Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
December 18, 2005

It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a week. A lot has happened since our last edition but I only have space to deal with one recurring theme--the question of democracy in the United States.

All the Delayed and Censored Stories Fit to be Print
Perhaps that should be the new motto of The New York Times. The most pompous practitioner of Gold Standard journalism did break a major story this week disclosing that President Bush had secretly ordered the mystery-wrapped-in-an-enigma known as the National Security Agency to tap phone calls, read e-mail messages, and God knows what else, of U.S. citizens here in the USA.

Previously the Washington Post began an ongoing exposé of Pentagon and FBI illegal spying on Americans--including pacifists.

The NSA, along with its odious cousin, the CIA, and the military, have long been legally banned from domestic spying. Even during the turbulent times of the Sixties and Seventies, when groups like the Weatherman hung out on the fringes of mass protest movements, internal spying had to be done only by our secret police, the FBI, and local police Red Squads.

Under both LBJ and Nixon thousands of paid informants infiltrated all dissident groups. Sometimes, such as the COINTELPRO program, they did more than spy–they acted as provocateurs, trying to entrap radicals in criminal acts, even killing them. Eventually they got their wrists slapped by the courts and promised never to do it again. A special judicial review mechanism was established to hold the executive branch to this promise–but Bush’s secret orders bypassed this commitment.

Turning loose high tech espionage chartered for foreign targets on American citizens is not only contrary to court judgments, statutes and prior executive orders claiming to safeguard us against such intrusions–it is also a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment of our Constitution.

Still, the Times decided to sit on this story for a year. Even now, they acknowledge that they know more about this government attack on our most elementary rights than they choose to disclose to their readers. They found administration fears of aiding terrorists persuasive, they said.

At least the Times mandarins eventually gave us a peek into a layer of a scandal that surely runs much deeper. Key members of congress had been briefed from the beginning and have played the role of co-conspirators in this criminal activity, abiding by the code of omertB.

One of them has now confessed that he felt uncomfortable all along with Bush’s order but couldn’t publicly speak out for fear of prosecution under the Espionage Act. Perhaps this yellow brick road lion should be reminded that he–like all public employees in the USA–swear on all they hold holy that they will uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Democrat Senator Graham says he doesn’t remember any policy changes being discussed in the special briefing held in Vice-President Cheney’s office.

The House "opposition" leader, Nancy Pelosi, remembers that at the congressional briefing she expressed "strong concerns"–that remain, even now, known only to her self.

The President is far from showing contrition. He claims everything was legal because a couple of lawyers he had appointed told him it was okay. (His then attorney general, that noted constitutional scholar John Ashcroft, assured him "the Constitution vests in the President inherent authority to conduct warrantless intelligence surveillance [electronic or otherwise] of foreign powers or their agents, and Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority.")

And, of course, we are told all this trampling on the Bill of Rights is essential to save our lives in the War on Terrorism. To include American citizens as enemies in this war you need only to suspect them of being "agents" of the international terrorist conspiracy.

There is sound historical precedent for Bush’s defensive formulation. There are seldom mentioned examples from American history–sometimes carried out by liberal Democrats. Woodrow Wilson (and/or his surrogate after he had a stroke) denounced the "poison of disloyalty," during the war to end all wars. He approved the imprisonment of Gene Debs for making an antiwar speech and directed attorney general Palmer to round up and deport thousands of foreign born "reds." FDR’s justice department sent eighteen Minneapolis Teamsters and socialist leaders to prison under the Smith Act for opposing America’s entrance into the Second World War before Pearl Harbor. It was Harry Truman who ordered his attorney general to draw up a list of political groups deemed to be "subversive," laying the foundation for the McCarthyite witch hunt in the Fifties.

Of course, there are examples from other lands as well. The KGB sent dissidents to gulags, and carried out summary executions of Stalin’s perceived political rivals, in the name of defending the Soviet Union against imperialist plots. Hitler’s Gestapo imprisoned, tortured, and killed German trade unionists to save the Fatherland from the threat of Bolshevism.

We’re not at that level of oppression–yet. But, if we rely on liberal Democrats and The New York Times to defend our freedoms we well could be some day.

Good Walls Make Good Neighbors
It was invented by Ulbricht’s Stalinist henchmen in east Germany. It was perfected by the Israeli war party in the Occupied Territories. Now it’s billed as coming soon to a border near you–the Wall.

The immigration legislation passed by the House this week includes building a double wall, loaded with high tech sensors and cameras, along most of the 2000 mile U.S.-Mexico border. It also authorizes a feasibility study for eventually extending walls along the 3000+ mile Canadian border as well.

Of course, they don’t like to call it a wall–they have dubbed it a more neighborly sounding "fence." That’s what the Israeli settlers call their wall too. The German Stalinists christened theirs "the anti-fascist protection barrier." You can call a spade a shovel but both turn up dirt.

Congress knows that thousands of east Germans still managed to get under or around their wall so they have toughened things up on this side of the border too. Currently undocumented workers are subject to civil charges and punishment is deportation. Under the new law being sent on to the Senate it would be a federal felony crime, punishable by fine and imprisonment before deportation. U.S. citizens and documented immigrants knowingly abetting such a felony would also be subject to criminal prosecution. For the first time the armed forces, and local police would be called on to assist la migra in hunting down these dangerous criminals--perhaps working next to you on the job, or preparing your meal at a favorite restaurant. Employers would be required to validate Social Security numbers through a government data base.

Not only are most unions and church groups strongly opposed to this mean spirited attack on immigrant workers; so are many employer groups as well. Immigrants–both with papers and without–play an enormous role in building, manufacturing, agricultural and service sectors. They are concentrated in hard work, low pay jobs usually passed over by U.S. citizens. Enforcement of these draconian proposals would cause widespread economic disruption in both the U.S. and Mexico. It is likely that some of the more outrageous features will be eliminated or moderated in the Senate.

Still, the substantial House majority–including thirty-six Democrats–shows a disturbing political trend. More and more right-wingers are trying to make immigrants the scape-goats for wide spread worker discontent. According to them if the "illegals" are sent packing millions of new jobs will be opened up for Americans.

But are the 60,000 UAW members slated for unemployment by GM and Ford, currently earning 25-30 dollars an hour, going to be satisfied with eight dollars an hour for temporary jobs removing asbestos? Will they be willing to relocate to a small town to slaughter turkeys for six bucks an hour? Or maybe clean rest rooms in office buildings for the minimum wage?

This immigration bill is really a political ploy to whip up racist resentment against fellow workers in order to divert us from the fight against our real enemy–Corporate America. We need to build a damn high wall between them and us.

Worker Rights I–New York
Few groups of workers hold greater potential bargaining power than New York City transit workers. Transportation in the Big Apple is a challenge when the subways and buses are running flat out. When they shut down during a strike–that’s only happened twice, 1966, and 1980--pretty much everything else in town grinds to a halt as well.

Of course, that kind of leverage is unacceptable to the rulers of New York. Over the years they have turned to their hand picked judges and politicians to throw the power of the state behind their proxy employer at the New York Transit Authority.

Except for a handful of formerly privately owned bus lines not yet integrated into the main system, Transport Workers Union Local 100 members fall under the state’s Taylor Law. This outlaws public employee strikes and provides harsh penalties not only for the union but individual strikers as well. Workers are docked two days pay for every day they strike.

If that wasn’t enough, the mayor–recently reelected with strong support from organized labor–has obtained an injunction against a strike that goes even farther than the state law. Merchants have threatened to sue for damages suffered during an illegal strike. Potential fines and damage awards could literally bankrupt Local 100–and every member personally as well.

Still, the transit workers seem overwhelmingly committed to strike action if take-back deal breakers currently on the table are not resolved. Chief among those is the insistence by the employer to create a new two-tier pension and health care structure, condemning all future hires to drastically reduced benefits. Another hot issue is demands to eliminate most remaining train conductor and token booth clerk positions, slotting affected workers into new catch-all job classifications. The two sides also remain apart on wages.

All working people, all genuine supporters of democratic rights, should condemn the judicial/legislative attacks on the basic human right to strike and also demonstrate the strongest possible solidarity with embattled New York transit workers. Watch the Daily Labor News Digest for updates on this developing struggle.

Worker Rights II–North Carolina
North Carolina General Statute 95-98 makes it illegal for the State, counties, cities or any political subdivisions of the State, to enter into contracts or agreements with any labor union or other bargaining agent. The United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) contends that this violates UN Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize), 98 (Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively), and 151 (Right of Public Workers to Organize, and Conditions of Employment in the Public Sector) and has filed a complaint with the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO).

The union says the U.S. "failure to ensure compliance with the fundamental principles of freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain has resulted in grievous working conditions and promoted race and sex discrimination in the workplace."

The complaint cites workers’ testimony of inadequate wages and benefits, unreasonable working hours, extreme understaffing, forced overtime, favoritism and disrespectful treatment from supervisors.

The filing follows — and is based on — a November public hearing in Raleigh conducted by international jurists and a series of hearings around the state on the harsh reality of North Carolina’s ban on collective bargaining in the public sector.

UE represents–but cannot bargain for--thousands of public employees who work for the state Department of Health and Human Services, the University of North Carolina system, the state Department of Administration and for municipal governments in Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Durham, Raleigh and Rocky Mount.

That’s all for this week. Happy holidays to all!

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