Category Archives: unions

>They Forgot Poland


You know, despite conservatives’ claim that Ronald Reagan singlehandedly destroyed the Berlin wall with the tweak of his mighty pinkie, those of us who actually remember the 1980s remember the Polish trade union which got the democracy ball rolling. You kids who were still in your nappies back in 1981 might want to read up on Solidarity and how it took down Soviet domination in Poland, the first chink in a movement which steamrolled across the Baltic region and ultimately destroyed the iron curtain. I was a sophomore in college then and well remember the Polish uprisings. By 1982 I was living in Copenhagen and several friends traveled “behind the iron curtain” to Poland to see what was happening for themselves.

I went on an organized student trip to the Soviet Union instead — all trips by Westerners to the USSR were closely monitored, rigidly organized affairs back then (though that didn’t stop us from having some adventures). We had a Q&A session with some low-level Party official, can’t remember his function now, where we asked tough questions about oppression of gays in the USSR (“We have no homosexuals in the Soviet Union,” the guy actually told us. “This is a Western issue.”) And we asked about Solidarity. He told us it was an example of how much freedom the people of Poland have, that they can protest and strike (never mentioning martial law and other attempts to oppress the movement). It was all a ruse, not too different from what we see from conservatives today, where they talk publicly about the freedom to assemble and all that and then privately talk about sneaking in troublemakers to discredit those protesting.

Today Poland’s Solidarity leaders have sent Wisconsin workers their support:

On behalf of the 700,000 members of the Polish Trade Union NSZZ
“Solidarnosc” (Solidarity) I wish to express our solidarity and support for your struggle against the recent assault on trade unions and trade union rights unleashed by Governor Scott Walker.

We are witnessing yet another attempt of transferring the costs of the economic crisis and of the failed financial policies to working people and their families. As much as some adjustments are necessary, we can not and must not agree that the austerity measures are synonymous with union-busting practices, the elimination of bargaining rights and the reduction of social benefits and wages.

Dear friends, please rest assured that our thoughts are with you during your protest, as we truly do hope that your just fight for decent working and living conditions, for the workers’ rights will be successful.

Your victory is our victory as well.

In Solidarity,

Piotr Duda

You know, conservatives have long tried to connect labor unions with communism. Yet it was a labor union which destroyed communism in a key Soviet Bloc country.

I guess they forgot Poland.


Filed under unions, Wisconsin Protests

>Crank, Prank or Pwn? It’s Real! Walker Punk’d

>[UPDATE]: 2

After threatening to file ethics charges against Wisconsin Democrats, it appears Gov. Walker may be in some ethics trouble himself. Taking a phone call from a big campaign donor? That’s a no-no:

“If you didn’t believe it before, you have to now—this fight isn’t about the budget, it’s about favors for corporate special interests,” continued Donnelly. “If Wisconsin law forbids coordination with political donors similar to federal law, Gov. Scott Walker is not just in political trouble, but in legal hot water.”

Public Campaign Action Fund is currently in discussions with election experts on whether Gov. Walker may have broken state election law and whether a complaint should be filed.



Walker’s office confirms the call is for real. Oy vey. Scott Walker just made a colossally stupid mistake, bragging in true fan boy fashion to a man he thought was oil billionaire David Koch. Wisconsin, this just tells you so much about the guy you elected governor, where his allegiance lies and how he thinks. He won’t talk to Senate Democrats (unless it’s a trick to get them back into the state capitol so Republicans can declare a quorum), but he eagerly takes “David Koch’s” phone call and dishes all his secrets.

Schadenfreude. It’s what’s for breakfast.


Did a crank caller really convince Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that he was talking to David Koch? And did Walker really spill the beans on his strategy to hold Wisconsin Senate Democrats’ pay and file ethics charges if any took help from union supporters? And did the prankster really tape the whole thing and post it on the internet?

We still don’t know if This is for real but the tapes sound pretty convincing. and it’s not the first time a prominent conservative got punk’d, either.

(Note: I accidentally left off the second recording in my original post. I’ve corrected that mistake now …)

Here are some juicy bits. For one thing, if this IS for real, it seems Walker is trying to set a trap:

GOV. WALKER: An interesting idea brought up to me this morning by my chief of staff, we won’t do it until tomorrow, is putting out an appeal to the Democrat leader that I would be willing to sit down and talk to him, the Assembly Democrat leader, plus the other two Republican leaders. Talk, not negotiate, and listen to what they have to say if they will in turn — I’ll only do it if all 14 of ‘em come back and sit down in the state Assembly. They can recess it to come back over and talk to me but they’ll have to come back there.

The reason for that is, we’re verifying it this afternoon but legally we believe once they’ve gone into session they don’t physically have to be there. If they’re actually in session for that day and they take a recess, this 19 senate Republicans could then go into action and they’d have a quorum because they started out that way. Um … so we’re double checking that.

If you heard that we’re gonna talk to ‘em that would be the only reason why, is we would only do it if they came back to the capital with all 14 of ‘em. My sense is hell, I’ll talk, If they want to yell at me for an hour, I’m used to that! I can deal with that! But I’m not negotiating.

What. An. Asshole.


More ….

I just finished listening to the second part of the recording. I’m struck by three things: Walker has a tremendous ego and is incredibly arrogant. This is not a humble man.

Two: he realizes this is not about Wisconsin, this is about crushing organized labor nationally. He knows what killing collective bargaining in Wisconsin means. This was the plan. This was never about Wisconsin.

And three: Walker’s obviously seeking David Koch’s approval, which speaks volumes about Koch’s role in all of this. Walker might as well be saying, “I did good, didn’t I, huh huh, didn’t I?” He reminds me of my dog when we’re playing fetch, the way she’s just so eager for approval when she drops the ball at my feet. Walker is practically doing somersaults and handstands to show Fake Koch what a star politician he is, what a big player he is, how in control and manly. If he were a peacock he’d be spreading his tail feathers. He is, in short, showing off. Which, knowing this was Fake Koch not a real Koch, is sorta pathetic.

Anyway, it’s clear David Koch is the Republican Party’s new king maker. That’s just obvious from the conversation, from Walker’s conversation. Fake Koch barely says two words and Walker is tripping over himself doing the “how do you like me now!” song and dance.

And here’s my question: Who the hell is David Koch’s “guy on the ground” in Madison? Hello? Hello news media, the fact that Koch Industries has “a guy on the ground” should sorta tell you everything you need to know about the Tea Party!

Anyway, here’s some more transcript:

FAKE KOCH: Goddamn right! We sent Andrew Breitbart down there.



WALKER: Good stuff!

FAKE KOCH: He’s our man, y’know.

WALKER: Well it has been amazing to me the massive amount of attention .. I’ve done all, you know — every day I do a 5 o’clock press conference, tonight I’m actually doing a fireside chat which the state TV stations are gonna tape but I guess a bunch of the national ones are too, and um in the last couple of days when I do the TV shows I’ve been going after Obama, ‘cuz he stuck his — although he’s backed off now — but he stuck his nose in here and I said — they asked me what I thought and I said, “Y’know, last time I checked, this guy’s got a much bigger budget deficit than we do, maybe he should worry about that!

FAKE KOCH: (laughs)

WALKER: … and not stick his nose in Wisconsin business, right?. We’ve had all the national shows, we were on Hannity last night, I did Good Morning America, The Today Show and all that sort of stuff, was on Morning Joe this morning, we’ve done Greta, we’re going to keep getting our message out, Mark Levine last night. And I gotta tell ya, the response from around the country has been phenomenal. I had Brian the new governor over in Nevada call me last night, said he was out on the Lincoln Day circuit in the last two weekends and he was kidding me — he’s new as well as me — he said, “Scott don’t come to Nevada, cuz I’d be afraid you’d beat me running for the governor.”

FAKE KOCH: (Laughs)

WALKER: That’s all they want to talk about is, what are you doing to help the governor of Wisconsin? The next question is, I talk to Kasich every day, and John’s gonna stand firm in Ohio, I think we do the same thing with Rick Scott in Florida. I think Snyder if he got a little more support probably could do that in Michigan, when you start going down the list, there’s a lot of us new governors that got elected to do something big.

FAKE KOCH: You’re the first domino!

WALKER: Yup! This is our moment.

FAKE KOCH: Now what else can we do for you down there?

Walker: Well the biggest thing would be, and your guy on the ground is probably seeing this, is the, well two things: one, our members, originally kinda got freaked out by all the bodies down here, although I told them an interesting story about when I was first elected county executive in Milwaukee of all places….

Actually, the story was really boring about how when he was a county executive and pissed off the unions, everyone totally loved him at a Veteran’s Day parade except one guy who gave him the finger. It was another piece of arrogance and ego on display, showing off to the guy who is clearly Very Important. Later in the conversation Walker compares what he’s doing to Ronald Reagan firing the air traffic controllers, and how he sees that as the first chink in the Berlin Wall because the Communists were put on notice that Reagan “wouldn’t be pushed around.”

So this is all very interesting … very interesting indeed.


Filed under Fake Koch, Gov. Scott Walker, unions, Wisconsin Protests

>Next Stop Indiana!


Gov. Mitch Daniels now tells legislature to drop “right to work” legislation that forced Indiana Democrats to flee.

I’ll bet someone is thinking of his 2012 presidential aspirations.


Indiana statehouse fills with protestors as Indiana’s Democrats leave the state to avoid vote against unions:

Here’s a question I’ve asked: how come no one is mentioning ALEC in all of this? The industry-funded, free-market, limited-government, conservative anti-worker American Legislative Exchange Council? Through their “model legislation” they push industry’s agenda at the state legislative level. I mean, it’s no coincidence that so many states have similar anti-union legislation on the floor right now. This is all coordinated. And ALEC is funded by big corporations.

And here’s another question: if industry can unite and push their agenda under the aegis of groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ALEC, the American Enterprise Institute, etc., then why can’t workers unite and push their interests in the form of unions? I mean, if you’re going to say unions are bad for democracy (though no one has ever adequately explained that one to me) then isn’t the U.S. Chamber bad for democracy, too? If you want to get rid of one, shouldn’t you get rid of the other?

It doesn’t make sense unless your entire worldview is based on the idea that everything is peachy when workers are slaves to their employers, that all of the power should be handed up to big business and workers should be silent and take what lumps of coal they are given. You know, I get why billionaire corporate elites think this way, but I don’t get why anyone else does.

It makes no sense.

Comments Off on >Next Stop Indiana!

Filed under protests, unions, Wisconsin Protests


>In 1979, a movie about a union organizer in a North Carolina textile mill won nine Academy Awards and was a huge box office hit. Some 30 years later, unions have been so demonized I wonder if “Norma Rae” would even sell 10 tickets if it were released today?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself a lot in the past few years: when did unions become the bad guys? We’ve all heard the stereotypes about “union thugs” and corruption, a narrative so firmly embedded in the American consciousness that conservative activists like Phil Parlock have capitalized on the shifting attitudes for political gain. I’ve always wondered how unions went from American hero to zero in one generation.

Andrew Leonard’s interview with author/labor historian/Georgetown University professor Joseph McCartin touches on this very topic. Leonard asks the “what changed” question. McCartin responds:

A lot of this was really produced by the events of the last few years. There was a tremendous loss in the stock market that left a lot of pension funds looking underfunded, and that set off a lot of alarms in people. Now I’m not going to say that there aren’t some workers in some places that have gotten some pensions that aren’t really fully justifiable but that is different than saying that the whole principle of collective bargaining is wrong.

But an even more important factor is basically a 20- or 30-year period of failure in the private sector. What we are really looking at here is a private sector that for quite a long time now has not generated a lot of rising income for the great majority. It has not generated stable benefits for its workers, it has not generated increasing retirement security — in fact we’ve had income stagnation or decline, we’ve had rising indebtedness, we’ve had growing insecurity for retirement. The private sector has failed on a massive level. And the tenuous position that so many American workers find themselves in as a result of that now makes it suddenly appear that public sector workers are just living off the fatted calf. I think some of it has to do quite simply with the way in which so many nongovernment workers have been suffering, and legitimately so. You can go to those folks and say: Why are you paying for the pension of the guy down the street? You don’t have one!

That seems to be a real political liability for public sector unions.

It is a real liability, but it is liability that is not the result of union munificence, or that came from squeezing the taxpayers; it is a liability that basically flows from the fact that the private sector has done so poorly at creating a really broad growing thriving middle class in the past 20 years. And without a broad growing, thriving middle class, government workers are increasingly isolated and increasingly under threat and it is easy to play the dynamic this way, unfortunately for them.

In short, capitalism has failed a large segment of the American population, and conservatives have successfully laid the blame on unions. How they did that is a neat trick, but I think corporate interests in the guise of the GOP have been selling anti-union Kool Aid for decades, so it’s no surprise some of it started to stick. These days we’ve got “right to work” states and anti-minimum wage movements and the current spate of anti-collective bargaining initiatives in places like Wisconsin and Tennessee, and yet the glorious free hand of the market still hasn’t righted things. Indeed, it’s made things worse.

The result is resentment and jealousy directed at those people who have what I don’t have. Instead of directing their anger where it belongs — the wealthy and powerful who enjoy the lowest taxes in the Western world who have pulled the ladders up to keep out the riff-raff — conservatives are resentful of the people with the crappy jobs who were able to secure some very modest concessions over years of negotiating — and renegotiating, and renegotiating. The history of unions is nothing if not a history of reneged deals.

Somehow folks think if they work hard enough they’ll be bazillionaires like the Koch Brothers, not realizing the Koch Brothers have stacked the deck against them. I mean Jesus, it’s not like people aren’t working hard now. I know people with four jobs. They’re barely treading water. There’s no getting ahead when you are saddled with healthcare debt, or can’t get a job because your credit score isn’t high enough or because you’re unemployed, which takes the cake for stupid reasons not to hire someone. We are fast headed to a country with a permanent underclass and a permanent ruling class, and no movement betwixt the two.

Yes, somehow jealousy and resentment has convinced some people that their solution is to hand their power over to those who will never give them a place at the table. It’s quite baffling, really, how the wealthiest and most powerful interests managed to convince those lower down on the ladder that they should accept a less equitable arrangement. I really don’t get it, but then women tend to understand these things more easily anyway. We’re always being asked by society to give up our power to someone else. We’re always being told our priorities and issues are less important and we’re somehow deserving of less. So naturally we’re suspicious when some rich asshole drives up in his limousine and tells us that we should accept lower wages and pay higher taxes than he does, just ‘cuz. Being asked to accept inequality is something most of us women find a little reprehensible. And we know when we’re being sold a shit sandwich.

I’ve linked to this Financial Times article from last summer before, but I’m going to do it again. Here we go:

Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French chronicler of early America, was once misquoted as having said: “America is the best country in the world to be poor.” That is no longer the case. Nowadays in America, you have a smaller chance of swapping your lower income bracket for a higher one than in almost any other developed economy – even Britain on some measures. To invert the classic Horatio Alger stories, in today’s America if you are born in rags, you are likelier to stay in rags than in almost any corner of old Europe.

Combine those two deep-seated trends with a third – steeply rising inequality – and you get the slow-burning ­crisis of American capitalism. It is one thing to suffer grinding income stagnation. It is another to realise that you have a diminishing likelihood of escaping it – particularly when the fortunate few living across the proverbial tracks seem more pampered each time you catch a glimpse. “Who killed the American Dream?” say the banners at leftwing protest marches. “Take America back,” shout the rightwing Tea Party demonstrators.

Statistics only capture one slice of the problem. But it is the renowned Harvard economist, Larry Katz, who offers the most compelling analogy. “Think of the American economy as a large apartment block,” says the softly spoken professor. “A century ago – even 30 years ago – it was the object of envy. But in the last generation its character has changed. The penthouses at the top keep getting larger and larger. The apartments in the middle are feeling more and more squeezed and the basement has flooded. To round it off, the elevator is no longer working. That broken elevator is what gets people down the most.”

CNN recently covered this issue in its “Rise Of The Super Rich” piece, and included a neat little chart:

Admit it, folks. This is why you are angry. Not at some public school teacher who earns $50,000 a year but if you include their union-negotiated benefits and pension it sounds like a whole lot more, while the guy selling this resentment tea has a personal net worth of $27 $21.5 billion.

You’re pissed because capitalism has failed. For the past 25 years 90 percent of us have been working harder to stay in the same place, while a very small group of people have surged ahead thanks to policies which keep everyone else down. Everyone else has seen the American Dream slip away.


Filed under economy, unions, Wisconsin Protests

Why We Scare Them

It’s Always Okay If You’re A White Conservatiave

I have wondered: what if the workers rallying in Wisconsin were armed? What if the Tea Party were black? Would the nation tolerate protestors wearing guns and waving threatening signs if those doing the protesting weren’t predominantly white conservatives?

The answer is simple: no. If even a small fraction of the tens of thousands descending on Madison, Wisconsin had brandished guns and signs about using violence to stop legislation, the National Guard would have been called out on day one. If the Tea Party were black we’d have seen water cannons and dogs, like in the ’60s.

When the Tea Party was allowed to brandish guns and wave threatening signs at their rallies, it only proved how toothless and anemic their movement is. They are no threat to the status quo, no threat to the powerful interests that rule the country. They can wave all the guns they want, they are supporting the wealthy and powerful, those “fighter pilots of capitalism.” The powers that be will let them display their guns because it’s no threat to them.

Workers rallying for their rights, however, upsets the status quo. Union members protesting in Wisconsin don’t need to wear guns — their mere presence is threatening enough. Witness the fearful rhetoric out of Fox News and supporters of the status quo, folks like Michelle Malkin and Glenn Beck. These folks have called workers rallying for their rights “thugs” and “borderline violent” and “evil.”

I find this realization very profound. It’s not just the hypocrisy here, the IOKIYAR view that when Tea Partiers rally it’s all about “freedom loving Americans enjoying their constitutional rights” but when union workers do it it’s “thuggery” and “borderline violent.”

Conservatives are the party of the rich and powerful, and those people are scared. Let that one sink in for a moment, union activists: your mere presence frightens the wealthy and powerful.

This tells me that people like Gov. Scott Walker are on shakier ground than even they know.

Just a thought.


Filed under protests, Tea Party, unions

>Glenn Beck, Union Man

>[UPDATE 2/25/11]:

Chris Balfe, president of Beck’s production company, says Beck is not an AFTRA member. Woopsies.


I’ll give Glenn Beck props for one thing: he’s been one of the few people in the media talking about the massive rallies of union workers and union supporters happening this week in Wisconsin.

People are protesting Gov. Scott Walker’s extremist anti-union legislation which would eliminate collective bargaining for public employees. There are reports of 30,000 protestors descending on the state capitol yesterday, and today’s rally looks to be as big.

Glenn Beck and the rest of the Fox fools have been whipping up the fear, because liberal rallies are always bad things and full of terrorists and terrorist appeasers and verging on violence (as opposed to conservative rallies which are Patriotic and Free Speech and Constitutional and Freedom and Liberty and yada yada.)

Anyhoo, yesterday Beck told the protestors their unions “are anti-western way of life,” which is the kind of thing people like Beck say: it’s just an insult attached to a group they don’t like (Nazi, communist, terrorist, leech, etc. + liberals, Democrats, Muslims, the poor, etc.), then regurgitated without any thought whatsoever. It’s intellectually lazy, but it gets the job done, and frankly with their audience, no more is required. “This group = bad thing.” Whatever. It’s boring.

I just want someone to ask Beck one thing: aren’t you a member of a union? AFTRA? American Federation of Television And Radio Artists? The same AFTRA campaigning to save Public Broadcasting? Beck’s name is listed on the Los Angeles chapter’s June 2010 ballot under “newsperson.” Maybe there’s another newsperson named Glenn Beck, to which I have to say: dude, I feel sorry for you.

If Glenn Beck is a card-carrying AFTRA member, then he needs to either tear up his union card or STFU about how unions are anti-Western civilization.

Just sayin’.


Filed under Glenn Beck, unions

>Failure To Seize The Moment


Apparently Gov. Walker threatened to call out the National Guard if public employees strike. OMG he wouldn’t dare. He’s poking a stick at a sleeping bear.


I swear to God I am about to lose my shit.

Near as I can tell the only people covering the thousands of working people marching on the capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, are some liberal bloggers and Ed Schultz, who has been talking about this for three days. Well, that and liberal outfits like The Nation, which filed this report:

More than 10,000 Wisconsinites marched on the state Capitol Tuesday, as crowds rallied in cities around the state, students walked out of high schools and public employees lined roadways holding aloft banners declaring their determination to battle an attempt by Republican Governor Scott Walker to strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights and pack state government positions with political patronage appointees.

Another huge crowd — numbering perhaps 8,000 — surrounded the Capitol for a Tuesday night rally. Protests spread to the Milwaukee area, where hundreds of workers massed outside Walker’s suburban home.

The crowds in Madison will swell Wednesday. The city’s schools are closing, as teachers take sick days to join the protests and buses packed with public employees roll into the city.

The protests, unprecedented in recent Wisconsin history, are being organized by union—the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the Wisconsin Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin and others—in anticipation of a Thursday vote on whether to give the governor powers that the senior member of the state legislature describes as nothing short of dictatorial.

Hellooooo! News media! Y’all might want to cover this! Think of it like Cairo, but ya know, in English and not so Muslim-y. Now will you cover it?

I mean, yes, there’s a little New York Times piece, but no, I am not seeing the wall-to-wall TV coverage we get every time 500 Teanuts in knee britches and tricorn hats decide to wave a misspelled sign. This is worse than irresponsible. This is a failure of epic proportions. This is why the news media is not trusted by the left. This is why no one reads your shitty newspapers or watches your lame cable news programs where you ruminate over the need for reasonableness.

News is happening. Here. In America! Go cover it! It really shouldn’t be that fucking hard.

I mean, shit. Just one year ago the news media descended on Nashville to cover the first Tea Party convention at a level of one reporter for every three participants. We’ve got 10,000 working people descending on a state capitol and where’s Anderson Cooper? Brian Williams? Katie Couric?

You know who’s there? Fox News. I just heard a clip on the Ed Show where some Fox bimbette opines that the protests are surely going to turn violent soon. Yes of course they are, because we liberals always turn violent when a big group of us rally to defend our rights, or try to stop a bogus war, or try to save the planet from nuclear annihilation. Even though your side is the one waltzing around with guns strapped to your legs carrying signs about “watering the tree of liberty” and whatnot. Fuck off, I don’t have time for you idiots.

No, I want to know where the serious coverage of this unprecedented event is? Why aren’t you there on the scene?

And where are the Democrats? Hello?! This is your base, thousands of them, rallying for the right to collectively bargain, a founding principle of the liberal movement, why aren’t you people there? Why isn’t Nancy Pelosi there? Howard Dean? Hell, Dennis Kucinich? Anyone? Why aren’t liberal leaders flocking to the site of a major liberal protest? This is called an opportunity, you idiots.

(A question: Are they not there because the TV cameras aren’t there? Or are the TV cameras not there because the political leaders aren’t there?)

This is why we suck on just so, so many levels.

Via Down With Tyranny, a picture of today’s rally:


Filed under liberals, media, protests, rants, unions

>A Tale Of Two Healthcare Activists

>Perhaps the Tea Party set rallying against healthcare reform would like to donate some money to pay Kenneth Gladney’s medical bills. Because someone is going to have to.

Gladney is the conservative protestor who was injured outside a town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-MO):

The irony is that Gladney’s situation underscores the vital need for health care reform. He was recently laid off and lost his insurance (14,000 Americans suffer a similar fate each day). Because he has no affordable health care option available, Gladney is now soliciting donations to pay his medical expenses.


Under the House’s health care proposal, Gladney would be guaranteed a coverage option and would likely receive a subsidy to purchase affordable health care.

That’s just precious. It’s like Joe The Plumber all over again, who finally admitted to being a welfare recipient, not once but twice. And let me say, while conservatives have blamed SEIU for the attack, one of the men involved who was there has another version of events:

But Elston McCowan, an SEIU staffer, said Gladney was actually an instigator. McCowan accused Gladney of attacking him as he walked to his car. McCowan said he suffered a dislocated shoulder.

“Out of nowhere, the guy just assaults me,” said McCowan, 47, of St. Louis.

The SEIU says the Tea Party organizers created “a hostile atmosphere.” I just have to say, as the rhetoric from the right escalates, people are going to get hurt.

One thing that’s not disputed about those injured in Missouri? The guy who works for the union won’t need to go begging for donations pay his medical bills.

Tea Party activist Kenneth Gladney, on the other hand, does. And if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the two sides of this issue, I don’t know what will.

Comments Off on >A Tale Of Two Healthcare Activists

Filed under healthcare, Tea Party, unions

>Time For A Living Wage

>Via Oxdown at Firedoglake, an explanation of today’s middle finger to American workers that was the loan “auto bailout” measure:

The foreign nonunion auto companies located in the South have a plan to reduce wages and benefits at their factories in the United States. And to do it, they need to destroy the United Auto Workers.

Last week, Senate Republicans from some Southern states went to work trying to do just that, on the foreign car companies’ behalf.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) — representatives from states that subsidize companies such as Honda, Volkswagen, Toyota and Nissan — first tried to force the UAW to take reductions in wages and benefits as a condition for supporting the auto industry bailout bill. When the UAW refused, those senators torpedoed the bill.


UAW President Ron Gettelfinger realized that the existence of the union was under attack, which is why he refused to give in to the Senate Republicans’ demands that the UAW make further concessions. I say “further” because the union has already conceded a lot. Its 2007 contract introduced a two-tier contract to pay new hires $15 an hour (instead of $28) with no defined pension plan and dramatic cuts to their health insurance. In addition, the UAW agreed that healthcare benefits for existing retirees would be transferred from the auto companies to an independent trust. With the transferring of the healthcare costs, the labor cost gap between the Big Three and the foreign transplants will be almost eliminated by the end of the current contracts.

One reason there is the perception that UAW wages are so overinflated is that the “average” figures our media cited included retiree pensions. American auto manufacturers carry huge legacy costs, since, you know, Ford has been making cars in America a few generations longer than have Toyota and Nissan.

One would expect that foreign manufacturers would eventually carry some high pension costs, someday perhaps, unless they take some kind of proactive action. And lo and behold:

However, an internal Toyota report, leaked to the Detroit Free Press last year, reveals that the company wants to slash $300 million out of its rising labor costs by 2011. The report indicated that Toyota no longer wants to “tie [itself] so closely to the U.S. auto industry.” Instead, the company intends to benchmark the prevailing manufacturing wage in the state in which a plant is located. The Free Press reported that in Kentucky, where the company is headquartered, this wage is $12.64 an hour, according to federal labor statistics, less than half Toyota’s $30-an-hour wage.

If the companies, with the support of their senators, can wipe out or greatly weaken the UAW, they will be free to implement their plan.

This sounds about right.

Let’s just say the Nissan plant in Smyrna, TN., paid its workers $12.64/hour right now. That’s a good bit more than the current minimum wage–$7.25 (and you have the Democratic majority in Congress to thank for even that), and a healthy bit above the $8.87 that is a living wage for single adults in Rutherford County. But if you’re a single mom, or the sole provider in your family, it’s not enough to make ends meet.

Scott County, KY, where Toyota’s Georgetown plant is located, and where that hourly wage is said to be a probable reality, doesn’t fare much better.

So, if this does in fact happen three years from now—file this one away for the memory hole, peeps!—you have folks like Bob Corker and Mitch McConnell to thank.

I know this may come as a shock to the wingnut coalition that visits my blog, but I’m not by default an automatic union supporter. I’m not attached to the “existence of the union” if the benefits of union membership can be achieved some other way. But I am a big supporter of the working man and woman, and if that means forming unions so workers can have a collective voice at the negotiating table, that’s fine with me.

But if the ultimate legacy of the Bush Years is the destruction of the American worker’s union, so be it. All is not lost, my friends.

What we need in this country is a national Living Wage law. If workers in this country were paid a decent wage, a wage they could live on, a living wage, and that wage were the law of the land, maybe we wouldn’t need unions anymore.

Just a thought.

Comments Off on >Time For A Living Wage

Filed under auto bailout, Sen. Bob Corker, Sen. Mitch McConnell, unions