We must stop the move to silence workers

Charles W. Jones, International President Emeritus

A nationwide campaign to take away our political voice threatens everything we have worked so hard to achieve

It opens doors. That's what Patrick Rooney, chairman of Golden Rule Insurance Company, told Mother Jones magazine when asked why he gave over $500,000 to the Republican National Committee in 1994. I'm sure Mr. Rooney knows exactly what he is talking about. He is also a major contributor (over $100,000) to Newt Gingrich's GOPAC, and other officers of Golden Rule have donated in excess of $600,000 to the Republican Party in the last five years.

Those donations opened the doors necessary to get the Republicans in Congress to propose Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) as a substitute for universal health care reform - or even for Medicare. Golden Rule stands to make a substantial windfall if MSAs ever become law.

Amway and its officers gave $4 million to the Republican party. Perhaps it should be no surprise that the 1997 tax bill gives them a $283 million tax break.

Rooney and Golden Rule are far from alone. Large corporations and the wealthy individuals who own them regularly donate enormous sums of money to political parties. And often those donations open some interesting doors.

Our friend in Congress, Rep. Bernie Sanders (Ind.-Vermont) tells us that in the 1996 election cycle, Amway Corporation and its officers gave a total of $4 million to the Republican Party. Perhaps it should be no surprise that this year's tax bill gives that company a tax break of $283 million.

Donations open doors, but workers rarely have large sums of money to donate. How can workers open doors to get our political issues before Congress?

One of the few ways is through union political action. By educating our members regarding the issues and the candidates, making sure they register to vote, and encouraging them to take action, we can mobilize our most powerful weapon - voters.

People like Rooney know that. They also know that without the political activity of unions, workers would be without a political voice.

That's why Rooney and others are behind efforts to rewrite election laws so that unions would have to get written permission from every member before we could take any political action. California's Proposition 226 and bills like it being introduced in other states are their way of taking workers out of the political equation. These bills could be the biggest threat to workers we have seen in decades. Nearly every advancement workers have made through the political process has come through the efforts of unions. Social Security. Minimum wage. Unemployment compensation. The forty-hour week. Medicare. OSHA. Davis Bacon. The Jones Act. Equal employment opportunity laws. Unions supported all of these and a whole lot more.

In some cases, we even wrote the original legislation and got our friends in Congress to introduce it. In ALL cases, corporate America tried to keep Congress from enacting these laws.

Local political action can help us bargain better contracts, end lockouts, and get local governments to use union labor and to buy American-made products with our tax money.

On the local level, union political activity has been equally successful - perhaps even more so. Local political action can help us bargain better contracts, convince employers to end lockouts, and get governments to use union labor on government construction projects and to buy American-made products with our tax money.

It is no secret why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and hundreds of multinational corporations want to silence unions. Without our voice, they will have no unified opposition to their anti-worker legislation.

Keep a close watch on your state. Educate your members and your family. Unless we actively oppose them in a unified way, these groups may be able to pass state laws taking unions out of the political process.

And then who will speak up for workers?