Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
July 24, 2005

Dr Deanís Big Tent
Give the doc credit. Just a little over a year ago he went from being the darling of, and the front runner for the Democrat presidential nomination, to a humiliating flame out. But this physician quickly healed himself and now he wears the mantle of chair of the Democratic National Committee, the central body of our countryís chief "opposition." Howard Dean is again beating the bushes across America, speaking to anyone who wants to listenĖand quite a few that donít.

This loquacious leader of liberals caught my attention with reports of his appearance at a gathering of college student Democrats the other day. The assembled young folks, part of the only age group that gave a majority to Kerry in the 2004 election, were respectfully uppity in questioning their partyís spokesman about the DNCís support of an anti-choice candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania.

Dean, a former member of Planned Parenthoodís national board, defended the partyís nominee. "You have to respect people's positions of conscience," said Dean. "I think Bob Casey's position is a position of conscience." The good doctor went on to say "We do have to have a big tent. I do think we need to welcome pro-life Democrats into this party." His remarks echoed similar statements made recently by Hillary Clinton--backed up by her husband.

Of course we should respect positions of conscience. It would be wrong to try to pressure any woman into having an abortion against her beliefs. It is wrong, as has sometimes been done in the past, to try to pressure poor women to accept sterilization. Every individual should be guaranteed the right to practice their religious beliefs in their own lives.

But thatís not what the so-called "pro-life" movement is about. Just the oppositeĖthey want to impose their religious values on everyone else. Itís not a debate about a surgical procedure. As a matter of fact, almost all "pro-lifers" oppose all forms of birth control and family planning.

The struggle between "pro-life" and pro-choice is fundamentally a battle over human rights. Must all women submit to control by extremist elements within the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths over some of the most important decisions of their lives? Thatís whatís at stake. Thereís no two ways about it.

It used to be that this was one of the few issues the Democrats could point to that clearly differentiated them from the GOP. Bill Clinton won a lot of support when he said that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare." But all the talk today from the most liberal wing about "big tents," coming in the context of a new Supreme Court nomination that may ultimately lead to the reversal of rights won by Roe v. Wade, means even this single issue justification for supporting Democrats no longer has any validity.

Come to think of it, maybe the Big Tent metaphor is appropriate. After all, what are Big Tents usually used for? Well, thereís evangelical revivals, circuses, seasonal sales of fire works that make a lot of noise but do little else, and concentration camps. I have a feeling that Dr Dean could give a rousing talk in any of those venues.

There But for the Grace of God?
The 1958 revolution that overthrew the British installed monarchy in Iraq went on to establish the highest degree of gender equality in the Arab world. As secular law replaced religious rule most of the old Shariaa subjugation of women fell by the wayside. Child marriages were outlawed and polygamy was severely restricted. Women won equal property rights with men, could dress as they pleased, and slowly began to enter occupations that had always before excluded them. Even Saddam Husseinís later brutal dictatorship didnít mess much with these reforms.

But with the "liberation" of the U.S. invasion all that is changing. Previously secret negotiations for a new Iraq constitution were revealed last week that are bad news for Iraqi women. Family laws are being turned back over to the religious establishment. Beatings, stoning, flogging and forced veiling of women are poised to make a comeback. If Bush/Blairís buddies in Baghdad have their way this new "beacon of democracy" may look a lot like Afghanistan under the Taliban.

But the women are unlikely to submit without a fight. The feminist movementĖand all supporters of human rightsĖin this country should organize solidarity with the efforts of groups such as the Organization of Womenís Freedom in Iraq.

If You Canít Win to Change, Change to Win
As this column is being written Sunday afternoon four major unionsĖSEIU, Teamsters, UFCW, and UNITE-HEREĖhave declared that they wonít participate in the AFL-CIO convention convening Monday morning. Two of their coalition partners in Change to Win, the Laborers and United Farmworkers, apparently will attend. The Carpenters, also part of the changers, split from the federation a few years ago.

AFL-CIO president John Sweeney was quick to point out that the pouting pals were ducking the debate they had long demanded. "It is a shame that these unions will not come argue for their ideas and listen to others about how to improve the lives of workers," he said in a statement. "That's how democracies work."

A good point. However, while this is how democracies work it is hardly the standard operating procedure in the AFL-CIO or most of its affiliates. Both the bickering kettles and the quarrelsome pots squaring off in Chicago are known for running their outfits with an iron hand and using conventions as theater to shill deals cut long before hand behind closed doors.

While Change to Win has not yet formally announced plans to disaffiliate from the federation the boycott of the convention is clearly the first step in a split. The Laborers and Farmworkers, much smaller than their coalition partners, may be wavering--or may be trying to stake out space as "honest brokers" to maintain some lines of communication between the warring camps.

Later this week Iíll post an article with my take on what all this means. In the meantime, check out our Daily Labor News Digest for breaking news, analysis and gossip from a subdivided house of labor.

USLAW Organizing Labor Contingent For Antiwar March
The debate on the Iraq war at the AFL-CIO convention will come up later this week. It also remains to be seen whether the two major antiwar coalitions can get together on one unified March on Washington on September 24 instead of the two rival ones currently planned. Despite these uncertainties US Labor Against the War is already organizing for a labor contingent to be an important component of the action. You can check out preliminary preparations here.

Thatís all for this week.