As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Republican War Against Unions

It's pretty clear that the GOP war on the auto companies had little to do with bailing out GM and Chrysler and everything to do with busting unions. There is no majority that is against bailouts or federal aid in and of itself; indeed, 18 Republican Senators voted for the financial bailout and against the auto rescue, which is pretty much indefensible. If Dick Cheney is able to understand that letting the automakers die would trigger a possible depression, then there's no ideological blockade against this kind of thing.

On the other thing, it comes at an especially bad time because as I say it's on the heels of the financial crisis and we're on the downside of a recession that may be the worst since World War II. And if the automobile industry goes belly up now, there's a deep concern that that would be a major shock to the system. It might be different under different economic circumstances.

But GOP lawmakers made it fairly explicit in their internal deliberations that this was a union fight, and they also characterized it as the first round of the battle against the Employee Free Choice Act:

Handing a defeat to labor and its Democratic allies in Congress was also seen as a preemptive strike in what is expected to be a major battle for the new Congress in January: the unions' bid for a so-called card check law that would make it easier for them to organize workers, potentially reversing decades of declining power. The measure is strongly opposed by business groups.

"This is the Democrats' first opportunity to pay off organized labor after the election," read an e-mail circulated Wednesday among Senate Republicans. "This is a precursor to card check and other items. Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it."

One of the leading opponents of the auto bailout, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), said: "Year after year, union bosses have put their interests ahead of the workers they claim to represent. Congress never should have given these unions this much power, and now is the time to fix it."

Congress didn't "give" unions anything, of course. Workers took their rights to organize through concerted effort and mass action. Congress helped set labor law designed to stop them.

(By the way, make this guy the Labor Secretary, President-elect Obama. Make it happen today.)

Morgan Johnson, president of the United Auto Workers local representing General Motors workers in Shreveport, said Friday that Sen. David Vitter's role in blocking an auto bailout indicates "he's chosen to play Russian roulette" with Louisiana jobs and the national economy.

"I don't know what Sen. Vitter has against GM or the United Auto Workers or the entire domestic auto industry; whatever it is, whatever he thinks we've done, it's time for him to forgive us, just like Sen. Vitter has asked the citizens of Louisiana to forgive him, " said Johnson, president of Local 2166. Otherwise, Johnson said of Vitter, it would appear, "He'd rather pay a prostitute than pay auto workers."

But the fearmongering, the demonization of unions that found a home on talk radio, worked at least in part in this case. Most Americans oppose an auto bailout because they fault the industry for its own problems, and that has a lot to do with the rhetoric about "generous union contracts." And I don't think this is necessarily about Republicans wanting a Depression as much as them wanting to protect their corporate interests and stop the gains of the labor movement over the last decade. They see it as poisonous to corporate profits and deadly to their political futures, as union households historically vote Democratic.

Now we're seeing this spill into other issues as well. There's no reason to associate the Blagojevich scandal with "union bosses" other than to cement that image in the public mind that unions are the problem and must be fought.

Kicking off what promises to be a huge fight over labor's top legislative priority, a pro-business group is sinking over a million dollars into a TV ad campaign tying Rod Blagojevich to "union bosses" and calling on Democratic Senators in four states to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act.

The ad -- which was sent over by a source and hasn't been released to the press -- seeks to tar the Employee Free Choice Act as vaguely corrupt-sounding by tying it rather tangentially to the Blago mess. It's being aired by Americans for Job Security, a business-funded group that is expected to spend big money to sink the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for unions to organize and is labor's top goal for 2009.

The head lobbyist for pro-business interests is Rick Berman, a Washington fixture who reads like somebody out of a Christopher Buckley novel:

Berman, hired by businesses, fights efforts such as further restricting drinking and driving, mandating healthier foods and raising the minimum wage. The former labor relations lawyer argues that many of the restrictions reduce our ability to make our own choices.

He seldom mentions his clients, other than to say many are in the food and restaurant industries, and he represents them through a variety of non-profit groups he has set up. His targets range from Mothers Against Drunk Driving to the Ralph Nader-founded Center for Science in the Public Interest, which works on food issues, to labor unions...

Berman spent the last couple of years fighting obesity-focused trial lawyers and consumer groups who have succeeded in getting trans fats out of many foods and soft-drink machines out of schools -- the latter a move he finds ludicrous because high-calorie juice is allowed and diet drinks aren't.

Currently, he's predicting that when they're done with fat, the food-safety groups will focus more on demonizing caffeine. And MADD, he says, won't be happy until there is a breathalyzer in every car and social drinkers are scared into public sobriety.

Berman expects to raise $30 million dollars to fight the EFCA, and his efforts have already gotten one Democrat to waver, not surprisingly a Senator from the home of Wal-Mart.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln says she doesn’t think federal legislation that would allow labor organizations to unionize workplaces without secret-ballot elections is necessary. But in an interview with The Associated Press today, Lincoln gave herself room to support the measure if it’s brought up later.

Business and labor groups are pressuring the Democratic senator from Arkansas for support either way. Tim Griffin, a potential challenger to the senator’s 2010 re-election bid, has said her stand could be an issue in the race.

That's right, Karl Rove's protégé Tim Griffin, the man responsible for voter caging in Florida in 2004, and a key part of the US Attorney scandal, is mulling a run for Senate. And he's putting union jobs at the heart of his campaign. Because the biggest issue facing America is that some people in the working class make too much money.

There are extremely powerful forces seeking to block the Employee Free Choice Act. We have nothing on our side but people power. SEIU is planning events where ordinary people speak directly with McDonald's employees tomorrow, asking them "what it's like to work for a CEO who is paid 770 times what his workers earn, leaving working families with barely enough to afford the 'Dollar Menu.'" You can find an event in your areahere.

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