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 there’s 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. Let’s have a moment of silence for all
those who dare to venture into our nation’s capital to march and
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
OF SORRY RECORDS
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. That’s
right, the U.S. runs a $6 billion per month trade deficit with China alone!
Just go to WalMart or KMart and you’ll see why.
SOMETHING'S MISSING HERE
But something was missing from this fine demonstration. About
halfway through, it hit me. No blank check for China — 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 labor’s
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
Gore’s 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 — but not by much.
The Gore site (algore2000.com)
has a section called "Vice President Al Gore: Fighting for Working
Families." So far, so good, I thought. And it’s quite a list. In
addition to inventing the Internet, Gore also takes credit for creating 20
million jobs. (I wasn’t surprised to see no mention of the ones we lost
through those trade deals or through Gore’s Reinventing Government/slash the
federal workforce campaign.) He also personally revived the construction
industry. He lowered unemployment. He increased wages. Who knew? What’s
more, he’s for pay equity, expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act,
protecting Social Security, defending real pensions, improving job training,
improving workplace health and safety — 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? Gore’s position is predictably fuzzy.
It’s 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.
LEVEL PLAYING FIELDS?
The fact is, Gore has never met a pro-business trade deal that
he didn’t 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 — especially when workers don’t even have the right to
organize to change things?
And how about enabling workers in this country to join unions?
If Gore won’t 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 he’s 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
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. Don’t hold your breath.
Let’s be honest. We have no problem holding China
accountable. That’s easy. We just can’t 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
"No Blank Check for China." It’s a good slogan. It
just doesn’t 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).