GOP Election Victory Opens Door for Intensified Anti-Worker Offensive
This fall the AFL-CIO kicked its election strategy into full gear. Promising “No More Business As Usual” for candidates who refused to embrace labor’s issues, the federation committed massive amounts of cash and manpower to mostly Democratic Party candidates.
That support failed to push the Democrats to victory on Election Day. Reports from Washington indicate that GOP leaders are planning new attacks on unions and a revival of old anti-labor legislative assaults either delayed or partially implemented in the past decade.
A DASHED STRATEGY
Unions came out in force for the Democrats. The AFL-CIO released 750 of its staff and staff from affiliated unions, and recruited 4,000 field coordinators. Affiliate unions printed 17 million leaflets, made 5 million phone calls, and sent 15 million pieces of mail. Pollsters hired by the AFL-CIO estimate that 225,000 union members volunteered on Election Day to get voters to the polls.
Money spent by employers’ groups far surpassed the amount spent by unions. As of September 9, labor had given $62 million to campaigns, almost entirely to Democrats. Eight percent of union contributions went to Republicans; the Teamsters and Carpenters increased the percentage of their contributions that went to the GOP. Business gave $708 million to campaigns, 57% of that to Republicans.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney limited his complaints about the Democrats’ performance to their muddled message and proposals on the worsening economy. “The Democrats needed to be crystal clear about what they stand for, and to present an alternative vision to the country,” Sweeney said. “They weren’t able to do that.”
Harry Kelber noted in Labor Educator that AFL-CIO campaign kits lacked any mention of increasing health care costs and high unemployment-issues likely to resonate with voters. Others had sharper criticisms of a political strategy that relies on the Democrats. One AFL-CIO official told Labor Notes, “You can see how strong the African-American leaders are coming down on the Democrats for abandoning their base. Labor could say much the same thing. Labor buys the argument that we have to make sure not to scare the middle, rather than believing that our message of economic justice/corporate greed is true and has resonance.”
Bruce Klipple, United Electrical Workers (UE) secretary-treasurer, stated, “The election results prove that the Democrats are incapable of confronting and challenging the growth of corporate power.”
THE ANTI-WORKER AGENDA
The Republicans, emboldened by weak resistance from the Democrats, are not waiting until January to press ahead with anti-labor measures. Only days after the elections they muscled the Homeland Security Bill through the House and Senate with a compromise bill. The law allows President Bush to strip the estimated 170,000 workers in the new department of their Civil Service protections on hiring and firing, and exempt them from collective bargaining agreements, if federal mediation fails.
The Bush administration also announced plans to privatize the jobs of nearly half the entire federal civilian workforce, almost 850,000 employees. The American Federation of Government Employees says privatization of the jobs, including service or maintenance positions which the administration describes as not “inherently governmental,” threatens to raise government operating costs.
Government officials called the plan an attempt to create “a market-based government unafraid of competition, innovation and choice.”
AFGE President Bobby Harnage, Sr. said the homeland security legislation would help the administration to “transform the civil service into a politicized workforce of hacks and cronies.”
It is unclear what strategies AFGE may use to fight the privatization and the stripping of collective bargaining rights, other than a legal strategy aimed at blocking the administration’s moves in court.
Speaking at a November 7 economic conference, White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey suggested using the current political moment to expand the Taft-Hartley Act and the Railway Labor Act in order to strengthen the President’s position in labor disputes. Lindsey specifically mentioned that this kind of expansion of presidential power could be used to extract concessions from airline unions in the coming months.
Part of this thrust may well be an effort to place the dockworkers under the Railway Labor Act. The Railway Labor Act allows greater latitude for the imposition of injunctions to head off strikes and lockouts. Bush may also be able to break the dockers’ coast-wide bargaining agreement down to the port level, severely weakening the union’s leverage in future disputes.
Corporate lobbies are also exploring legislation to roll back parts of the Fair Labor Standards Act on overtime and paid time off. Since the mid-1990s attempts have been made to pass legislation that would give companies more leeway in substituting comp-time and flex-time in lieu of paying time-and-a-half for hours worked over 40 per week.