Obvious political truths are sometimes smothered by
special interests. The cover-up of the Democrats' national anti-union agenda is
possible because the truth would cause enormous disturbances for the Democratic
Party, some labor leaders, liberal organizations and, consequently, the larger
Here is the short list of states that have Democratic
governors where labor unions are undergoing severe attacks: Massachusetts ,
Connecticut, Oregon, California, New York, Illinois, Washington, Hawaii,
Minnesota, Maryland and New Hampshire. Other states with Democratic governors
are attacking unions to a lesser degree.
The Democrats in these states have sought to
distance themselves from the Republican governors of Wisconsin and Ohio, who
have specifically attacked the collective bargaining rights of unions. The
Democrats all hide their anti-union attacks behind
a "deep respect for collective bargaining;" akin to a thief who will
steal your car but, out of respect, will not target your deceased Grandma's
For example, the anti-union Democratic governor of
Connecticut is demanding $1.6 billion in cuts from state workers! The contract
has not been ratified yet, but Governor Malloy referred to the agreement as: "historic because of the way we achieved
it - we respected the collective bargaining process and we respected each
other, negotiating in good faith, without fireworks and without anger."
The anti-union Democratic governor of the state of
Washington uses similar language:
"They [labor unions] contributed [to fixing
the state budget deficit] with a salary cut; they contributed by paying more in
health care. They have stepped up and said we want to be a part of the
solution. I did it by going to the table, respecting their collective
bargaining rights and we got the job done."
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The anti-union Democratic governor of Oregon is
demanding 20 to 25 percent pay cut for state workers:
"But [says the Governor] those concessions
will be made across a bargaining table through our collective bargaining
process and with mutual respect."
This garbage normally wouldn't fool a 4th grader,
but some labor leaders are playing dumb, in the hopes that the above attacks
will not ruin the long-standing friendship between unions and Democrats. Of course,
such hopes are founded on illusion: workers are not so blind as to not notice
that the governors they campaigned for are now demanding their wages and
benefits be destroyed in an unprecedented attack.
But by minimizing the Democrats role in targeting
unions, some labor leaders are disarming the labor movement. On the one hand,
labor leaders of both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations have drawn some
correct conclusions from the events in Wisconsin, especially when they say that
"labor is in the fight of its life" and "the corporations are
out to bust unions." On the other hand, both union federations have made
excuses for the anti-union Democratic Party, enabling labor to be vulnerable on
its "left" flank to the anti-union attack.
The fight against massive cuts in wages and
benefits cannot be separated from the attack on collective bargaining; they are
two sides of the same coin. Workers only care about collective bargaining because
it enables them to improve their wages and benefits. A union that agrees to
massive cuts in wages will not remain a union for long, since workers will not
want to pay dues to an organization that cannot protect them. Concessionary
bargaining destroys the power of a union in the same way that cancer destroys
the body; pulling the plug [ending collective bargaining] comes after losing a
battle with cancer.
Fighting the concessionary cancer is the essence of
the problem. This is the real lesson of Wisconsin: workers want to fight back
against the nationwide attack against their livelihoods, whether it be wages and
benefits or collective bargaining. The AFL-CIO and Change to Win realize this
to a certain degree; they are separately creating campaigns to deal with the
attack, with SEIU jumping out in front with its Fight for a Fair Economy.
These union campaigns are doomed to fail if the
energy generated by them is funneled into the 2012 campaign for Barack Obama.
Any successful union campaign will require that
massive resources and energy be used, since the attack workers are facing is
colossal. If workers are told to halt their campaigns to door knock and make
phone calls for Obama, the campaign will lose all
legitimacy, since Obama has established himself as a friend of Wall Street and
thus no friend to workers. Voting for Democrats has a demoralizing effect on
workers when the inevitable "betrayal" happens; and demoralized union
members will not fight as effectively for their own pro-union campaign.
A successful union campaign will require that
workers are energized about it. SEIU's campaign focuses largely on making more connections
with other labor and community groups, which is very positive. However, without
waging an energetic battle to prevent state workers from making massive
concessions, the campaign will fail, because workers who make massive
concessions will be demoralized and not take the union campaign seriously,
since it failed to address their most pressing needs. The fight to defend state
workers has the potential -- as Wisconsin proved -- to unleash tremendous
fighting energy among workers, while also uniting those in the broader
community, who are eager for working people to fight back.
If labor unions continue down their current path of
making huge concessions in wages and benefits while making excuses for the
Democrats attacking them, the movement will wither and die.
If, on the contrary, labor unions demand that state
budget deficits be fixed by taxing the rich and corporations, workers would
respond enthusiastically; if public-sector unions demanded No Cuts, No
Concessions, workers would energetically join the
union's cause; if unions banded together to demand that a national jobs
campaign be created by taxing the top 1 percent, a flood of energy would erupt
from working people in general; if, during election time, unions joined together
to run their own independent candidates with these demands, an unstoppable
movement would quickly emerge.
Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org)