Now that the cheering from our "fast track" victory has died down, let's take a hard look at what's happened in the wake of our efforts to keep Congress and Clinton from opening the job-export floodgates even wider.
In case you missed it: Fast track would give the President the authority to negotiate NAFTA-like trade agreements with other countries and ram them through Congress in an up or down vote, with virtually no debate. In November, Clinton and an assortment of Democrats and Republicans tried to get fast track through Congress. Despite their very best efforts, and a very generous array of enticements, they weren't able to persuade enough legislators to vote for it. They retreated without ever bringing it to the floor.
IT AIN'T OVER ...
For now. It ain't over: This scheme to expand the job-killing North American Free trade Agreement could come up for a vote again any time. If the corporate crowd thinks that the coast is clear, we could see fast track back on the Congressional calendar soon.
After all, rich people and big businesses dumped nearly two billion dollars into the last election cycle, and this scheme remains at the top of their list. Dearly departed member of Congress, anti-labor union member and fast track supporter Sonny Bono gave an honest description of the lobbying job Clinton and business did on behalf of fast track: "This was a sale like I've never seen before." So be sure to keep the phone numbers for your members of Congress handy, just in case they try to pull a fast one again.
In the course of the fast track hysteria, we had a little problem with some of labor's political action. I'm afraid so. It seems that during the last several days of the fast track battle back in November, about two dozen Republican members of the House of Representatives decided to promise labor that they would oppose "fast track," but only in return for our support. Some labor people made the promise, the vote on fast track never happened, and all of a sudden organized labor has a bunch of new "friends."
LABOR'S NEW "FRIENDS"
Friends like second-term Republican Representative Phil English, from Erie, Pennsylvania. Swept into office during the great labor stay-away of 1994, English had a near-death experience in the 1996 election. He barely managed to defeat a Democrat who had only recently moved back from California to live in Erie. With a slim 3000-vote margin of victory, and working people fed up with his anti-labor voting record, English decided to promise to vote against fast track. Never mind that only a week before the fast track bill was withdrawn, English voted for a failed bill to expand NAFTA to include two dozen Caribbean and Central American low-wage producers.
Does this sound like someone you would trust? Or someone just trying to get past the next election? In any event, it's working. With English's promise to vote against fast track in hand, an unnamed labor official was quoted in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call as saying, "He will definitely be the beneficiary of wide labor support... We are going to sit down and see what we can do for him." Federal Election Commission records show that English has already raked in almost $10,000 in labor money for his 1998 campaign. Make your checks payable to "People for English..."
Let's be clear: This is a guy who scored a whopping 30% pro-labor voting record during 1996, as rated by the United Auto Workers. By the 1997 UE legislative scorecard, he gets a miserable 17% pro-worker rating. On the other hand, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gives him an 88% business-friendly rating, and the Christian Coalition gave him a perfect 100%.
What kind of influence are we buying?
It turns out that Rep. English has raised more than $10,000 for his November campaign so far from just four corporations: Caterpillar, GE, J.P. Morgan & Co, and UPS. More than $150,000 additional dollars have poured into the Congressman's campaign from dozens of equally prominent corporate political action committees. If he keeps it up, labor's money might end up constituting a grand total of 5% of his campaign kitty. When you figure out how much "influence" that will give us, call me up. But it won't be much. What we did do was give English a free ride in November, the chance to get reelected without serious opposition. Right about now I'm beginning to think that English is a lot smarter than we are. What do you think?
WHAT A MESS
For the other side of the coin, let's take a look at a couple of the Democrats who used the fast track battle to disgrace themselves. California Democrat Rep. Matthew Martinez the sponsor of the popular Job Creation and Restoration Act enraged labor by giving in to a White House promise to finish the Long Beach Freeway in return for his vote for fast track. Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford, a new recruit to the anti-labor "New Democrat Coalition," came out for fast track near the end of the battle by claiming that it was good for the transportation workers in his Memphis district. Probably the trucking companies, railroads, airlines, and barge companies have added an extra shift to keep up with all the goods now pouring in from Mexico. If you were wondering, Ford cashed more than $67,000 in labor checks for his 1996 campaign; Martinez got $33,500.
You get the picture. We won a postponement of fast track. Two dozen Republicans are using their promise to vote "no" to escape tough labor opposition in their reelection campaigns. Labor gives more and more money to anti-labor members of Congress. And a growing number of labor's Democratic "friends" tell us to go to hell. Sound like a mess? It is.
GET THE FACTS ... AND ACT!
Brothers and sisters, we have some work to do. Call the Federal Election Commission at (800) 424-9530 (or explore the FEC's Web Site) and ask them to send you the latest financial report on your members of Congress. See who's bankrolling their campaign. See if they really deserve any labor money that they're getting. Then write a letter to your union's political action committee and ask them to make a substantial contribution to the Labor Party. It would be a great day when labor finally contributes as much to the Labor Party as it does to anti-labor politicians. Finally, make a list of the friends and co-workers you are going to ask to join the Labor Party. And then ask them!
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