“Welcome back to the White House”

(@ noon – promoted by NLinStPaul)

Smell that fresh air? A new breeze is blowing.

Ever since the Wagner Act legalizing unionization passed 74 years ago, right wingers have been trying to gut it. Corporations at first ignored it altogether until forced by the Supreme Court to surrender their opposition. With a post-Roosevelt Republican majority embedded in Congress, the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 was the first official move to make unionization tougher.

There have been a few bright moments in the decades since then, as when occupational safety and health laws were passed in the 1970s. But mostly, whether it was The Great Communicator delivering a nose-thumbing message to striking air traffic controllers, George Bush issuing executive orders favoring employers over workers, sophisticated covert union-busting efforts devised by well-paid professionals, or relentless Chamber of Commerce-promoted propaganda, the labor movement in the United States has been under constant attack.

Over the years, these attacks – together with the changing demographics of the workplace and, ironically, the movement into the middle class of more and more Americans that union activity made possible – have greatly weakened unions. Only 8% of private sector workers are now unionized. One effect of this lack of clout was made clear during the Cheney-Bush years when the Department of Labor that is supposed to protect workers shrugged off its duty. In fact, in 2006, the average penalty assessed employers for violations that “pose a substantial probability of death or serious physical harm” was $881.

The Cheney-Bush administration initially played a divide-and-conquer approach with labor, attracting support from the Teamsters, as did Richard Nixon way back when. But his Labor Secretary, Elaine Chao, went a good deal further, making broad attacks on unions. As AFL-CIO President John Sweeney noted after a February 2003 meeting of the organization’s Executive Council: “I have served on the AFL-CIO Executive Council for 22 years. I have met and worked with every Secretary of Labor over those 22 years … I have never met a more anti-worker, anti-union Secretary of Labor than Elaine Chao.”

Today, at the White House, Americans got their first whiff of what promises to be a new attitude toward workers and the labor movement. In introducing his role as chief of President Barack Obama’s new Middle Class Task Force, Vice President Joe Biden said to the assembled crowd, which included many labor leaders: “Welcome back to the White House.”

Obama himself said: “I don’t see organized labor as part of the problem, To me, it’s part of the solution.” And he signed executive orders – reversals of Bush executive orders signed during his first month in power – that will protect access to federal contracts for unionized companies and let workers know of their right to organize unions.

It’s always wise not to get too giddy. Task forces have a way of getting bogged down in minutiae and shelved after publication. But with pro-union, pro-worker Hilda Solis in the wings ready to take over the job of Secretary of Labor, with the President’s past support for the crucial Employee Free Choice Act a matter of record, with the first bill he signed dealing with equal rights on the job, and with labor leaders actually invited into the White House, we could be on the verge of an era more favorable to workers and unions than any time in the past 40 years. Hard as economic times are, it’s impossible not to smile about that.

6 comments

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    • Diane G on January 30, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    giddify, but I did get a little happy chill reading this essay.

    Thanks Meteor!

  1. from NY, with gorgeous petals floating down, and scattered on the ground like a welcome carpet for everyone wanting to now join unions!

    on the flip side, why no unions for lawyers?

  2. But to form a union one needs jobs.

    • Edger on January 31, 2009 at 12:22 am

    away from dark ages instead towards them, and maybe people who do the real work will keep working if they have something to work towards?

  3. Yes, it is, indeed, a “good” feeling to hear the refreshing remarks of Obama and Biden concerning the status and well-being of the so-called “middle-class” Americans.  I think BushCo thought the opposite, as they did everything conceivable to ensure bringing the so-called “middle-class” to a “poor-class” level — hence, the state of the economy today and the pathos of the “hard-working” Americans’ plight.

    I even entertained the idea that the furious effort to “rid” this country of “immigrants” was to pave the way for Americans to take over “their” jobs, once they were gone.  Makes sense, doesn’t it? — if you want control over a populace, you impoverish them, deny them the means of having proper nutrition, deny them the means of any kind of healthcare, deny them the means of proper education, keep them ignorant and frightened — does sound a little familiar, does it not?  Could it work — maybe, after the so-called “elite” wealthy had or would accumulate enough wealth so as to suffice them, at the sufferance of the peons, but after that, then what?

    At any rate, THIS is where we were headed and still are until we can arrest the situation, assuming there IS a will to do so!  

    This country has ALWAYS functioned because of the “middle-class,” who always supported the rich and the poor at the same time, while garnering very little for themselves and their futures, and through the last 30 years or so, have seen less and less benefits inure to them.  (I say that, somewhat reservedly, too, because I remember working for this group or that with NO promise of a pension, a 401k or anything.  And when a job was over, you started all over, no insurance, if you had any, no benefits to inure to you, etc. — and years could go down the drain this way.  Then, finally, you were able to invest in a 401-k, have a pension, — finally, something for your years of service, whatever, now to see it diminishing by the day — so again, to be put back to square one.)  The “drones” of the society, without which what then?

    Thanks, gawd, Obama and Biden realize the cruciality of the problem as hordes of Americans are already committing suicide — and it’s too late for many of them.  My HEART hurts!

    The Financial Crisis Is Driving Hordes of Americans to Suicide

    By Nick Turse, Tomdispatch.com. Posted January 29, 2009.

    Pushed past their breaking points, people are robbing banks to pay the rent, setting homes on fire — even taking their own lives.  

    The body count is still rising. For months on end, marked by bankruptcies, foreclosures, evictions, and layoffs, the economic meltdown has taken a heavy toll on Americans. In response, a range of extreme acts including suicide, self-inflicted injury, murder, and arson have hit the local news. By October 2008, an analysis of press reports nationwide indicated that an epidemic of tragedies spurred by the financial crisis had already spread from Pasadena, California, to Taunton, Massachusetts, from Roseville, Minnesota, to Ocala, Florida. . . . .

    So, thankfully, Obama and Biden see the “how it is” — now, WE have to find a way to deal with it!!!!!

    Sorry to be sooo long, but it’s a LONG problem!

    • dkmich on February 1, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Obama and Biden promised lots of things during the campaign that they now appear to be conceding.  And the hypocrisy of promoting EFCA so Americans can earn a living wage while demanding the UAW take pay cuts is absurd.  

    I cannot figure out if I’m a cynic and hopelessly negative, if others are naive and hopelessly optimistic, or if there is nothing but an ongoing Obama campaign by many lefty bloggers.

    Whatever the answer, I’m not taking out my party hat and horn until Obama actually delivers on the populist promises he made.  

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