Without Unions, Workers Can Never Enjoy Domestic Security

Charles W. Jones
International President Emeritus

Bush's success in denying worker rights to federal employees should not be ignored

The end of the year is traditionally a time when we reflect on the past and plan for the future. It is no accident that the month of January was named for the Roman god Janus, whose head had one face in front and another one behind.

As our families gather together to celebrate the winter holidays, we see once again the people who mean the most to us, the people we have spent our entire lives with, and we are reminded of the past. But the holidays are also a time for children, who make us wonder what the future will bring and resolve to make the world a better place. We realize that our children and grandchildren will live in the world we create.

This year, the future is uncertain, as the U.S. tilts toward war with Iraq, our economy continues to sputter, and the Republican Party prepares to take full control of our federal government.

This year, our New Year's resolutions have great urgency, because our most basic freedoms are being challenged — and not just by terrorists.

The November elections changed the political landscape more than most Americans realize. For the first time since 1955, we have a Republican in the White House and Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate. And the top GOP leader — President Bush — is not a moderate Republican like our Republican friends in Congress, but a radical conservative bent on destroying unions.

In his first 100 days in office, he took 28 actions to weaken worker protections. Since then, he has issued anti-union executive orders every month and named dozens of former corporate lobbyists to positions in which they oversee unions or worker rights. For example, the former attorney for the Chamber of Commerce now heads the National Labor Relations Board, which rules on complaints from workers of unfair labor practices by corporations.

In the 1990s, President Clinton was able to veto the more radical bills passed by the Republican Congress, and these past two years, the Senate has stopped some of President Bush's proposals. But with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, Bush will have a free hand to do as he pleases.

Already, Congress has passed major changes to federal bankruptcy laws that make it more difficult for individuals to be relieved of their debt, even when that debt is caused by a catastrophic illness. This bill was proposed by lobbyists for the financial services industry. In the 1980s, U.S. taxpayers spent $100 billion bailing out a big player in that industry — savings and loans (including one managed by President Bush's brother Neal). They don't intend to return the favor.

They also passed a bill creating a new Department of Homeland Security, which brings 170,000 federal employees from 22 agencies under one roof, but doesn't allow them to bring their unions with them. During this year's campaigns, Republicans questioned the patriotism of Democrats who had wanted to allow these federal workers to stay in the unions they already belong to, claiming the Democrats were caving in to "special interests."

When the elections were over, the Republicans passed a homeland security bill that is so loaded down with giveaways to corporate "special interests" that it has grown from the 35 pages Bush sent over to 484 pages of early Christmas presents for corporate campaign donors and good, old-fashioned pork that has nothing to do with protecting the American people.

Republican leaders Tom Delay and Dick Armey added a "security research institute" to be built right near where they live in Texas — a little slab of pork for the neighbors back home.

Another GOP amendment allows the federal government to do business with companies that use offshore banks to avoid paying U.S. taxes. Earlier this year, Congress outlawed this practice as part of a "corporate reform" agenda. Their ban on doing business with corporate tax cheats lasted just long enough to let them crow about it during the fall campaigns, but not long enough to actually end the practice.

But the GOP pay-back to the pharmaceutical industry is the most disgusting one. It wipes out lawsuits against drug companies that make a mercury-based vaccine preservative, which has been linked to autism in children. Companies creating new anti-bio-terror drugs need protection from frivolous lawsuits, but letting Eli Lilly duck responsibility for this longstanding problem does nothing to deter terrorism.

Of course, terrorism wasn't the point. The point was that drug companies donated heavily to Republican candidates. Lilly alone donated $1.6 million.

And terrorism is not the point when Bush invokes "domestic security" to justify union-busting, either.

Union workers support the war on terrorism, but we have good reason to fear a president who tries to blur the line between patriotism and support for his political positions — especially when those positions threaten many aspects of our own domestic security.

How secure can our nation's workers feel when the health-care needs of our families are ignored, while drug, health care, and insurance companies with double-digit profits get subsidies?

How secure can our nation feel when our national leaders support trade agreements that encourage companies to ship our jobs overseas?

How secure can we feel when corporate executives can loot our pensions, declare bankruptcy, and retire to million-dollar homes in Florida and Texas?

How secure can our nation's workers feel when the president and Congress can circumvent validly elected union representation simply by reshuffling a few agencies and giving the department a new name?

What other protections for workers will the president and the 108th Congress eliminate?