Archive for the ‘Labor’ Category

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“Who controls the past controls the future.”

March 7, 2017

Today, Dr. Ben Carson, the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, jaw-droppingly said this:

“There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great grandsons, great granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

The reaction has been swift, incredulous, and mocking. Slaves weren’t immigrants, WAR & CONFLICT BOOK ERA:  CIVIL WAR/BACKGROUND:  SLAVERY & ABOLITIONISMpursuing the American Dream. They weren’t working “harder for less,” they were considered to be PROPERTY, they were allowed none of the opportunity, none of the freedom, that this country prides itself on. Slavery was not pursuit of the American Dream. Slavery was our original sin, the great stain on our national conscience, an abomination. How could anyone, much less a black neurosurgeon, say something so ridiculously wrong?!?

But while I get people’s dismay, I just do not get the shock. This isn’t Ben Carson being an idiot. This is Ben Carson repeating a Republican talking point that’s been gaining momentum for years. A couple of years ago, Texas approved textbooks that referred to slaves as immigrants. Last year, when Michelle Obama dared mention that the White House was built by slaves, Bill O’Reilly rushed to claim that those slaves were well-fed and well-housed; contemporary accounts say that that was absolutely not the case, but regardless, it’s the same toxic suggestion that slavery wasn’t that bad. That it was alright, if slaves were well cared for. The argument that somehow the realities of slavery – being bought and sold at auction, ripped from your children, beaten, raped, denied the right to learn, denied basic bodily autonomy, denied your own name, being forced to labor and denied any compensation – could be made okay, as long as we believe the slaves were housed and fed adequately.

I used to think it was guilt that drove some people to sugarcoat the horror of slavery, guilt and an unhealthy dose of “American Exceptionalism” taken to an extreme (if America did it, it can’t be that bad). But now I feel differently.

None of this is accidental. There’s diversion, there’s obfuscation, and there’s a constant, relentless attack on reality, on science, on history, and on our capacity for outrage. As Stephen Colbert once joked, “Truth has a well-known liberal bias” – which is exactly why the GOP is trying to destroy our understanding of what is true. None of this can be laughed off, because it builds over time, until all of the parameters have changed while we were standing still.

16996196_1288946147879217_1699203292099169521_nCarson didn’t misspeak, any more than Trump misspoke when he said “You think we’re so innocent?” Carson is taking this argument and making it mainstream, to make us more accepting of the unacceptable. The hyperwealthy would love openly legalized slavery. Already, all of us own things that were made by prison labor in our booming for-profit detention centers, by undocumented people who are exploited for next to nothing, or by slave labor around the world. An economy that only serves the wealthiest depends on slavery. The Trump administration, and the GOP controlled Congress, are only interested in making the rich richer, and to that end, they are interested in warping our past, so that we aren’t outraged when it becomes our present, and our future. If they can convince us that slaves were living the American Dream, they might convince us that children in ICE custody harvesting tomatoes are lucky, because they’re housed and fed. Constant Vigilance, my friends. Never laugh so hard at the idiocy that you don’t see it’s part of their agenda, that they are trying to rewrite our reality.

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Post Labor Day Labor Post

September 4, 2012

We’re really good at forgetting our history in this country. Labor Day is hardly more than 100 years old, and yet the Republican party freely attacks unions and workplace regulations in its platform. It’s the line they’ve been pushing for years – unions drive up wages “artificially,” protect bad workers, and make America uncompetitive. Regulations are too burdensome, they hurt business, they aren’t “cost-effective” because they place higher value on workers’ health than on profit margins. Wall Street’s shell games destroyed our economy, but somehow unions and regulations are the real culprits.

We demand an end to the Project Labor Agreements; and we call for repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act, which costs the taxpayers billions of dollars annually in artificially high wages on government projects. We support the right of States to enact Right-to-Work laws and encourage them to do so to promote greater economic liberty. Ultimately, we support the enactment of a National Right-to-Work law to promote worker freedom and to promote greater economic liberty.

“Right-to-Work” sounds lovely – until you look at the history of the labor movement in this country. For a very long time (until 1937), our Supreme Court believed that workers have a “right to contract” for their labor, much like the current “right to work.” “Right to Work” means that you can be hired without joining the union or receiving the benefits of its contracts. “Right to contract”  made any laws or regulations or union activities that affected wages, hours, or working conditions illegal. The basic idea is the same – if you are willing to work for less pay, for longer hours, in more dangerous conditions, that’s between you and your boss, not the government, not the union. But both “right to work” and “right to contract” are based on a lie – the idea that a worker can hold out for the right wage, hours, and conditions. Anyone who’s ever been unemployed for more than three months knows exactly how a bad labor market affects your standards. So wages were always kept low, especially for unskilled workers ; there was always someone willing to work for less. That is exactly what the GOP platform is trying to take us back to: a labor market where workers have no protections, from law or from unions.

The only thing worse than unions is regulation. The GOP platform specifically calls for reining in “the EPA’s and OSHA’s overreaching regulation agenda.”

The bottom line on regulations is jobs. In listening to America, one constant we have heard is the job-crippling effect of even well-intentioned regulation. That makes it all the more important for federal agencies to be judicious about the impositions they create on businesses, especially small businesses. We call for a moratorium on the development of any new major and costly regulations until a Republican Administration reviews existing rules to ensure that they have a sound basis in science and will be cost-effective.

A reminder: these “job-crippling” regulations often are designed to protect people from being crippled on the job. They exist to ensure that those who work with hazardous materials are outfitted properly so that they don’t become ill. They exist to ensure that waste from manufacturing doesn’t poison our drinking water. They exist so that we never have another Triangle Shirtwaist fire in this country. Yes, all of these things cut into profit margins – which is exactly why we use the government to regulate them.

People died for the right to unionize. People died for want of workplace regulations. Grover Cleveland created Labor Day in an attempt to win back votes from the working class after federal troops had killed 13 workers and injured 57 in breaking up the Pullman Railroad strike. Siding with the workers during that strike, a Methodist minister from Montana, J. W. Jennings, railed against the government’s strikebreaking: the government, he said, should protect “the rights of the people against aggression and oppressive corporations;” but instead, our leaders were “the pliant tools of the codfish monied aristocracy who seek to dominate this country.” It’s still true, over a hundred years later. Corporations do not need relief from necessary regulations, and people in the working class do not need the “right” to work for less money. And a vote for the GOP is now, more than ever, a vote for “the pliant tools of the codfish monied aristocracy.”

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The Message of 2011

November 9, 2011

I started a post all about the Republican vilification of government and their elevation of free-market capitalism to fundamentalist, gospel truth (I know, I know – you can’t wait to read that, right? Riveting stuff!) – but then last night happened. Democratic VOTERS happened. And that can’t be pushed aside for another day.

In case you missed it, there were some pretty huge issues elections yesterday. In Maine, voters supported their long tradition of same-day registration, overturning a Republican-backed law that required voters to register at least two days before the election. In Mississippi, voters rejected an amendment which would have made a fertilized egg a “person” under the law. In Ohio, voters trounced the Republican-supported law gutting unions for state employees (including teachers, of course). And, most sweetly of all, the GOOD people of Arizona recalled the self-proclaimed “Tea Party President” and architect of AZ SB1070, Russell Pearce.

This is big. This is HUGE. The major news story out of the 2010 election was the triumph of the Tea Party. The Republicans were already the party of no-tax pledges and small government, but after 2010, they completely bought into the lunatic fringe. Many Democrats in Congress quaked in their boots, too, believing that the country was veering sharply right. But yesterday’s elections show that Democratic voters can be just as passionate as the far right when our principles are on the line. We will fight for democracy by tearing down barriers to voting. We will fight for reproductive rights because these issues are far too complicated and personal to be bound by cartoonishly over-simplified mandates. We will fight to ensure that the people who work FOR US are allowed to organize for fair wages and benefits. And we will fight to remove politicians who make careers out of dehumanizing our neighbors.

Is this a great Democratic victory? Only if Democratic elected officials decide to stand with their constituents again. These are not fringe positions; this election was all about REJECTING extreme opinions. Of course, the money may not be as good. The unholy alliance of corporate interests, racists, the 1%, and religious fundamentalists, has allowed the GOP to raise ridiculous money while espousing ridiculous positions. So, Democratic officials, the ball is in your court. The People don’t like the fringe. The people want their voices heard – through voting rights, reproductive rights, rights to organize in unions, rights to due process for all residents. Will you listen to actual Democrats, or chase the money?