LaborTalk for January 8, 2011

Republicans Use States’ Budget Crisis
With Plans to Cripple Labor Activities

By Harry Kelber

Denouncing public employee unions as their primary scapegoats for their states’ huge budget deficits, Republican governors and their legislatures, as well as major Democratic governors, plan to hog-tie unions in the performance of their three basic functions: (political and legislative activity, union organizing and the conduct of strikes).

Here are three of the attacks that the governors and state legislatures will be considering:

(1) A law that would make it virtually impossible for unions to engage in political campaigns, including legislation and elections, It would bar unions in the private sector from forcing workers they represent to pay dues or fees for political campaigns without their written signature—each year.

How could unions conduct legislative and election campaigns, while having to get written permission from each member, and returning part of the dues money to the member if he or she disagrees with the union action? Think of the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would cost just to check the entire membership—after each action!

(2) An extension of the ”right-to-work” laws, now in effect in 22 southern and western states, that forbid unions and employers from forcing workers to join unions or pay dues or fees to unions that represent them.

Obviously, unions would be unwilling to initiate organizing campaigns in which recruited members would not pay union dues for any benefits they received. Republican governors believe that a “union-free environment could increase investment in their states.

(3) Legislation to eliminate mass labor protests or strikes are also part of the Republican series of anti-union proposals. Actually, unions use the strike weapon sparingly, only when workers feel that their deeply-felt grievances are not being fairly considered.

Unions are the principal defenders of working people. Without the right to strike, workers would have difficulty in attaining fair wages and decent working conditions, especially under unscrupulous employers.

How Is the AFL-CIO Reacting to These Threats?

The AFL-CIO has warned labor officials of its affiliated unions that, with enormous budget deficits in states around the country, “we will also face more serious attacks on working families and their unions in the former blue and purple states,” now controlled by Republicans.

Six states, formerly pro-union, now have a Republican governor and the two houses of the state legislature. They are Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Emplyees (AFSCME), said: “I see this [the planned attacks] as ‘payback’ for the role we played in the 2010 elections.” His union spent $90 million to help mostly Democratic candidates.

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Besides showing concern, officers and staff at AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington did not appear to be making an effort to mobilize millions of union members to meet the potential dangers to the labor movement.

There has been almost no comment on the AFL-CIO web site about Republican intentions, since they won control of the House of Representatives. Nor are any of the top labor leaders offering any suggestions about what to do in the new era of Republican power.

This is the worst time for the AFL-CIO leadership to be passive and silent. Are we going to surrender to the Republicans by default?—Harry Kelber

LaborTalk will be posted here on January 8, 2010 and on our two web sites and on