Now that George W. Bush is in office, we have
a pretty good idea where we are heading. None of it is good
news, and of course we were not expecting any. And since good
news from Washington D.C. has been in short supply for many
years, we all know what to do.
Like many of us in the labor movement, I’ve
spent the past two decades fighting one battle after another,
always against tremendous odds. While we have lost more than
we have won over the past 20 years, our movement is always
better off putting up a fight. No resistance only invites more
Republican assaults on our unions, our jobs and living
standards, and our threadbare safety net. Too little
resistance also allows corporate Democrats to sneak over into
the Republican column, as some of them are prone to do, with
little price to pay. Besides, fighting is more fun than giving
The Bush regime has several attacks lined up
and ready to go. Here’s some of what I would expect to see
in the coming months.
CUTS FOR THE RICH
The New Year celebration had barely died down
when Bush invited his best corporate friends to an economic
summit meeting in Texas. At least he takes some of his orders
from corporate America in public. In a no-nonsense,
no-shame-at-all style, the three dozen assembled business
bigwigs told Bush exactly what to do. General Electric CEO and
near business god Jack Welch sat next to Bush during one photo
session just to reassure the nation’s business leaders that
all was under control.
These guys want massive tax cuts, ASAP. Get
ready for a big battle on this one, folks. This tax-cut scheme
amounts to nothing more than a plan to put hundreds of
billions of dollars into the hands of corporations and rich
people. The same corporations and rich people who are already
some of the least taxed on planet earth.
Bush has already dusted off the old Ronald
Reagan speeches/lies about giving rich people tax breaks so
they can invest the money and create jobs, blah, blah, blah.
We will have to get busy to make sure that the public
relations stampede over our looming recession doesn’t sweep
dozens of corporate Democrats into the tax-cuts-for-the-rich
column. Some of them are already there.
A JOB-KILLING TRADE
Inherited from the Clinton administration, the
so-called Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) would
essentially expand the North American Free Trade Agreement to
include Central and South America, finishing the job that
NAFTA started. If it passes, hundreds of thousands more U.S.
manufacturing jobs will pass along with it. The fight to stop
the FTAA will be uphill, but not impossible. Once again, we’ll
have to launch an all-out effort to stop corporate Democrats
from caving in to big business demands to help them speed up
the movement of U.S. factories to the global sweatshop
ATTACKS ON OUR PUBLIC
The first Republican attacks on public
education are already being cooked up in some not-so-secret
talks with members of the pro-business Democratic Leadership
Council. Andrew Rotherham, director of education policy for
the group, told The Hill newspaper that "if you are
looking for an issue where early on there can be a bipartisan
consensus, then education seems like a likely
compromise." Be on the lookout for an expansion of
federal aid to the states with few strings attached. More
funding is great, but the no-strings part gives antilabor and
anti-public school elected officials at the state and local
level maximum wiggle room with federal money.
As expected, Bush is already pushing hard for
all manner of "high-stakes" testing for our school
kids. Keep in mind the real purpose of these
"tests": Once you establish that millions of
children in our underfunded schools can’t pass, you create
the panic to solve the problem with vouchers, privatization,
etc., thus further sapping the strength of public schools. The
Republican attacks on public education can be turned back, but
we’ll have to keep the heat on lawmakers regardless of which
party they belong to.
ATTACKS ON ORGANIZED
Specifically anti-union legislation drafted by
the Republicans is currently at the print shop. My guess is
that they will start the attack with either some version of
"paycheck protection" — the scheme to make it
difficult or even illegal to spend union dues money on
political information, education, or action — or some
version of "comp-time" and "flex-time."
Let’s make sure we all know what’s going
on with both of these deceptively named attacks.
"Paycheck protection," if passed in any form at all,
would deal a severe blow to organized labor’s basic right of
free speech by requiring unions to get in advance every
individual union member’s permission to engage in political
action. The move is meant to drown unions in paperwork and
legalities, impairing their ability to represent workers’
With so-called comp-time or flex-time
legislation, big business merely wants the freedom to make you
work more than 40 hours a week without having to pay you
time-and-a-half. Instead, they can promise you time off later
or maybe hand you your own self-generated Christmas bonus at
the end of the year. Let this bill go through, and we may lose
overtime pay as well as the right to paid sick and vacation
leave, all in one fell swoop.
Other attacks on labor loom from the rancid
Republican majority. Legislation to legalize banned
"company unions" — the so-called "Teamwork
Act" — will be back, along with a national effort to
exterminate the union or agency shop via a national
"right to work" bill.
And my all-time favorite anti-union bill is
sure to make an appearance as well: the
"anti-salting" bill. This utterly outrageous piece
of legislation would give the boss the right to refuse to hire
you, or to fire you, because he thinks you are, might be, or
might have been, a union member, union sympathizer, or just
someone who once heard of the labor movement. Expect some
tough slugging on this front.
Other battles are likely to break out. Public
sector workers will face renewed efforts to
"reinvent" or privatize their members onto the
unemployment line. Corporate mergers will accelerate, each one
bringing with it new downsizing and plant closing
announcements. The near-complete lack of enforcement of our
already weak antitrust laws will, of course, continue. The sad
reality, brothers and sisters, is that the next four years may
not be any worse on these two fronts than the last eight years
have been. The record supports such a grim assertion.
Faced with the solidly antilabor Bush
administration, we already know what to do. Fight back. Fight
back more. And dare to go on the offensive: Ask someone to
join the Labor Party today. Let’s get busy!
Chris Townsend is political action director
of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of