Love was definitely in the air when Vice President Dick Cheney delivered his Valentine's Day speech Wednesday to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Only in the sappiest romantic comedies could one find more exchanges of praise and affection than those between Cheney (who appropriately donned a pink tie) and the corporate cronies of the Bush administration.
At the love fest, (aka the "let's screw workers" hour), Cheney told corporate America that President Bush will do its bidding by vetoing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) now moving through Congress. He also urged their buddies to support extending fast-track trade negotiating authority.
Failure to enact EFCA and an extension of fast-track authority would be devastating to workers. Working families already face the mounting burdens of affording health care, stagnant wages, and destruction of good jobs. Now, wealthy corporations want to fatten their bottom lines further at the expense of workers.
The Bush administration has held nothing back in its attempts to weaken labor unions and the middle class. This includes taking away overtime pay and collective bargaining rights for millions of private sector workers. Federal workers' bargaining rights have also been under attack.
The tone and content of Cheney's speech does not come as surprise. However, it does indicate to workers that they are engaged in a tough struggle to preserve their rights, keep their jobs and provide a decent standard of living for their families. While Bush, Cheney, and corporate CEOs love each other, they despise those who have to work for a living.
EFCA represents the first attempt to improve labor law since the 1970s. The current system is broken. For decades, workers expressing their desire to form a union have usually faced intimidation and retaliation from employers. A 2005 report from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that:
- 30 percent of employers fire pro-union workers;
- 49 percent of employers threaten to close a worksite when workers try to unionize;
- 82 percent of employers hire union-busting consultants to fight organizing drives; and
- 91 percent of employers force employees to attend anti-union meetings one-on-one with supervisors.
EFCA, which is headed to the House floor for a vote, would put democracy back in the workplace. It would enable workers to build a union if they desire one. EFCA would ensure that employers respect workers and bargain fairly. The act provides workers the freedom to unite at work to bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.
The nation has a chance to improve the lives of working families by enacting EFCA. The act has garnered strong bipartisan support in Congress. But, this fact matters not to the anti-worker Bush administration and its corporate soul mate. Greed is too big of a driving force.
When reflecting on the long and proud legacy of the American labor movement, it is easy to come to the conclusion that unions have created a better standard of living for workers. Because of unions, workers have weekends, paid sick leave, paid vacations, overtime pay, workplace safety, and a standard 8-hour workday.
Workers are under attack on another front, with Bush seeking renewal of fast-track trade authority. The current authority is scheduled to expire on July 1, unless extended by Congress. Bush has given fast-track a new name by calling it Trade Promotion Authority. But, it consists of the same flaws that result in a bad deal for workers and consumers.
Fast-track thwarts our democratic process by permitting the president to negotiate trade agreements and submit them to Congress for a yes or no vote, without any debate, discussion or changes.
From NAFTA on, free trade agreements have left a trail of damage and destruction. In his speech to NAM, Cheney tried desperately to sell us on why free trade agreements are a good thing for this country. Corporations have spent millions trying to convince Congress and the public that free trade gives goods made by Americans access to foreign markets. They also say that the standard of living for workers in developing countries would increase at the same time.
Based on what is happening in the lives of everyday people, I don't buy into their self-serving rhetoric. Consider:
- Over 1 million jobs have been lost due to NAFTA;
- More than 3 million manufacturing jobs lost since 2000; and
- The 2006 Trade Deficit reached a record $763.6 billion.
Cheney mentioned increased direct assistance for retraining, relocation, and tuition aid for those hurt the most by free trade. However, the Trade Adjustment Assistance program defines an eligible worker so narrowly that it doesn't even reach many that it is was intended to help.
It has been proven time and again that only two groups benefit from free trade agreements: Wealthy individuals and multinational corporations. Both profited off of exploiting workers, ducking environmental regulations, forsaking safety and undermining labor laws.
All trade agreements need to contain enforceable measures that protect labor rights, set environmental standards, and ensure fairness. However, for this to happen, Congress must assert itself in the process. Based on the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the authority to regulate international commerce.
The Bush administration is working in conjunction with big business to silence the voice of workers. In response, I encourage you to contact your lawmakers and tell them to support the Employee Free Choice Act and stand up for fair trade by voting against extending fast-track authority for the president. Together we can create a country that works for everyone.