Playing Russian roulette with the U.S. workforce


By Jim Hansen

Some of us predicted a long time ago that when the game of Russian roulette was down to its last bullet, it would be the Democratic Party’s turn to pull the trigger.

So it was no surprise that the last shot was fired on Election Day, November 8, 2016 after the party’s equally-flawed Republican opponents survived their turn and passed the pistol back to the Dems.

The Democratic Party has played Russian roulette with the nation’s working class voters since 1935 when Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) as the Great Depression was winding down. It was the first ever comprehensive labor law, which gave workers the right to unionize.

Since then Democrats have had many opportunities to make major changes in the nation’s laws governing union organizing.

After passage of the NLRA, corporate America screamed like mashed cats, and their supporters in Congress introduced scores of bills to either repeal or limit labor’s right to organize.

They were finally successful in 1947 and again in 1957 when the Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Griffin acts were passed as amendments to the NLRA. The new laws gave huge advantages to employers by limiting the organizing rights of workers. Both were passed with decisive Democratic votes.

Those were the first but not the last times Democrats killed opportunities to expand organizing rights for unions.

Later, when Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, or the White House and both houses of Congress, they still couldn’t pass any major changes in labor laws governing union organizing.

During the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in the 1960s, labor tried to repeal section 14b of the Taft-Harley Law, which allows states to enact right-to-work laws that diminish union strength in collective bargaining. The House passed a repeal bill in 1965, but Senate supporters couldn’t muster enough Democratic votes to break a GOP filibuster.

In 1977 a “common situs picketing bill,” which would have lowered the barriers for unionization of construction workers, was defeated in the House, 217 to 205. Key opposing votes were cast by Democrats.

Democrats again provided a knockout punch against their labor friends in 1978 when Jimmy Carter was president. The Labor Reform Act would have leveled the playing field in union organizing campaigns, streamlined recognition procedures and allowed unions more latitude in contract negotiations. It failed to survive a Republican Senate filibuster bolstered by 17 Democratic votes.

During Bill Clinton’s first term, an “anti-scab” bill was introduced that would have made it illegal for strikebound employers to permanently replace striking workers. The bill passed the House but was blocked in the Senate by the usual Republican filibuster, in which six Democrats voted with the GOP to ensure defeat.

It is undeniable that on the national level Democrats have failed miserably over the years to deliver key votes on organizing legislation that has been vitally needed, that would have been most meaningful to working men and women and their families.

Instead, they have provided Republicans with votes to pass a plethora of global trade agreements that shipped millions of American jobs overseas. They’ve helped the Republicans give tax breaks and loopholes to multinational corporations, American businesses and millionaires.

Meanwhile, wages and benefits of workers have not kept pace with the growth of their productivity since 1980 when the downward wage spiral began.

That’s when President Reagan and his economic advisers determined that money accumulated at the top would “trickle down” to those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder; and the race to the bottom began.

At this point in history, there is but one conceivable method to stop the descent, and — at the risk of offending the limousine liberals — it is not by raising the minimum wage. Unions set wage standards for all workers, union and nonunion.

So it is simple: Increase union density and wages, and all workers wages rise.

That’s why income inequality and wage and benefit stagnation would soon be a bad memory if President Trump implored Congress to pass legislation — such as the Employee Free Choice Act — that makes it easier for unions to organize workers.

What a great payback that would be for all the working men and women who elected him.

Good luck with that, brothers and sisters

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