moves all other causes.
Congressman Daniel Webster, 4/2/1824

With all their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in man, than the other association of men.
Clarence Darrow, The Railroad Trainman, 1909

Without labor nothing prospers.
Popular banner

The history of America has been largely created by the deeds of its working people and their organizations. Nor has this contribution been confined to raising wages and bettering work conditions; it has been fundamental to almost every effort to extend and strengthen our democracy.
William Cahn, labor authority and historian

We insist that labor is entitled to as much respect as property. But our workers with hand and brain deserve more than respect for their labor. They deserve practical protection in the opportunity to use their labor at a return adequate to support them at a decent and constantly rising standard of living, and to accumulate a margin of security against the inevitable vicissitudes of life.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, fireside chat, 1936

If I were a worker in a factory, the first thing I would do would be to join a union.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt

The first thing a dictator does is abolish the free press. Next he abolishes the right of labor to go on strike. Strikes have been labor's weapon of progress in the century of our industrial civilization. Where the strike has been abolished … labor is reduced to a state of medieval peonage, the standard of living lowered, the nation falls to subsistence level.
George Seldes, Freedom of the Press, 1935

The right to join a union of one's choice is unquestioned today and is sanctioned and protected by law.
President Harry S. Truman

Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice.
President Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961), general and Allied Supreme Commander in World War II

There's s a direct relationship between the ballot box and the bread box, and what the union fights for and wins at the bargaining table can be taken away in the legislative halls.
Walter Reuther

In light of this fundamental structure of all work… in light of the fact that, labor and capital are indispensable in any social system … it is clear that even if it is because of production in any social system … it is clear that even if it is because of their work needs that people unite to secure their rights, their union remains a constructive factor of social order and solidarity, and it is impossible to ignore it.
Pope John Paul II

The history of the labor movements needs to be taught in every school in this land. America is a living testimonial to what free men and women, organized in free democratic trade unions can do to make a better life. … We ought to be proud of it!
Vice President Hubert Horatio Humphrey, Jr. (1865-1969), Lyndon Johnson Administration

Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours, and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor.
President John F. Kennedy, 1962

The AFL-CIO has done more good for more people than any (other) group in America in its legislative efforts. It doesn't just try to do something about wages and hours for its own people. No group in the country works harder in the interests of everyone.
President Lyndon Johnson, 1965

(Above courtesy of the American Labor Studies Center.)

The EFCA is an attempt to radically overhaul our labor law system in the favor of union organizers. EFCA is a power grab by union bosses who seek to inflate union membership by skewing the careful balance that is designed within our labor law system.
NAM (National Assoc. of Manufacturers) Talking Points against EFCA


Nobody should be surprised that business organizations like the Chamber of Commerce , The National Right to Work Committee and the National Association of Manufacturers are looking out for themselves. The whole purpose of organizing is to build up membership, and thus the funding, to promote their own common welfare.

Labor unions are in business for the same reasons. There have always been labor or trade organizations where workers could gather in order to protect their livelihoods (and, in some cases, their lives.)

In the days before industrialization, there were guilds, alliances and brotherhoods. In every workplace, then and now, employers and employees had relationships that could best be described as contentious. Neither side has ever trusted the other. Every day in every way self-interest reigns supreme.

Often, as is the case with many relationships, the differences become irreconcilable. In the case of workplace irreconcilable differences, management prefers to call that "cause for dismissal" and considers it their duty to put an end to it.

Every now and then, in an all-too-rare but slightly enlightened environment, a stab at "concessions" is made. But even then, going in, it's a pretty safe bet that management will come out ahead 100% of the time.

Even the most labor-supportive of us can understand the reasons behind the statement above. The difference between labor and management--the main, the very ultimate difference--is that management holds all the cards. They don't have to do any of the things labor comes up with. Not unless they're forced to by some ridiculously tight-assed government agency. (Which, luckily for them, they haven't had to confront for ages now.)

Whole cities of people, especially in the South, think they understand the need to keep labor from gaining even an inch. Unbelievably , many of those naysayers and saboteurs are laborers themselves. Somehow they've been convinced that the way to success is to keep management happy at any cost. (It's an odd spectacle when workers cut off their noses to spite their faces. They look really, really foolish.)

Their motto: Never complain, always explain, give hosannas to the highest for your crummy workplace and your measly paycheck. And if you really want to keep management happy, get behind them in every skirmish, whenever unions rear their pushy little heads.

They'll chant, "I hate unions". They'll march against them and connive with management to keep them out. They'll even repeat management's talking points, as if they're their own:

1. Unions make workers lazy. They can get away with murder if there's a union behind them.

2. Unions try to bleed their nice company dry with "demands" for high wages and decent benefits.

3. Unions "demand" safe workplaces. All those regulations cause no amount of grief for the Lords of the Manor.

4. Unions "force" their will upon workers.

5. Unions are evil because, well, because they're UNIONS .

So I wonder--what is it going to take to convince the un-organized laborers of this country that it isn't the unions that are holding them back. One look at our history shows that we were stronger and healthier as a nation when the unions were stronger and healthier. There is no denying that, no matter who does the denying.

This is an argument that has gone on and on and on. I'm always shocked when I see how many workers have bought into the lie that unions will destroy our society. One brief memory of the past couple of decades, one look at the sorry state of employment today should be enough to convince even the harshest critics and the densest of dolts that the Chamber of Commerce, NAM, and every other group or politician who spends considerable amounts of time pretending that unions are evil are not now, and never have been, our BFFs.


(Cross-posted at Talking Points Memo here)

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Mainstreaming of Hate: That's Entertainment!

As a group, they are the pop culture equivalent of necrotic carrion beetles, crawling with insectile determination from one infected open wound in the American psyche to another. The wounds include fear of race, fear of foreigners, fear of sexuality, fear of difference, hysterical religious fundamentalism, violent nationalism, and paranoia. They lay their eggs in the infected abrasion, then scuttle away. When the eggs hatch, disgorging rage and discontent, they start counting money.

Michael Rowe on the Pop Culture hate mongers, "Death at the Museum and the Degradation of the American Dialogue", Huffington Post, June 11, 2009

There have been mutterings for years about the insidious effects the constant barrage of hate talk has on the unhinged fringe. One day's look at the internet, one day's listen to the radio, a few hours of Fox News prime time is all one needs in order to get the full picture. Hate sells. That's the bottom line.

Never mind that it corrodes our National psyche and sends the loonies to near-orgasm. . .it's fun! The people who are out there on the front lines selling hate--Limbaugh, Beck, O'Reilly, Savage, Coulter, Hannity, et al--are enjoying the hell out of the impact their carefully choreographed and mostly disingenuous rantings have on an increasing number of followers.

And their followers slurp up every spurting syllable, as if from God's lips. . .

Janet Napolitano tried to warn us in a Homeland Security memo entitled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment", but was so severely shot down she ended up having to apologize for it!

I wish she wouldn't have done that. I wish the White House had backed her up and let it ride. We cave to extremists at our own peril--which is exactly what her own memo warned us about.

Eugene Robinson writes about it today:
For days, some conservative commentators tried mightily to paint the memo as an underhanded attempt by the Obama administration to smear its honorable critics by equating "right-wing" with "terrorism." It made no difference to these loudmouths that the number of hate groups around the country has increased by more than 50 percent since 2000, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. It didn't matter that the memo was backed up by solid intelligence and analysis. For these infotainers, the point isn't to illuminate a subject with light but to blast it with heat.
And it wasn't just the Sean Hannitys, Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks of the world who pretended to be outraged. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele accused the administration of trying "to segment out Americans who dissent from this administration, to segment out conservatives in this country who have a different philosophy or view from this administration, and labeling them as terrorists." Steele seems to have decided that telling the truth isn't nearly as important as the high-temperature exercise known as "firing up the base."
The thing is, though, that words have consequences.
There's profit for the pundits, and perhaps personal advantage for some politicians, in calling President Obama a "socialist" and calling Judge Sonia Sotomayor a "racist Latina" and claiming that Democrats want to "take away your guns" -- in creating and nurturing a sense of grievance among those inclined to be aggrieved. But what about those who might not understand that it's all just political theater?

Paul Krugman writes about it today, as well:
Now, for the most part, the likes of Fox News and the R.N.C. haven’t directly incited violence, despite Bill O’Reilly’s declarations that “some” called Dr. Tiller “Tiller the Baby Killer,” that he had “blood on his hands,” and that he was a “guy operating a death mill.” But they have gone out of their way to provide a platform for conspiracy theories and apocalyptic rhetoric, just as they did the last time a Democrat held the White House.
And at this point, whatever dividing line there was between mainstream conservatism and the black-helicopter crowd seems to have been virtually erased.
This set the crew at "Morning Joe" off on such a tangent, they were practically foaming at the mouth (and it wasn't Starbuck's froth). Suddenly Krugman, that past Morning Joe guest, that great American hero, that deserved Nobel Prize winner, was nothing more than a Left Wing toadie. The gushing is over.

It's an odd state we're in when supposedly reasonable, responsible, intelligent adults defend extremism from any quarter. And yet we see it all the time. We declare the First Amendment as our arbiter. Free speech, as long as nobody dies. Free speech, above all else.

Adam Liptak wrote a piece in Wednesday's NYT called "Hate Speech or Free Speech? What Much of West bans is Protected in U.S." In it, he talks about how much stricter Hate Speech laws are in Canada and other civilized countries:
A couple of years ago, a Canadian magazine published an article arguing that the rise of Islam threatened Western values. The article's tone was mocking and biting, but it said nothing that conservative magazines and blogs in the United States did not say every day without fear of legal reprisal.
Things are different here. The magazine is on trial.
Under Canadian law, there is a serious argument that the article contained hate speech and that its publisher, Maclean's magazine, the nation's leading newsweekly, should be forbidden from saying similar things, forced to publish a rebuttal and made to compensate Muslims for injuring their "dignity, feelings and self respect."

Oh. My. God. Can you imagine the battle royal in this country if we came up with something similar? Wouldn't those hideously hateful entertainers have a field day with that one?? Here's more:
Canada, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or have signed international conventions banning hate speech. Israel and France forbid the sale of Nazi items like swastikas and flags. It is a crime to deny the Holocaust in Canada, Germany and France.

Well, who cares? We hate all those countries, anyway. What do they know? They're not the Greatest Country in the World.

So which one of us is going to be the first to admit that it's time to cast a new look at our First Amendment rights? What does it really mean? Are there absolutely no limits? The fomentors have gone way beyond "sticks and stones". They not only revel in the attention it brings, they're addicted to it.

There are millions of people who take to heart every seriously off-base utterance from the Right Wing extremist "entertainers", and the number of incidents caused by their acting-out is only going to increase--unless we as a society stop allowing hate speech to masquerade as amusement.

Even little children understand how hurtful words can be. We teach them not to lie or to slander. We would never condone in children the kind of language we protect in adults.

And the irony to me is this:  Those adults we're in the business of protecting? They're not worth it.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Obama's "I Have a Dream" speech

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
MLK, August 28, 1963, Lincoln Memorial.

I watched President Obama's speech at Cairo University this morning--this intelligent, thoughtful cry for justice, tolerance and peace given in front of an intelligent, hopeful audience of young people who hold the future of their worlds in their hands-- and as I listened, I realized that this was Barack Obama's "I have a dream" speech.

When Martin Luther King gave his impassioned speech that sizzling day in Washington in 1963 there were no illusions that it was the speech that was going to change the world. It gained resonance and built power and ultimately became the battle cry and the triumph of the civil rights movement because of MLK's eloquent observations of simple truths. We could no longer defend the notion that a nation as strong as ours could go on denying a segment of our population equal rights under the law. We were a better people than that.

Over time we either forgot or ignored those lessons--that we can only function as a whole when we all have the same opportunities to rise above--and it cost us. But today our president, Barack Hussein Obama, reminded us that we are citizens of the world. He reminded us that other cultures, other religions, other beliefs live side by side with us here in America. He reminded us that we as a people, as a nation, have an obligation to ourselves to do the right thing.

It was a brave speech. He talked openly about Muslims and their place in the world, knowing that the hatemongers would barely wait for the speech to be over before they would begin their attack. He talked about what we as Americans would do to help bring peace to a tattered Middle East, but there were no promises that we would provide the solutions.

There was loud cheering whenever Obama talked about Muslims and their rights, but noticeable silence when he talked about peace in Israel. There is still a long way to go, but there was no question that Obama sees himself as a citizen of the world. He comes to it naturally, given his background, and he has allowed himself to see the world from all viewpoints.

As he was talking (reading from his prompters, if you must) I thought about our last "president" giving a speech of that magnitude and how it would have gone over. The best speechwriters on the planet couldn't have given GWB the power, the presence, the authority to handle it. It wouldn't have been seen as anything even close to genuine. Nor would it have held up over time, as Obama's speech surely will.

But I happened to be watching MSNBC during the speech and so when it was over, it was Joe Scarborough who was there to give the commentary. This is what Joe said minutes into his own speechifying:
"I found it fascinating that he didn't move away from George W. Bush's belief in democracy and the rights of women."

No, it's true. He really said that. Then, moments later, he brought in Liz Cheney to dissect Obama's speech and give her take on what it all means. He really did.

And moments after that I changed the channel to CNN, where intelligence reigned and people from all sides and other cultures discussed the speech at length.

I have no illusions about Barack Obama's power to make changes. I don't see him as a deity. I don't always agree with everything he does. I don't see an end to Muslim extremism.

But at this moment, on this day, I give thanks that he's where he is and that he's who he is. I'm proud of our president. I haven't been able to say that in a very long time.