Labor Advocate Online

KC Labor Newsletter
Week In Review, February 20, 2005
The image “http://www.kclabor.org/image002.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
by Bill Onasch, webmaster, kclabor.org

Rest Cycle?
I was hopeful, at first, when I started reading a column by Jonathan Tasini, president emeritus of the National Writers Union, entitled Labor's Lost Love. He opens, "Over the last 20 years, the labor movement has poured billions of our members' hard-earned dollars into electoral politics — and we've gotten very little to show for it except a weaker labor movement, too many election day whuppings and too many politicians who, when they do win, promptly turn their backs on working men and women. It's time we turned off the spigot and put the money to better use."

Amen, brother. It seemed to me the next logical paragraph would explain the need for devoting those resources to building the Labor Party. Unfortunately, this emeritus doesn’t make such a connection. Like so many in the leadership, past and present, he apparently doesn’t even consider the option of a working class alternative to the present two party establishment. Perhaps, like William Jennings Bryan, he doesn’t think about the things he doesn’t think about.

Instead Brother Tasini says, "So my proposal is simple: During the coming two-year election cycle, labor should not write a single check to a federal candidate or a political party. Let's take the money — and, more important, our focus and energy — and pour it into organizing new workers, kicking the stuffing out of the Wal-Mart family, pushing a national campaign for healthcare for all and advancing the labor-environment-sponsored Apollo Alliance, a brilliant idea to pour billions of dollars into good-paying jobs through new sustainable-energy projects. Faced with the specter of a rapacious global economy, people are ready for someone who'll champion broader, enforceable rights at work."

I, of course, heartily agree that we shouldn’t contribute a dime more to the establishment politicians. Spending the money on beer and sandwiches to stimulate union meeting attendance would be a more useful allocation of resources. Certainly organizing the unorganized, building coalitions around health care and the environment–these are all worthy projects.

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple to just say we choose organizing over politics. No matter how much money is pumped into organizing efforts we are still going to face the same obstacles of American labor law. In fact, we not only have the time-honored Taft-Hartley and Railway Labor Acts structure to deal with in the private sector; we also have new vicious attacks on the federal workers’ unions very right to exist as collective bargaining agents. The fight to organize is also a political fight.

We are not going to solve the health care crisis through bargaining with employers. That approach is largely responsible for the crisis. Universal health care has to be won politically–as it has been won in every other industrialized country.

There is little we can do about environmental issues through bargaining with our employers and we certainly are not going to move them to make needed changes voluntarily solely through rational persuasive arguments. The struggle to defend our environment is above all political.

The working class needs to be organized in both the workplace and in the political arena. Our organizational strength is declining and our independent political organization is still just a promise advocated by a vanguard. This is a time for the agitation, not rest, cycle.

No, Brother Tasini only has it half right. Don’t waste money and people power on the Democrats–instead use those powerful resources to build a party of our own.

A Poor Excuse For Being In Arrears
Most of us don’t like "dead-beat dads." We think fathers should accept financial responsibility for supporting their children. During the 1990s strict laws were adopted purporting to assist mothers in obtaining child support from those evading payment. Those dads determined to be dead-beat are not only ineligible for public sector jobs, or government benefits; they can also be denied drivers licenses.

But a recent study shows that most men penalized under these laws are not intentionally shirking their responsibility–they are just poor. No less than seventy percent of those targeted by the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement have annual incomes of less than 10,000 dollars; many in this category have no income at all. Only 4 percent earn 40,000 or more. Of course being denied a drivers license doesn’t help in finding a job that pays more than ten grand a year–sort of a prerequisite for being able to pay the needed child support. This gratuitous punishment of poor men does nothing to help their children. Social responsibility for the welfare of children needs to go beyond retribution against parents trapped in poverty.

A Bush Suggestion Worth Adopting
Much to the chagrin of his reactionary base, President Bush last week indicated he thought removing the cap on earnings subject to Social Security tax belonged on the table. This was probably a "mis-speak" and, in any case, won’t go anywhere in congress. Fact is though, as an EPI study has shown, removing the cap, presently set at 90,000 dollars, would be enough to just about take care of the projected shortfall as Baby Boomers start retiring.

A Judicial Outrage
Democracy requires the support of rights for all–including, perhaps especially, those you may strongly oppose. Whatever one thinks of the views of attorney Lynne Stewart, or her clients such as Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, it’s clear her recent conviction on five felony counts of conspiracy was a raw deal–and a major threat to civil liberties. Among Justice Department dirty tricks in this case was introducing secret tapes of confidential discussions between Stewart and her client–clearly a violation of attorney-client privilege. The prosecution also played tapes of Osama bin Laden for the jury–even though he had not the remotest connection to the case.

The National Lawyers Guild said: "We believe that Lynne Stewart was unfairly targeted by the Bush government in order to deter lawyers from representing politically unpopular clients, particularly individuals charged with terrorism-related crimes. Ms. Stewart was prosecuted on five felony charges and faces a possible twenty-year prison sentence, for violating administrative measures concerning the conditions of confinement of her client Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. The evidence against her was that she openly gave to the press information that her client personally opposed a ceasefire in hostilities in Egypt in June, 2000. This action, which Ms. Stewart has never attempted to hide, should have been punished, if at all, with administrative sanctions, not a lengthy prison sentence. In fact, her actions should have been viewed as protected by constitutional principles, including the Sixth Amendment right of her client to counsel and the First Amendment right of freedom of speech."

How the Bosses Support the Troops
Under the headline "Employers stingy with military pay," Kansas City Star’s Diane Stafford reported: "In 2003, a third of employers offered no pay to employees who were away on active duty. In 2005, that's jumped to 50 percent. Two years ago, one-fourth to one-third of employers paid employees their full wages or salary while on military leave, but that is dropping to 15 percent in 2005."

As always much of this material is based on stories posted in the Daily Labor News Digest Monday through Saturday.

That’s all for this week.

Regards to all

This weekly column in Labor Advocate Online is also available by e-mail. Send a request to: list@kclabor.org