Thursday, December 2, 2010

A message from a "friend" of the working man and woman

There is a political advertisement floating about the web, mainly on major newspaper sites like the Los Angeles Times. It displays a picture of a grim-faced Barack Obama (well, mean-faced anyways) that warns the reader about some nefarious design that he and the Democrats have planned before your Republican saviors arrive to save the day next January. What is this evil scheme? Click on the link and you will find out:

"Dear Concerned American,

With new pro-Right to Work Congressmen and Senators forced to wait until January to be sworn in, Big Labor's allies are set to ram every item on the union bosses forced dues wish list into law within the next few weeks.

You and I cannot let this happen!

If this bill passes, it will force public safety workers, such as your policemen and firefighters, under union boss control and would eventually spread to all public sector jobs.

Constituent's Petition to:

My U.S. Senators

I am writing to encourage you to oppose the draconian policies being pushed by Big Labor. These union bosses are seeking to subject workers to intimidation and strip them of their rights, all in an effort to increase their own power and influence.

It is vital that you oppose all legislation that strips workers of their rights, or expands the oppressive power of Big Labor.

Whereas: Police and firefighters are to "Serve and Protect" the citizens of their community and, therefore, should NOT be controlled by Big Labor; and

Whereas: Union boss control of police and firefighters will tend to drive out the best men and women who refuse to knuckle under to union militants' demands for illegal strikes, featherbedding, and forced dues; and

Whereas: The Police and Firefighter Monopoly Bargaining Bill could force our nation's police and firefighters under union boss control, and is just the first step toward forcing all state and local public employees under Big Labor's thumb; and

Whereas: Passage of this bill would override existing state and local laws and lead to skyrocketing budgets and higher taxes;

Therefore: In the interests of freedom and our country's economy, I urge you to cast your vote against the Police and Firefighter Monopoly Bargaining Bill -- or any other bill designed to expand Big Labor's power over American workers during the "lame duck" session of Congress.”

Um, OK. Now who is “I,” you might ask? Why, that tireless friend of the working man and woman, Steve Forbes. You know, the publisher of that magazine that advises impoverished billionaires how to avoid paying taxes and how not to appear too conspicuous in flaunting their wealth? Forbes’ target here is rather curious, to say the least—or maybe not so: along with the Teamsters, police and firefighter unions are among the most powerful unions in the country. Other unions do not have anywhere near the ability to intimidate their employers into submission, and naturally the existence of a few powerful unions like that sets a “bad” example for the others. As I‘ve suggested numerous times on my blog, police unions are powerful because cops need them to be. Police unions are useful in blackmailing local governments whenever the call for accountability arises after episodes of abuse of lethal force, as well as shielding police from criminal prosecution and providing them with semi-believable scenarios to explain suspiciously criminal acts in the absence of video evidence.

Now, perhaps if Forbes’ “point” was that police (and firefighter) union power needs to be curbed in order to allow greater accountability to the public they serve, I would agree with him. But that is not his point at all. Forbes opposes the notion of unions even as a concept; unions have hardly a fraction of the power of corporate money, and what Forbes and his ilk really oppose is any effort to make it easier and less subject to business management intimidation for workers to unionize. Forbes the businessman, right-wing ideologue and collector of unneeded wealth despises unions because their very existence implies that workers actually have a right to a decent livelihood that he and his corporates cohorts cannot ignore at will. There may be a few police officers who don’t want to pay union dues, but the emphasis is on the word “few”; no police officer wants to be left out in the cold after he commits an outrageous violation of civil rights (such as “life”) just because he didn’t want to pay union dues; it is well worth the price for him (or her) to do so.

Forbes trumpets the “right to work” mantra that is one of the euphemisms employers and right-wing politicians like to con the public with. Sounds swell, doesn’t it? Again I might have agreed with Forbes, if we were talking about the same thing. The positive aspect of “right to work” is that discrimination doesn’t as often play a role in hiring practices. At the airport, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon or astrophysicist to tell the difference between a union and a “right to work” crew; let’s just say that a non-union outfit is more “diverse," nor do they behave like morons engaging their juvenile revenge fantasies (UAL), or taunting people who are just trying to get by in the world as best they are permitted. The pay and benefits are not, um, good (or at least not as good as union), and sometimes you are treated like a child (the latest pronouncement is that we are not allowed to wear a wet weather hood while driving an exposed tug in a heavy downpour because our vision might be impaired). “Easy to hire, easy to fire” maybe a double-edged sword, but at least you are given an opportunity; when I worked at a sports apparel warehouse, I was given the opportunity to be the shipping clerk (I have a college degree, you see), and worked three years in that position until I left the company, when I probably would have been deemed not competent enough for the job in another environment.

But when Forbes and his ilk talk “right to work,” what they mean is the ability of employers to squash workers like insects. Workers have no rights that an employer is bound to respect, so to speak. The only “rights” that a worker has is the ones that are mandated by annoying government regulations and statutes that set minimum wages. Workers have no individual identity; they are merely a formless mass that can be shaped and picked apart at whim. There is no concern or even comprehension about how workers lives are effected by toppermost decisions that determine what their lives are worth. All this in the name of profits, and more profits—and most of it going to the few people who did the least to create that wealth. These are the issues that belonging to a union is supposed to minimize; whether or not they still have sufficient support to do so is a matter of debate.

There is a word that comes to mind when reading Forbes’ manifesto--hypocrite, and a rather bald-faced one at that. Forbes thinks of himself as a smart man, and he may be. But he missed the mark wildly on this one. A fearless champion of the rights of working people? We know him better than that: The utter contempt he has for working people comes through loud and clear.

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