GOP’s True Agenda After President Obama’s Re-election: The War On Workers Will Continue

December 10th, 2012

In the waning days of their current legislative session, without holding the legally required waiting period for public comment and participation, Republican legislators in Michigan chose to ram through another salvo against workers in the ongoing right-wing assault on the middle class. Still smarting at the recent thumping of right-wingers nationally and the trouncing of their favorite son Mitt, these radical ideologues decided that a state where many spilled blood to win labor rights in the nation’s auto plants, would now join the confederation of anti-worker states. 

Make no mistake about it, in a state where the Governor, Rick Snyder, had recently said the union-busting tactics displayed by Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Jon Kasich in Ohio (where those efforts were sent packing) and Mitch Daniels in Indiana, were not a “high-priority,” was perfectly happy to sign the legislation, illegally voted through this past week by a GOP dominated legislature that had lost half its seats in the new legislature and so feared their anti-worker agenda might not pass muster in 2013.

 It is exactly this type of skullduggery, anti-democratic, winning at the cost of open and transparent government that the party of the right now finds itself allied with every day. From funding and creating “get out the vote drives” that were actually designed to confuse voters about where and when voting was to take place, to lying about court ordered sanctions against the disgusting Jim Crow practice of requiring photo IDs from life-long residents of states where early 20th century birth records were poorly kept for people of color, today’s GOP is all about rigging the system to frustrate the will of the 99%. Just as in the battle over the “fiscal cliff,” their goal is to maintain the gross income inequality that has mushroomed since the election of Ronald Reagan. Reagan started the ball rolling by crushing the strike of the air traffic controllers. That was the green light to corporate America to go on the offensive – and they sure as heck did.

As many commentators pointed out during this election season and now during the battle over the phony “fiscal cliff,” income inequality, after a thirty-year war against organized labor, has reached eye-popping extremes. According to a recent article from the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities, the 400 top earning American families now control as much national wealth as the bottom 150 million taxpayers. The top 5% of all taxpayers control over 60% of the wealth of the nation versus only 7% control by the bottom 80%. There is no way we can ever avoid a permanent fiscal cliff if this inequality is allowed to continue.

 As Frederick Allen, writing in the October 2nd, 2012 issue of Forbes Magazine (not exactly a left-wing journal) suggested, the income inequality created over the last thirty years is not only unpleasant and unethical, bad it is bad for the long-term fiscal health of the United States. In effect, the same “gilded-age” conditions that existed prior to the Great Depression were mirrored in the easy-credit, financial casino mentality of the most recent economic collapse. Each time the conditions that greatly inflated the magnitude of the financial collapses were directly brought on by a gross exaggeration in income inequality. Check out the full article:

The ongoing war by Michigan and other states is especially fascinating, because the Wagner Act, the foundation of our whole National Labor Relations Act – “Labor’s Bill of Rights,” and our whole national system of collective bargaining, was never meant to be the only federally passed law that individual states had a right to choose not to follow if they chose. The Wagner Act was meant to rectify the “robber baron” style of exploitative capitalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when workers were seen as so many exploitable and expendable pieces of the production line. The Wagner Act reversed these deeply rooted anti-worker patterns of big business, but not for long. 

Though Labor played its part during the heyday of WWII and kept labor peace while churning out the goods needed for the war effort, by the end of the war, as hundreds of thousands of workers returned home from fighting overseas, and the huge amounts of government spending to drive the war effort started to slow down, business owners who had seen sales and profits rocket up during the war now had angry workers on their hands – workers who had agreed to no strike clauses during the war and reigned in wage demands and now wanted to  share in the soaring prosperity that the business owners enjoyed during the postwar boom. 

Many work stoppages and strikes occurred, being the prime tool of workers to defend their rights to a fair wage.  Just like today, the corporate media went into overdrive to slander these demands for fair wages and benefits as the work of communists, socialists and anarchists. The postwar reaction to a decade of FDR’s policies aimed at leveling the playing field for workers and his public attacks on the big business class, lent force to the election of a conservative right-wing Congress – Richard Nixon among them - just as happened in the Tea Party election of 2010. This right-wing Congress, in 1947, “revised” the Wagner Act, under the name of the two sponsors of the legislation. The Taft-Hartley Act essentially gutted the most progressive measures of the Wagner Act and added a whole sub-section of impediments to labor organizing which have frustrated union organizers to this day. See more here: 

It is important to understand here that this “revision” was the first and only time in our U.S. history that states were able to “opt-out” of federal law simply by the vote of their state legislatures. We had fought the Civil War on the basis that all states in the union must follow one set of rules or the union could not stand – but for worker’s rights? This apparently did not hold true. I am simplifying here to a degree, but sadly, not by much. Labor did fight hard against Taft-Hartley Act at the time, calling it “the slave-labor act,” but the tide was against them. This anti-labor law has been at the root of labor’s decline for the last several decades. It has provided the tolls to employers and their government cronies to restrict and curtail the rights of workers to organize into legal labor unions. 

It is amazing to note that even in the last election, when two states voted to legalize the personal use of marijuana, in direct violation of federal anti-drug laws, even under what is considered a progressive national administration, it has only been a matter of a few weeks before clear rumblings have been heard from the White House and federal authorities that such violations of federal law will not be allowed to proceed. Already plans are in motion to bring these two forward thinking states into line with the wasteful and outdated drug laws. But try and screw workers? That's A-OK. 

The question then is, what will organized labor and workers do to fight back? Organized labor and worker’s groups of all types must quickly figure out an active counter-attack to these most recent assaults against American workers. Though the AFL-CIO and major union supporters likely spent over $200 million this past election cycle to guarantee a pro-labor victory, the time for celebration has obviously been very short-lived.  All workers, unions, new worker alliances – such as the new National Taxi Alliance out of NYC, must target these recent attacks our of Michigan and use them as the focus for a major counter-attack against the Taft-Harley Act’s anti-worker provisions – especially the ability for any state to opt out of the right of workers to organize free of any obstacles. Workers Rights Must be Civil Rights! 

We have just contributed to one of the great progressive victories of the last half-century and now is not the time to stand back and be shy. We must be bold, we must have a clear message and we must be unrelenting in our attacks. Why should Michigan get away with such attacks? There are big convention centers in Detroit and many national companies have their headquarters in the state. We must target those who economically seek to destroy us and declare economic war on them in return. This is the only message they will listen to and one of the strongest weapons in our arsenal. At the same time, all workers and organized labor must work together to re-educate the public about the terrible consequences of such attacks against working people and these rights for which tens of thousands have spilled their blood, fought tooth and nail to secure a safe and equitable future for their children and grandchildren.

Americans have just demonstrated that when they are presented with the truth, in a clear and coherent manner, they will make the right choice. We are just now in a period when many types of progressive media, including such efforts as our own Workers Unite Film Festival (and over a dozen wonderful labor film festivals across the country), worker/labor web-based news outlets, twitter-feeds, facebook pages, etc. can actually reach and communicate an alternate version of the what the corporate mainstream media wants to offer – which is most often to confuse and obfuscate the actual truth. We have a real chance here my fellow progressives, labor activists, union organizers – let’s get out there and fight this thing like our parents and grandparents fought the great battles of the last 100 years. No defeat, no surrender. Our future as a labor movement, our future as a country with a viable middle-class, who has the chance for a life with decent wages and dignity is what is at stake.