America's working families turned out in droves last November. Eight years of economic and fiscal policies designed to pauperize them and redistribute wealth upwards was more than enough, and even Obama's hint of "hope" was better than McCain's iron clad guarantee of four more years of the Bush economic miracle. Unions worked harder to turn out their people, and non-union working people, than they have in decades. And it showed, not just in Obama's 365-173 landslide victory over McCain, including in dependable GOP strongholds like Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Indiana and Colorado, but in a Democratic landslide in House and Senate races. Democrats won GOP-held Senate seats in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia, Oregon, Colorado, Minnesota, Alaska and New Mexico, while the closest any Republican came to winning a Democratic-held seat was in Louisiana, where ex-Democrat John Kennedy managed to garner 46%. Other than in New Jersey, no other Republican challenger busted 40%! The House was also a disaster for the party that had authored the misery of working families, as Republican incumbents fell in Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Connecticut, Michigan, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio and even Idaho. Unions were active-- financially and on the ground in every race.
Patriotism? Of course... but self-interested self defense as well. The Bush Regime and its allies in Congress have been chipping away at workers' rights as well as their livelihood. The Labor Movement itself was under threat from the Republicans. Workers and the congressional representatives who care about their well being came up with several pieces of legislation to shore up the labor movement, the strongest of which is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which passed in the House last year and was supported by every single Democrat in the Senate, even knee jerk reactionaries like Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, and Max Baucus. The Republicans managed to filibuster it to death and labor helped replace 8 of the Republican union-haters who worked on that filibuster-- Ted Stevens (AK), Pete Domenici (NM), Norm Coleman (MN), Gordon Smith (OR), Wayne Allard (CO), John Warner (VA), John Sununu (NH), and Elizabeth Dole (NC)-- with EFCA supporters.
Big Business interests-- the greed and selfishness wing of the Republican coalition-- has been panic-stricken since then, putting all their energy and resources into stopping the Employee Free Choice Act. The Republicans will sell out the anti-abortion faction, the xenophobes, the racists, the religious fanatics... any part of their coalition except Big Business. In the end, for any right wing party, it's all about the Benjamins. Always. The rest is just a means to that end. And making it easier for unions to organize is the last thing on God's earth Big Business, and especially WalMart, is going to accept-- and they don't care if 78% of Americans favor it or not. Their propaganda machine is hard at work trying to persuade Americans that they represent the best interests of workers, not workers themselves. No one's buying that line, at least not north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Today's CongressDaily emphasized that unions "don't intend to allow passage of other employment legislation-- like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extends the statute of limitations on pay discrimination claims and passed the House last week-- to free Democrats of their obligation." Good Democrats don't want to be "free of their obligation;" they want to do what's right for the working families of the country. And then there are the Blue Dogs and other proto-Republicans in the Democratic caucus.
"Many candidates across this country ran on [EFCA], and we expect them to vote for it," said Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union and chairwoman of the union political federation Change to Win. SEIU and Change to Win spent more than $80 million on the election, and Burger has said she expects the Obama administration to make card check law within the first 100 days.
But the bill, which eliminates a company's ability to demand a secret ballot election to form a union, would spark a "firestorm" in the business community, said Randel Johnson, vice president of labor policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "They need bipartisanship for the economic stimulus and a debate over EFCA right now would make that almost impossible," he said.
Democratic leaders said they were not putting off card check to avoid a fight. "Passage of the economic stimulus is our top priority. We will work with Republicans, labor, and all other stakeholders to that end," said Stephen Krupin, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Reid. "Sen. Reid remains a strong supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act."
Still, Congress has not set a timetable for considering card check-- Krupin said it would come up "in due time"-- and labor leaders will expect action once work on the stimulus has finished. "I expect it to be done in an expeditious way," Burger said.
The AFL-CIO's [Bill] Samuel said he anticipates Congress will take it up by spring. "We haven't said you've got to do [EFCA] in the stimulus, in the first weeks of the new Congress. This jobs bill, this stimulus package is really important to us, too," he said.
But the bill's opponents are lining up top Republican firepower, and the rhetoric coming from them has been fiery. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called the legislation "dangerous" and "terrible" at confirmation hearings last week for Obama's Labor Secretary-designate, Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., crusaded against it during the last Congress even after a Republican filibuster killed the bill.
The Chamber helped form a group called the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which ran TV ads opposing the card-check bill during the election and plans to step up pressure going forward. Groups with names like the "Workforce Fairness Institute," the "Coalition for a Democratic Workplace" and the "Center for Union Facts" are taking out ads in Capitol Hill newspapers and deploying top PR talent.
"It's quite clear that this is a political minefield for the Obama administration and the last thing they want right out of the gate is a firefight with business. I think it's smart of them to not bring it up early," said Mark McKinnon, a spokesman for the Workforce Fairness Institute.
McKinnon was a top adviser for President Bush and worked for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during his primary fight for the Republican presidential nomination. Republican strategist Barbara Comstock, who worked for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney during the primary season, is working for the same group. The Center for Union Facts is backed by top Republican lobbyist Rick Berman.
It is difficult to determine who is funding such groups if operatives aren't registered to lobby Congress on the bill. Companies most likely to be affected by the law are service-oriented workplaces that aren't unionized-- large firms like Wal-Mart and Home Depot, for example, as well as hospitals and other healthcare workers. Automakers, which are heavily unionized, have less to lose.
Today we heard from two winning Blue America-backed candidates, Eric Massa (D-NY) and Alan Grayson (D-FL), who were also supported by working families and unions against Republican incumbents Randy Kuhl and Ric Keller. Both are strong supporters of working families and their aspirations. Congressman Grayson told me that he can't understand the Right's preoccupation with a "secret" ballot. "My ballots are never secret, and I'm OK with that. If ballots in Congress were secret, then every K Street lobbyist would be unemployed... Corporate bosses intimidate would-be union members every day of the week, right out in the open. And they want us to believe that open voting is going to mean intimidation by unions? Come on, get real. Let's say that 80% of employees sign union cards. Can someone please explain to me why they shouldn't be union members?"
Congressman Massa sent out a newsletter to his upstate New York constituents, after a speech he gave at a UAW convention in Syracuse, where he announced that he had signed on as a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act. "This critical legislation is not anti-business, it is pro-American, period," said Congressman Massa. "The American Labor movement represents, and in fact is, the only remaining force left to help move our country in a new direction toward fair trade and away from destructive open door free trade. I stand, proudly, with my fellow Americans to support the transformation of the domestic automobile industry into the 21st century and I reject the outrageously false attacks that claim living wages, pension security, access to quality affordable health care, safety and dignity in the workplace, are somehow un-American."
Massa went on to explain that the 21st century American labor movement is about a partnership between American business at all levels and American workers. He stated clearly that we need to stop fighting each other and start fighting for each other. "The competitors who will destroy us economically are not our fellow Americans," stated Congressman Massa. "Rather they are foreign interests who fund the elections of some partisan politicians and then reap the benefits of lowering the quality of life here in the United States."
"I will never surrender my constitutional mandate to stand with those fellow Americans who have no voice and I believe that Toyota, Honda, BMW, and the other foreign corporations who are taking our capital overseas, both human and financial, have a loud enough and well funded enough voice."
"The Employee Free Choice Act is the most important labor bill in 70 years and I think we've waited long enough," said Congressman Massa. "We need to raise the bar for all American workers, and the Employee Free Choice Act will help us do just that. A few days ago it was announced that we now have an unemployment rate of 7.2%. The fact of the matter is that our failed free trade agreements are the root of the problem, and we must address this. As we watch the domestic auto industry struggle due to unfair foreign competition, it's obvious that the problem isn't worker's wages, it's our failed free trade agreements."
Addressing the UAW audience, Rep. Massa asked, "How many of you make $74 per hour right now?" The audience's answer was silence. "Opponents of organized labor like Senator Corker and Senator Shelby want to make up false 'facts' and 'statistics' like this to try and break the union, but we won't let that happen. These same critics also say that the Employee Free Choice Act will abrogate the ability of workers to have a secret ballot, but we know this is false. I believe it is now time to level the playing field, overcome employer intimidation, and work with business hand in hand to defend what generations of Americans have put in place-- the American Dream."
If we had more Representatives like Alan Grayson and Eric Massa, we wouldn't be dicking around with Big Business' Chamber of Commerce and Republican Party shills now. The Employee Free Choice Act would be law and no one would be trying to coax reactionary "Democrats" like Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln to keep their word. It's more than symbolic that the next member elected to Congress is likely to be one of the strongest advocates for working families in the country, labor attorney Tom Geoghegan, who is running for the Chicago seat that has been abandoned by Rahm Emanuel. When Tom announced his candidacy last week he wrote here at HuffPo that he "will have a single minded focus on the economic security to working Americans, that's why I so strongly support the Employee Free Choice Act and other changes in our labor laws. And that's why I support policies that will reduce the debt of working Americans. Overall, the plan I am setting out here will help make our country more competitive." What we need in Congress are principled and thoughtful leaders, not slimy hacks who make self-serving deals and go along to get along. The Democratic Party-- and indeed, the United States of America-- needs more Tom Geoghegans and less Mark Pryors and Blanche Lincolns.
Please consider a donation to Tom's grassroots campaign at our Blue America page. Even $5 and $10 contributions add up and have helped us elect stalwart defenders of working families, from Donna Edwards (D-MD), John Hall (D-NY), Tom Perriello (D-VA), Bruce Braley (D-IA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Larry Kissell (D-NC), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jim Himes (D-CT), Mark Schauer (D-MI), and Gary Peters (D-MI) to the aforementioned Alan Grayson and Eric Massa, as well as the new Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.
One of the reasons Tom Geoghegan is so beloved of Illinois working people is for the books he has written to help further their cause, particularly his classic, Which Side Are You On?. Here's a version of the song of the same name, originally written by Florence Reece in 1931, performed here by Natalie Merchant:
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