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Jonathan Tasini Headshot

The State of Labor -- Now Take to the Streets

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There isn't any other way of putting it: Last night was a disaster for the labor movement and for its members and all working people. When the working class "hero" John Boehner choked up in recounting his humble roots, I said aloud, "will you remember that when you unleash Big Business to press its boot on the necks of workers?" Because that is the reality we face -- and it means we will have to take to the streets.

Here is the summary, as I see it.

The Employee Free Choice Act is dead--perhaps for a generation. It isn't simply the Republican takeover in the House, where EFCA routinely passed in a Democratic-controlled House (partly because a lot of Democrats knew it would never pass the Senate and felt they had a free vote so they could cash labor's political contribution checks) only to be halted by the threat of a Senate filibuster. Even if, miraculously, the House flips back to the Democrats in a period shorter than a decade, the smaller number of Democratic seats in the Senate -- including, at least for now, a few Democrats who are not ardent EFCA supporters -- means that there is no chance to get within the vote or two of 60 where the extra mile might be accomplished by persuading one or two Senators to vote to let debate begin. And, though the political environment can change dramatically -- as we know -- the likelihood that the Democrats will lose the Senate in 2012 cannot be dismissed.

At the state level, the sweep by Republicans of many key state houses is not just a redistricting problem. It means that there will be fewer state executives who are in power willing to use their executive order authority to grant union organizing rights or protect state labor laws, and certainly not expand them. We also have not heard much about how the state elections will hurt efforts to raise state minimum wages -- the "deficit-cutting, we must help business" mania will blunt new campaigns.

And we're likely to see Democratic governors be less likely to risk their political capital to assist labor -- meaning, assist working people -- given the penchant of many Democrats to be more likely to respond to cries from business to cut taxes and crucial spending, rather than ask the richest in the states to pay higher taxes. The 2-1 defeat of the Washington state initiative, which would have imposed a 5 percent income tax on individuals earning more than $200,000 annually or households earning more than $400,000 annually, will only make Democrats less courageous in taking on the richest people in society (as an aside, I acquired a new-found respect for Bill Gates Sr. who was out boldly out front pushing the initiative, calling on his class to be taxed).

Indeed, in New York, the newly-elected governor -- a Democrat -- took a particular pleasure in making it clear that he would go after unions and workers' pensions. He made it clear that he would not demand that the richest in society pay a tiny bit more to easily close the state's budget hole. This will be an ugly fight. I applaud those unions that declined to endorse him -- and shame on the Working Families Party for being willing to bend to his threats and give him the party line. I, for one, did not cast a vote for a candidate who will go after the livelihood and pensions of hard-working people (no, I did not vote for the true lunatic in the race). Never.

Not to be too glum: Please stand up and give an ovation for labor because without labor it would have been uglier -- if that is possible. I won't go through each race but here is one I can say without hesitation: Harry Reid is keeping his seat because of the Culinary Workers, SEIU, AFSCME and all the other unions who put boots on the ground to turn out the vote. Period.

So, here is where we are: we have no choice but to put a lot more effort, time and strategic thinking into non-legislative work.

That means, in my opinion, flooding the streets -- with the unemployed, the people whose pensions were ripped off by Wall Street, the people who will now see their pensions cut or changed, the millions of retired people, the people nearing retirement who are hearing the bipartisan drumbeat to raise the Social Security retirement age.

Every week. Every day.

As I said yesterday before the votes came in, people across the political specturm are right to be angry: they've been ripped off. Not by our "socialist" president and "government" but by the relentless belief in the so-called "free market" which has been a clever cover for the plundering of our nation's wealth by a handful of people. And, rather than change that course, we are now empowering the acceleration of that rip-off.

We cannot allow that to happen anymore.

To the streets.