Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Because the scribe lives in a progressive, make believe universe where democratic and collective institutions that seek social justice in the workplace are the most worthy of our attention, we’re going to talk about unions for a bit.

Recently, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations underwent a historical split when some of its most important members - Service Employees International Union, UNITE-HERE, United Food and Commercial Workers, Teamsters Union - took their millions of members and dollars in dues money and started a new club.

the scribe’s not going to get into the virtue of such a move. Maybe it breaks union solidarity. Maybe it breaks with a past that reduces workers to a state of dues-paying inactivity. Time will tell.

What the scribe wanted to mention briefly, if not originally since similar sentiments were expressed elsewhere, was the complete lack of resonance this story had.

And we’re not talking about the mainstream media, which we know by now can’t really be bothered with anything quite so marginal as workplace issues (after all, who works?), but rather in progressive circles.

When the AFL and CIO merged years ago it was a matter of tremendous consequence given the block of workers involved and the important role of unions in forwarding the material aspects of peoples’ lives.

This go-round there was hardly a whisper as liberal activists, truly a cabal of well-read, well-meaning elitists with only a passing experience with the organized working class, fried other fish relative to the culture wars.

And that’s too bad because all the MoveOn.orgs in the world can’t replace a solid union movement. Holding nationwide vigils for Cindy Sheehan, bless her soul, is no replacement for a good solid job action that strikes at the only thing people in this country care about - profits. Having little Supreme Court nominee therapy sessions is no match for the combined efforts of numerous unions advertising the truth about a b-film actor governor.

There may never be a true bond between progressives hailing from the hippy/digital/boho camp and those from industrial quarters. Maybe there’s not enough in common and that would be too bad, because the enemy each faces is the same and the mutual assistance - once THE hallmark of left-wing activity - is the best way of holding them off.

And speaking of unions a federal judge on Friday reminded the Bush administration that their right to exist is firmly rooted in American law (and the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights).

You’ll remember after 9/11 the Democrats had developed an issue to bludgeon the (p)resident with regarding establishment of a new federal agency in charge of national security.

Bush, in one of the few times he’s been right in six years, thought the last thing Washington needed was another bureaucracy and that the proposal was just old school big-government liberalism.

His true concern, of course, was the potential addition of some 200,000 workers (and their dues) to public employee union rolls that vote Democratic with a shocking regularity.

But Mister Constancy didn’t like the way it was playing out politically so he and Karl Rove cooked up something called the Department of Homeland Security, with the caveat that it would tolerate no unions. Following their own fashion, they invoked national security as grounds for revoking the right to organize.

“Flexibility” they said they needed.

The rest of that small chapter is truly ugly because then the Democrats ended up on the side of workers, instead of national security, and the (r)epublicans used that wedge issue, together with their nefarious war in Iraq, to beat the blue-staters raw in the 2002 mid-term elections.

Aaaaanyway, a U.S. District Court judge said on Friday that the Bush administration cannot go around rewriting federal employment guidelines to suit the needs of its political strategy.

Justice Rosemary Collyer said the Homeland Security plan, “does not lead to enforceable contracts and thus fails to comply with the direction of Congress to ensure employee collective bargaining rights.”

Plain and simple.

And the article by Stephen Barr at the “Washington Post” notes that, “Congress and the White House have been closely watching the case. The Defense Department, with about 746,000 civil service employees, is revising its workplace rules, and the Office of Management and Budget has proposed legislation that would revamp federal pay and modify some union rules for one million more workers.”

In other words, the (r)epublicans wanted to do a little purging of leftists, such as they are here in the good ‘ol U.S. of A.

Washington D.C. is the most liberal community in America after, apparently, Detroit and Gary, Indiana.

This is a problem for the (r)epublicans sent from Redneckia to ply violence and insensitivity under the guise of individual freedom. That’s because these workers, all unionized, run the federal government and have well-tested ways of waylaying the best-laid plans of our worst-read citizens.

All of which may or may not flick your switch because in America, kiddies, “union” is some kind of dirty word.

Which brings us to the strike at British Airways; a classic example of the kind of culture clashes we can look forward to with the entrenchment of globalized capitalism.

What you had was a company from George Bush's Texas, Gate Gourmet, that, just like the (p)resident, doesn’t have much use for unions. Problem was they were doing business in England where you join the union just ‘cause both your parents did and swore by it. You join because you know you're not getting out of having to work, but at least you're keeping an eye on the bastards.

Texas-style, the catering company up and summarily fired 667 workers one day last week, because they take all this business of Bush running the world at face value.

But London ain’t Lubbock.

The workers - not their union, which called the walk-out unsanctioned - went ahead and did a sympathy strike to shut down the entire airline, and which must have been quite a shock to Gate Gourmet.

We never have those here, sympathy strikes, let alone the threat of a general strike in the case of extreme policies and unpopular wars, and that may be why those four big unions left the AFL-CIO.

If that’s the case, then they have the scribe’s blessing, because he believes in militant, democratic unionism as a check on the advance of creeping fascism and rampant militarism.

And so should you.

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