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Capitol Hill Shop Steward

Political ó
No Blank

As featured in
Labor Party Press

One of the benefits of living near Washington, D.C., is that you can attend rallies and protests for and against various things without having to endure the hellride of getting there. Who can forget the joy of all-night rides followed by all-day rallies? And thereís nothing like a whiff of a reeking chemical toilet in the back of your bus or the thrill of pit-stop eating to remind you that our cause is just. Letís have a moment of silence for all those who dare to venture into our nationís capital to march and demonstrate.

I recently had the pleasure of joining about 15,000 union members at one of these grand events here in Washington, D.C. Back on April 12, I took a quick trip down to the U.S. Capitol to add myself to the crowd that had assembled to protest the looming trade deal with China.

The AFL-CIO and a number of affiliates did a good job of putting this demonstration together and bringing in the rank-and-file. It was nice to be with fellow unionists who have suffered the destructive consequences of our anti-union U.S. trade deals. It was even nicer to be among those fed up with the U.S. government policy of working with corporations to close factories here and move them to the growing sweatshop empires around the world.


As I was walking up to the crowd, a leafleter handed me a check-sized piece of paper. It was a blank check made out to "China," and signed "United States Congress." This was the theme of the day. Speaker after speaker echoed the message of "No Blank Check for China!" Speaker after speaker went to work exposing and denouncing the sorry labor-rights record of China. (Unfortunately, very little was said about the sorry labor-rights record of the good old U.S.A., or about the multinational corporations that are behind the China deal.)

Labor leaders, politicians, and even a couple of environmentalists took the stage to blast moves to "normalize" what can only be described as our profoundly abnormal trade relations with China. How abnormal? Try this: every month, Big Business buys and imports more than $6 billion worth of products over and above what they sell to China. Thatís right, the U.S. runs a $6 billion per month trade deficit with China alone! Just go to WalMart or KMart and youíll see why.


But something was missing from this fine demonstration. About halfway through, it hit me. No blank check for China ó sure! But why on earth does organized labor continue to give a blank check to the Democrats? Did I miss something, or did the Clinton administration scoop up laborís money and votes and then fight hard for every single antiworker trade deal for the last eight years? And what about Al Gore? Where is he on China trade or the other job-killing trade deals? Where is he on a lot of things?

When I got home from the demonstration, I decided to check Al Goreís website to see what he has to say about trade, labor, labor law reform, and the like. Last year when I poked around on his website, words like "union" and "labor" were missing. This time around we at least broke the surface ó but not by much.

The Gore site ( has a section called "Vice President Al Gore: Fighting for Working Families." So far, so good, I thought. And itís quite a list. In addition to inventing the Internet, Gore also takes credit for creating 20 million jobs. (I wasnít surprised to see no mention of the ones we lost through those trade deals or through Goreís Reinventing Government/slash the federal workforce campaign.) He also personally revived the construction industry. He lowered unemployment. He increased wages. Who knew? Whatís more, heís for pay equity, expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act, protecting Social Security, defending real pensions, improving job training, improving workplace health and safety ó the list goes on.

Gore even mentions his past support for striker replacement legislation, although he repeats the unbelievable exaggeration that in 1994 the Clinton regime was "pulling out all the stops to secure passage" of this critical bill. The truth is that Bill Clinton flew off to Europe during the 1994 striker replacement Senate vote, Al Gore was in hiding, and we got fewer votes in the end than in an earlier vote during the Bush presidency. Someone should tell Al to tell one of his consultants to tell a staffer to rewrite that whole paragraph.

But what about trade? Goreís position is predictably fuzzy. Itís listed as "Promoting Free and Fair Trade." Who could disagree with that? And in case you were wondering, he does support "normalization" of trade with China.


The fact is, Gore has never met a pro-business trade deal that he didnít like. His website says that trade agreements "must provide a level playing field for American workers." Level with whom? With Chinese workers desperate to earn 15 cents an hour? What kind of "fair trade" is that ó especially when workers donít even have the right to organize to change things?

And how about enabling workers in this country to join unions? If Gore wonít defend the good factory jobs that are left, at least he can support labor laws that would allow us to unionize and turn the existing crummy jobs into good ones.

Look under "Supporting the Rights of Workers to Organize." I could hardly believe my eyes! For a minute, I thought we had hit paydirt. But as I suspected, Gore fails to support reform of our sadly broken labor laws. After saying heís for the right to organize, he says that as a solution, he is "supporting administration efforts to create a new arm of the International Labor Organization (ILO) that will work with developing countries to protect the interests of workers throughout the world."

Okay, you can stop laughing now. This kind of silly nonsense should be reserved for the inside-the-beltway crowd. Try getting the ILO to investigate the thousands of workers who are fired every year for trying to join a union here in the United States. Donít hold your breath.


Letís be honest. We have no problem holding China accountable. Thatís easy. We just canít bring ourselves to do the same with Al Gore and the Democrats. Labor holds a good rally to expose the death, destruction, and misery unleashed by the "free trade" race to the bottom, but finds it impossible to hold Gore or the Democrats responsible for their ongoing role in this criminal conspiracy of government and Big Business. Worse yet, Gore refuses to weigh in to help us win sweeping labor law reform, which would enable unions to finally begin organizing large numbers of workers again.

"No Blank Check for China." Itís a good slogan. It just doesnít go far enough. I make a motion that organized labor amend it to say, "No Blank Check for China or Al Gore." Or why not, "No Blank Check for China, Al Gore, Democrats, or Anyone Else Who Wants Labor Votes and Money"?

And on the subject of checks: sit down and renew your membership in the Labor Party. Make a donation. Affiliate your union local. Today. And get busy and recruit. What are you waiting for? Al Gore?

Chris Townsend is political action director of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE).

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