How Long Will The Excluded Wait?

Robert Reich begins his latest column this way:

People ask me all the time why we don’t have a revolution in America, or at least a major wave of reform similar to that of the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.

Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?

Revolution? Ruckus? Well, why aren’t people making more election-changing noise? Reich gave three reasons, which I will list without most of his supporting material:

1) “…the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has…No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have.”

2) “In prior decades students were a major force for social change. But today’s students don’t want to make a ruckus. They’re laden with debt…record numbers are still living at home.”

3) “Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible…It’s hard to get people worked up to change society or even to change a few laws when they don’t believe government can possibly work.”

That last reason for a reluctance to raise a ruckus can be documented by the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, which found:

confidence in washington

As you can see, Republicans have done a good job of poisoning the well of governance, with their obstructionist tactics and willingness to sabotage the economic recovery and their refusal to do anything to address the income and wealth gap in America. But such tactics, although successful in bringing Democrats down, have damaged the Republican Party’s image profoundly. The poll found that only 36% of Republicans have significant confidence in their own party. Think about that.

But think, too, about the fact that a large part of the reason that even Republicans don’t have much confidence in their own party or their party’s leadership is that extremist teapartiers think the GOP hasn’t gone far enough in its obstructionism. Many of those folks think that John Boehner has sold them out. For God’s sake, many think that Mitch McConnell is too liberal.

As crazy as that sounds, things are actually worse. Consider the right’s reaction to Pope Francis. When the boss man of a gazillion Catholics dared to criticize increasing income and wealth inequality, when he called out “trickle-down theories” for their failure to deliver “greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” his words were branded as “pure Marxism” by Rush Limbaugh. Other right-wingers called him a socialist and FoxNews.com annointed him “the Catholic Church’s Obama.” Just a few days ago a News Editor for FoxNews.com, himself a Catholic, said that,

Pope Francis has declared war on those who aspire to provide a better life for themselves and their families, expressing the misguided snobbery of a man for whom money has never been an issue.

Such feelings run deep on the right. That FoxNews.com editor went on to say that, “the only charity the pope supports is forced redistribution.” Ahh. That’s the real offense the Pope committed. He thinks, and he thinks Jesus thinks, governments ought to be involved in seeing to it that there is a more equitable distribution of wealth. He can see with his presumably holy eyes that if the world’s poor and underserved are to utterly depend on the generosity of the rich to keep them afloat, they are a most miserable lot indeed. The Pope says trickle-down economics,

expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

All of which leads me back to Robert Reich’s column. How long will the excluded wait? Reich listed three reasons why more people don’t make a bigger fuss about the breathtaking economic inequities we see here in America and the fact that “big money is corrupting our democracy.” But he should have included a fourth reason: the big money corruption itself. Rich people, particularly rich conservative people, are buying this republic and the politicians who manage it, as well as influencing low-information voters who fall for the slick and misleading advertising that big money buys.

If you have the stomach for it, I invite you to read one the most depressing articles I have read in a long time. The Mother Jones piece, titled “Meet the New Kochs: The DeVos Clan’s Plan to Defund the Left,” chronicles how a wealthy Michigan family, whose billions were acquired through the pyramid-like distributing company Amway, was able to purchase the votes necessary to pass union-crippling right-to-work legislation in a state that was once union friendly.

I will confess that after reading the article, my usual political optimism was shaken. I fear for our future if something isn’t done to restrain the flow of money into our politics. The 87-year-old Richard DeVos, who cofounded Amway, and his eldest son Dick DeVos should not be able to do what they did in Michigan. And what they did has effects beyond the obvious race to the bottom in terms of workers’ wages and working conditions:

Passing right-to-work in Michigan was more than a policy victory. It was a major score for Republicans who have long sought to weaken the Democratic Party by attacking its sources of funding and organizing muscle…So DeVos and his allies hit labor—and the Democratic Party—where it hurt: their bank accounts. By attacking their opponents’ revenue stream, they could help put Michigan into play for the GOP heading into the 2016 presidential race—as it was more than three decades earlier, when the state’s Reagan Democrats were key to winning the White House.

It’s pretty simple. Republicans believe that if they can weaken, if not destroy, labor unions, they can control the country’s politics:

the Michigan fight has given hope—and a road map—to conservatives across the country working to cripple organized labor and defund the left. Whereas party activists had for years viewed right-to-work as a pipe dream, a determined and very wealthy family, putting in place all the elements of a classic political campaign, was able to move the needle in a matter of months. “Michigan is Stalingrad, man,” one prominent conservative activist told me. “It’s where the battle will be won or lost.”

That Michigan fight is going on here in Missouri. The very first hearing this year in the Missouri House, which is dominated by right-wing Republicans, was used to promote anti-union legislation, in this case falsely titled the “Freedom To Work Act.” The only “freedom” written into this bill is freedom for workers who benefit from union representation on the job to opt out of having to pay any fee to the union for its collective bargaining services. In other words, this bill, and other so-called right-to-work legislation, establishes that there is, after all, such a thing as a free lunch.eric burlison

The idea, obviously, is to starve unions of needed resources, even though the Missouri bill’s sponsor, a Springfield Republican, claimed that the legislation “would make unions stronger.” Let me state the obvious here: If a right-winger tells you that a bill he is sponsoring will make unions stronger, he is lying through his gold teeth.

It’s equally obvious that if unions are starved of funds and can’t afford to defend the interests of working people, both on the job and during the election cycle, then rich Republicans will have their way. That is why rich Republicans pour so much money into these efforts, with 24 states now having such laws as the one being crafted here in Missouri. And if more states follow the trend and engage in a race to the bottom, the situation Robert Reich described—sinking middle incomes, growing poverty, and rich people realizing most of the economic gains—will get worse.

And if it gets bad enough, the ruckus, or the revolution, will come.

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Hold Your Nose

So much for the Democratic Party being in bed with Big Labor.

Most Senate Democrats, who have a Gingrich-like commitment to their political bedfellows, voted with most Republicans for the much-delayed Federal Aviation Administration bill.

For four years the long-term reauthorization of FAA programs has been in limbo (the FAA has continued operating under 23 temporary spending bills since 2007). For the last several months, the problem was primarily due to hostage-taking Republicans insisting that a provision be included in the law that would have counted abstentions in unionization votes as “no” votes (remember the partial shutdown last July?).

Democrats fought and won that battle, but apparently had no stomach to finish the job. Senate Democratic leadership (read: Harry Reid) yielded to House Republicans (our own Billy Long, a co-sponsor, among them) in a “compromise” that burdens transportation workers with a requirement that they must achieve the 50 percent threshold in order to have a vote on organizing a union (what kind of referendum is it that you have to have half on your side before you can even vote?).

The bill passed the Senate on Monday by a 75 to 20 vote, with only 14 Democrats and Independent Bernie Sanders voting against it (Claire McCaskill, thankfully, was on the right side of this one).

As for Mr. Obama, who is expected to sign the legislation, Shane Larson, the legislative director of the Communications Workers of America, said,

We’re frustrated that the White House was not more engaged in this.

Frustrated, yes. But surprised? Nope. Mr. Obama’s White House has not exactly been excited to join the specific causes of unions, even as unions have been decimated by Republican attacks across the country.

The goal of the GOP is to make it very difficult for workers to organize themselves into middle-class-creating unions, and some Senate Democrats, who haven’t learned how to negotiate effectively with Republican hostage-takers, are making it too easy for the GOP to achieve that goal. (House Democrats stood strong and most of them voted against the bill.)

Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are many important and crucial differences between the two parties; let’s never forget that fact.  Organized labor, which has taken a blow in this legislation, should resist the temptation to get angry and somehow punish Democrats for their failure to adequately defend workers’ interests.

Because, ultimately, to punish Democrats—traditional friends of organized labor—is to give a blessing to the other party—a party which routinely demonizes unions and what they stand for.

We simply have to hold our noses and go on.  For now.

The Working Class’ Pearl Harbor

Since there’s no way I could do it better, below is the incomparable Rachel Maddow’s summary of the fraud and phoniness in Wisconsin, perpetrated by too-clever-by-half Republicans.

This war on unions and working people is not over, of course, and in some ways what the shameless Republicans have done couldn’t have worked out better for Democrats, not only in Wisconsin, but nationally.

That is, if they know how to take advantage of it.  Watch:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Republicans Declare War On Workers

“That’s a war people will pay attention to.”

Bob Woodward, today on Morning Joe

Forget Iraq and Afghanistan, by God we’re goin’ after the unions!  Johnny, get your gun! 

Some of the talk this morning on Morning Joe was about the seemingly sudden outbreak of war on labor unions. 

Republicans, of course, have always been in Cold War status when it comes to unions, with a fiery skirmish flaring up here and there over the last thirty years.  Remember Ronald Reagan and PATCO?

What’s new these days is that the GOP—drunk on Tea Party power—is ready to start dropping nukes on the unions.

From the New York Times on Monday:

Faced with growing budget deficits and restive taxpayers, elected officials from Maine to Alabama, Ohio to Arizona, are pushing new legislation to limit the power of labor unions, particularly those representing government workers, in collective bargaining and politics.

Wanting to hurry and start the bombing before the economy heats up enough to rob them of their largest justification, Republican reactionaries across America—including here in Missouri—are using the bad economic times and the resulting state budget shortfalls to obliterate unions once and for all time.

It’s true there are some Vichy-like Democrats in the mix, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and even the President himself, with their salary freezes for public employees.  But that’s small potatoes compared with what the real enemies of labor unions have in mind:

…in some cases — mostly in states with Republican governors and Republican statehouse majorities — officials are seeking more far-reaching, structural changes that would weaken the bargaining power and political influence of unions, including private sector ones.

For example, Republican lawmakers in Indiana, Maine, Missouri and seven other states plan to introduce legislation that would bar private sector unions from forcing workers they represent to pay dues or fees, reducing the flow of funds into union treasuries. In Ohio, the new Republican governor, following the precedent of many other states, wants to ban strikes by public school teachers.

Some new governors, most notably Scott Walker of Wisconsin, are even threatening to take away government workers’ right to form unions and bargain contracts.

“We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots,” Mr. Walker, a Republican, said in a speech. “The bottom line is that we are going to look at every legal means we have to try to put that balance more on the side of taxpayers.”

Before I comment on that idiocy, I wish there was a way for those union members across the country, who in orgasmic delight ran—yes, ran—into their respective polling stations on November 2 and pulled the lever for union-hating Republicans, to immediately suffer the consequences of their actions. These ungrateful union members who supported Tea Party candidates and other Republicans deserve to lose every single benefit they enjoy today thanks to a union. 

It’s just too bad there isn’t a cosmic reality in which a union voter immediately suffers the consequences of voting for a candidate who seeks to destroy the very entity that allows him or her to enjoy what passes for a middle class income in America. 

I know some of these hypocritical union members—I used to be one and later, when I came to my senses, represented them—and I know how excited they were to see the Tea Party come to power under the umbrella of the GOP.  If these pitiful people had one tittle of integrity, after casting their deadly votes last November, they would run—yes, run—to their employers and give back everything unions have won for them, including in many cases their jobs. 

That said, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s threat to “take away government workers’ right to form unions and bargain contracts” is, like the GOP’s Kill Obamacare Act, a political pipe dream.  And his labeling public employees as “the haves” and taxpayers as “the have-nots” should give comfort to the real “haves” in this country, a handful of which make most of the real money and hold most of the wealth in America.

How a man dumb enough to utter such tripe became governor of a state is a testimony to the imputed wisdom of P. T. Barnum.  Apparently a lot of suckers cast votes in Wisconsin a few months ago.

But what really galls me is the following, as reported by the Times:

Of all the new governors, John Kasich, Republican of Ohio, appears to be planning the most comprehensive assault against unions. He is proposing to take away the right of 14,000 state-financed child care and home care workers to unionize. He also wants to ban strikes by teachers, much the way some states bar strikes by the police and firefighters.

“If they want to strike, they should be fired,” Mr. Kasich said in a speech. “They’ve got good jobs, they’ve got high pay, they get good benefits, a great retirement. What are they striking for?”

Good jobs,” “high pay,” “good benefits,” “great retirement.”  How the bleep does anyone think they got these things, to the extent what Kasich said is true?  And who said they were planning on striking? 

Calling this stuff bullshit would insult bulls everywhere.

But what’s really galling about Kasich’s proposals—and he has other middle-class-killing ideas, including eliminating the state requirement that even non-union construction contractors have to pay union-scale wages—is that John Kasich is the son of a letter carrier.

That’s right.  The man who has declared war not just on unions but by extension on middle class wage earners is the son of a mailman, who was represented by—guess what?—a labor union.  The National Association of Letter Carriers represents all of the nation’s more than 200,000 letter carriers—even if they don’t pay dues to the union.

Here’s the way the Ohio Republican Party described the GOP’s newly-elected anti-union governor:

The son of a mailman, John grew up in a blue collar neighborhood in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. Like many Americans his values were shaped by a childhood rooted in faith, family, community and common sense.

Kasich’s blue collar background has given way to a scarlet conservatism; his childhood rooted in the Catholic faith has given way to evangelicalism; his first family has given way to divorce; and his community values and common sense have given way to the economic philosophy of the Republican Party, which is not only anti-worker, but is more than willing to hold the unfortunate among us hostage in return for billions upon billions of dollars worth of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, many of whom didn’t want them. 

Even now they plot to jeopardize the full faith and credit of the United States and risk economic disaster in order to obtain spending cuts in programs designed to make life better for those folks not fortunate enough to belong to a labor union.

Beyond that, it’s simply unconscionable to solve the nation’s budget problems by attacking the one instrument in our society that has lifted more people out of poverty than any other.  It’s unconscionable, but it’s not surprising.  The Republican Party, after all, has never been a friend of organized labor.  It has never been a friend of those who through collective bargaining seek a bigger piece of the American economic pie because that means less of the pie for the main constituents of the GOP: the wealthy.

Finally, nothing says more about the current state of Orwellian Republican politics these days than the following:

Republicans have decided to excise the word “labor” from the name of the House committee handling education and, yes, labor issues.

It’s time to say so long to the Education and Labor Committee and hello to the Education and the Workforce Committee, the Wall Street Journal‘s Washington Wire reports.

As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, Newt Gingrich did the same thing in 1994.  It’s the Republicans’ way of giving the finger to organized labor.  But it is more than that.  The change from “labor” to “workforce” is, indeed, important.  And revealing. It demonstrates exactly how Republicans view those who work for a living.  As Keith Olbermann put it:

No longer is it your labor. Now it’s big business’s workforce.

Get it?  Republicans see the average Joe as mere cogs in a money-making machine.  A pool from which to pick and choose and then abuse, when the time comes.

And there is no doubt that labor unions, representing the interests of the folks who actually do the work but often don’t reap the benefits, are a problem for businesses that seek ungodly profits at the expense of those who make all profits possible.

And as for public employee unions, they too get in the way of Republicans, who with their small- and often anti-government fanaticism, are trying to starve the government of much-needed revenues so as to reduce not only its size but it’s effectiveness in restraining the we-want-it-all mentality of corporate and other business interests.

It’s just a shame that these days some Democrats are, no matter how gingerly, buying into this philosophy, and are thus marching with Republicans as they make war on the most faithful of Democratic constituencies.

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