THE BLOG
07/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

May you live in interesting times goes the old blessing. Well for all of us the times could hardly be more interesting. As Charles Dickens wrote in a Tale of Two Cities -- "It was the best of times and the worst of times."

The nation's economy is almost in free fall. We now measure economic progress not by whether unemployment is going down or up -- because it is always going down but whether we lost more or fewer jobs than we lost the month before. The government has had to take over the once iconic symbol of American capitalism, General Motors, and bail out the onetime pillars of American capitalism, our largest banks and financial institutions.

It is now beyond debate that 30 years of continuous deregulation across the economy, unmitigated greed, the devaluation of work and disdain toward workers, assaults on our unions and the middle class, and turning Wall St. into the world's largest casino has plunged our country and our people into the worst inequality and the greatest economic crisis since 1929 and the Great Depression.

But as Dickens said, it is also the best of times. Finally, led by a brilliant, principled and disciplined President Obama, our government and our country are facing up to long term problems and immediate crises. We are debating and struggling to fix our health care crisis that haunts almost 100 million of our people -- 50 million of us with no health care, another 40 million with inadequate or unreliable health care. We are re-regulating financial services, stimulating the economy wisely with $150 billion of long needed, jobs producing infrastructure investment, billions more to rebuild our electricity grid and invest in renewable energy and trying to make higher education affordable again.

Most of all and most importantly, we are engaged in a great struggle between Corporate America and their radical right-wing Republican allies on one side and America's workers, unions and people of good will on the other side to restore one of the most fundamental freedoms in any democracy -- the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively.

The 30 year assault on workers and unions effectively destroyed this freedom so that now upwards of 30,000 workers every year are illegally retaliated against for exercising legally protected union activity, 1 in 5 union activists trying to form unions are fired, and according to Cornell scholar, Dr. Kate Bronfenbrenner, management intimidation against workers trying to organized has reached an all time high.

This assault and destruction of freedom has had devastating consequences:

  • 20% more Americans in poverty since George Bush was elected president.
  • 90-100 million Americans suffering from lack of healthcare.
  • 30 years of stagnant and declining wages while workers productivity climbed by 75%.
  • Lower take home pay than in 1973.
  • Yawning inequality. The average CEO in 1980 made 40 times as much as the average worker. Today the average CEO makes 400 times as much as the average worker.
  • And the biggest problem in our economic crisis is the lack of consumer demand or buying power. Americans no longer make enough money to drive the great American economic engine. And our great middle class is being squeezed and squeezed and squeezed.
  • Now more Americans say they expect their kids and grandkids to do worse than today's generation instead of better.

This last fact makes me ashamed -- ashamed of myself and my generation, ashamed of what we squandered, ashamed of our lack of stewardship, ashamed of those we allowed to lead us -- ashamed that in spite of 4000 years of human history and wisdom, 4000 years of Judeo-Christian teachings and traditions we allowed a bankrupt business-government ethos that greed is good and you're on your own to dominate our culture.

But it is the best of times because we can change all that right now. We can pass the Employee Free Choice Act now, this summer.

We can change it all right here in Arkansas. We have one senator, Mark Pryor, who is working hard to build the 60 votes to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. We have another, Blanche Lincoln, who was once a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act but now Walmart and Tysons Chickens have convinced her that maybe she aint for the Employee Free Choice Act anymore.

I don't have to tell this crowd that the Employee Free Choice Act does three very simple, straightforward, common sensical things:

  • Real penalties on employers who violate the law and workers rights.20,000 civil fines and triple damage back pay for firings.
  • Guarantee first contracts by allowing for arbitration if the corporation refuses to bargain in good faith.
  • Allows workers to form or join a union just like young workers volunteer to go to Afghanistan -- simply by signing up and when 51% sign up the union is established.

It is past time for Sen. Lincoln to be a real Democrat and commit to support fundamental labor law reform.

So on Saturday July 11 led by President Ed Hill and Leo Gerard of the Steelworkers and Rich Trumka we're gonna help Sen. Lincoln find her backbone, her conscience, and her Democratic Party.

We're gonna caravan from all over Arkansas to Central High in Little Rock, meet together and march. Presidents Hill and Gerard and Trumka, faith leaders, elected officials, African-American leaders, and every constituency of the Democratic Party will call on her to vote for and support the Employee Free Choice Act. Will you be there? If Ed Hill and Rich Trumka can come from Washington, DC, can you be there?

And to finish it all off, after the rally, we will have an old-fashioned Arkansas catfish fry free -- so bring your families but do not miss this.

Sen. Lincoln is feeling the heat. She's feeling our pressure. And she doesn't like it and is complaining to every body who will listen. It is uncomfortable. But in every campaign like this, we have to go through this kind of pressure and heat to get to yes. And we have to get to yes.