The Governor wants to restrict public sector unions to bargaining solely over wages, eliminating their ability to bargain over health care, working hours and vacations. Moreover, he wants to require unions to win an employee election every year to continue representing workers. The bill has passed the House but not the Senate; Democratic Senators are refusing to show up, to prevent the bill passing.
Republicans are proposing a bill that would wipe out Ohio's nearly 30-year-old collective bargaining law. The Senate bill would eliminate collective bargaining rights and salary schedules for public employees across the state and allow hiring alternate workers during a strike. It would also end binding arbitration, an option favoured by the police and firefighters, who are not allowed to strike.
Republican Governor John Kasich has expressed his support for the bill in concept, but he has also signalled he may bring forth his own plan that could go even further - including banning public employee strikes.
A law that would abolish collective bargaining rights for teachers has passed a State Senate committee.
The Indiana state Senate has approved a proposed law that would limit the power of teachers' unions. Several other proposed measures would weaken organized labour, most notably legislation that would bar any requirement that employees in unionized, private sector workplaces pay any union dues or fees.
New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie has gained national fame by beating up on public school teachers.
States that are considering either weakening or removing entirely the ability of public sector workers to bargain collectively include Wisconsin, Ohio, South Dakota, Colorado, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Oklahoma.
Legislative proposals in both Wisconsin and Ohio would bar unions from requiring non-members covered by union contracts to pay dues.
Teacher tenure is being targeted in five states: New Jersey, Nevada, Indiana, Idaho and Florida. Laws that would allow parents, by petition, to "trigger" an entire school district to move to charter schools or to voucher programs are expected in at least eleven states.
Measures to dismantle benefits for government workers are expected in some form in all fifty states. Newt Gingrich and Jeb Bush, meanwhile, are pushing to allow states to declare bankruptcy, which would enable them to break their agreements that cover the pensions of hundreds of thousands of retired government workers.
Right-to-work legislation, which makes it illegal for employers to agree to have union membership or the equivalent dues payments as a condition of employment even when a majority of workers vote to form a union, has been filed in twelve states. This is in addition to the twenty two that already have such laws on the books.
In Virginia, the right-wing decided that the existing right-to-work law wasn't sufficient, and introduced a measure to embed the right-to-work provisions in the state Constitution.
Three more states - Montana, Ohio and Wisconsin - are expected to introduce right-to-work legislation this term.
Alabama passed legislation in January that bans public employee unions from collecting dues unless the unions first prove that none of the money will be used for supporting election campaigns. In every subsequent year after the initial certification, the union must submit itemized reports accounting for how its money is being spent.
This law has been introduced in four other states this year including Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri. In California there has been a ballot initiative proposed that would do the same.
Unions are expecting twelve more states to file bills or initiatives banning the collection of union monies for politics.
Prevailing wage laws
Building and construction unions are facing their own daunting line up of bills that would gut prevailing wage laws and what are known as Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). These measures facilitate collective bargaining and the division of labour for unionized construction jobs, particularly construction jobs with public financing. It is expected that some twenty states will change their legislation to ban PLAs. In Iowa the new governor undid PLAs with his first executive order.
The new governor of Ohio, John Kasich, has pledged to eliminate prevailing wage laws. Missouri's legislation to ban prevailing wages has been introduced, and the new governor of Maine appointed the head of the building and construction industry organization to the position of state legislative director, a sure sign that he's serious about eliminating such laws. The AFL-CIO says it anticipates anti-prevailing wage laws in fifteen states.
At the same time, a push to privatize public assets and services is mounting. Groups like In the Public Interest are working to hold back the privatization tide, but the momentum is on the other side.
2) What's going on?
Emboldened by November's election results, corporations and their right-wing allies have launched what they hope will be their final offensive against America's unions. Their immediate target is government workers' unions.
It isn't as if these types of attacks on unions are new; what's different is their scale, and intensity. After outspending unions in November's election by an estimated 4 to 1 margin, corporations and their allies are exploiting the fiscal crises across the nation to drive a stake into the heart of what is left of organized labour: public sector unions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Annual Report for 2010, the overall union membership rate in America continued its slide, dropping from 12.3 percent to 11.9 percent. The private sector has just 6.9 percent of its work force unionized, while in the public sector, 36.2 percent of workers have unions. The public sector, in other words, is labour's last stronghold.
Embedded in the Wisconsin debate is a more fundamental dispute over the role, even the legitimacy, of public sector unions. The right wing argues that unions are not appropriate in the public sector because they can interfere with the democratic right of lawmakers to govern unimpeded.
But they are also well aware that hitting the public sector unions hard will weaken unionization in the US.
Grover Norquist laid out a sort of blueprint for the current right-wing assault in the February 2001 American Spectator. Identifying labour unions as the first of "five pillars" of Democratic strength, he outlined a game plan for destroying union power, key to the right's larger mission of abolishing all regulations that impede its agenda, from environmental laws to occupational safety to affirmative action.
The stakes for both political parties in this struggle are high, because where the campaign to gut public sector unions succeeds, Republicans will be poised for almost certain electoral gains. In general, across the nation, the lower the rate of unionization, the more Republican the state.
And in the most Democratic states, the public sector dominates the union scene.
In New York, for example, the most unionized state, the rate among government workers is 70.5 percent, next to 13.7 percent in the private sector. In California the unionization rate among government workers is 56.6 percent, compared with 9.3 percent among the private sector workforce.
There is a strong correlation, moreover, between Republican states, right-to-work laws, an overall worse quality of life for the average worker or poor person, and a more hostile climate for progressives, from environmentalists to civil rights activists.
Republicans have done a thorough analysis of this strategy of attacking the public employee unions, and it works in their favour politically:
1. It helps balance state budgets by hurting a small proportion of workers (6% of 124 million total US workers are members of public employee unions) even after many unions have given up pay raises and other concessions over the last few years. Instead of spreading the responsibility to pay for the cost of government services to all taxpayers, this approach lays it solely on one sector.
2. The workers it hurts tend to vote Democratic, and unions have supported Democratic candidates steadfastly since FDR. Cutting union membership and wages reduces dues going to the unions, and weakens their ability to make donations to Democratic candidates. On the other side, the conservative-led Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case in January 2010 cleared the way for America's biggest corporations and pro-corporate organizations to contribute untold millions directly or indirectly to Republican campaigns.
3. It garners the support of the Tea Partiers (and their shadow supporters), who want to cut $100 billion out of the federal budget this year no matter who it hurts.
4. Attacking public unions hurts all workers, because strong unions set a standard of pay and benefits that non-union employers follow. Unions also reduce wage inequality because they raise wages more for low- and middle-wage workers than for higher-wage workers, and more for those less educated workers. The GOP's corporate masters want to keep their workers' wages and benefits low to maximize their profits and bonuses.
Not about budgets
Citing an anticipated budget deficit of $137 million this year and a $3.6 billion shortfall over the next two years, the Governor of Wisconsin argues that his measures to curb union power and bargaining are essential to help balance the budget.
Union leaders say that several of the Governor's proposals, including the one that would require elections each year to determine whether a majority of public employees want to keep their union, are really intended to cripple unions, not balance the budget.
It's clear that Governor Walker picked this is fight for the specific purpose of breaking the unions. Wisconsin had a surplus, and as soon as he was sworn in, Walker gave it away to special interests in order to put the state into deficit.
The governor has framed his assault on public workers' collective bargaining rights as a needed measure of fiscal austerity during tough times.
The reality is radically different. Firstly, rolling back workers' bargaining rights by itself saves almost nothing on its own. But Walker's doing it anyhow, to knock down a barrier and allow him to cut state employee benefits immediately.
Furthermore, this attack on the public sector unions comes less than a month after the state's fiscal bureau - the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office - concluded that Wisconsin isn't even in need of austerity measures, and could conclude the fiscal year with a surplus. In fact, they say that the current budget shortfall is a direct result of tax cut policies Walker enacted in his first days in office.
"Walker was not forced into a budget repair bill by circumstances beyond his control," says Jack Norman, research director at the Institute for Wisconsin Future - a public interest think tank. "He wanted a budget repair bill and forced it by pushing through tax cuts... so he could rush through these other changes."
The Koch Brothers
The billionaire Koch brothers David H. Koch, and Charles G. Koch have long used their wallets to promote fiscal conservatism and combat regulation.
The president of a right wing think tank, Americans for Prosperity, Tim Phillips, has publicly argued that the Wisconsin cuts were not only necessary, but they also represented the start of a much needed nationwide move to slash public sector union benefits. What he did not mention was that his Virginia-based nonprofit group, whose budget surged to $40 million in 2010 from $7 million three years ago, was created and financed in large part by the Koch brothers.
The state chapter of Americans for Prosperity organized buses for hundreds of Wisconsin residents to go to the Capitol to support the governor's proposals.
State records also show that Koch Industries, their energy and consumer products conglomerate based in Wichita, Kansas, was one of the biggest contributors to the election campaign of Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.
Even before the new governor was sworn in last month, executives from the Koch-backed group had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown, Mr. Phillips said in an interview on Monday.
"We thought it was important to do," Mr. Phillips said, adding that his group is already working with activists and state officials in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania to urge them to take similar steps to curtail union benefits or give public employees the power to opt out of unions entirely.
This all amounts to proof of the expanding role played by nonprofit groups with murky ties to wealthy corporate executives, especially the Koch brothers, as they push a decidedly conservative agenda.
"The Koch brothers are the poster children of the effort by multinational corporate America to try to redefine the rights and values of American citizens," said Representative Gwen Moore, Democrat of Wisconsin, who joined with others in the union protests.
Campaign finance records in Washington show that donations by Koch Industries and its employees climbed to a total of $2 million in the last election cycle, twice as much as a decade ago, with 92 percent of that money going to Republicans. Donations in state government races - like in Wisconsin - have also surged in recent years, records show.
The Koch brothers helped finance conservative candidates in the fall campaigns through their company's political action committee, which spent $2.5 million, as well as through advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity.
Many candidates they supported, including a number backed by the Tea Party, gained election as part of the Republican takeover of the House.
Common Cause, a liberal advocacy group, has filed a petition with the Justice Department challenging the Citizens United ruling which made limits on corporate spending in elections illegal, and arguing that Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas should not have taken part in the case because they had attended the Koch brothers' annual retreat as speakers and were biased.
Common Cause depicts the Koch brothers as symbols of the "unbridled corporate power" that they maintain was loosed by the Supreme Court ruling in the campaign finance case, which lifted a ban on corporate spending in elections.
"This is a critical moment for us," Mary Boyle, Vice President for Communications at Common Cause, said in an interview. "The Koch brothers embody this ability to tap vast corporate profits and influence policies that undermine the public welfare."
She said the Citizens United case had given the Koch brothers and others license to create "shadowy networks" of well off but largely anonymous donors to further their agenda.
NUPGE, Wed Mar 9 2011
Ottawa (9 Mar. 2011) - Every day for the past 20 days, there have been protests in the streets of Madison, Wisconsin's capital. Tens of thousands of people have joined the protests. The Republican state Governor, Scott Walker, wants to strip collective bargaining rights from 175,000 Wisconsin public service workers.
Under the proposed legislation, workers would no longer have a voice on key issues such as working conditions, health and safety, grievance procedures, or equality provisions. This is a full, frontal attack on collective bargaining rights, public sector unions and the entire US labour movement.
The following report and photos are from Holly Page (BCGEU/NUPGE) who is one of the NUPGE representatives in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Dispatch 1: "Wisconsin is the canary in the coal mine"
Of the thousands of protest signs I've seen, one of my favourite reads: "Wisconsin is the canary in the coal mine." It resonates with what could be the rolling out of union busting not only here in Madison, Wisconsin, but in Canada as well.
I arrived in Madison on the 20th day of the protests. The sounds are spectacular: chanting, drumming, people cheering. This has been unlike any demo I have ever been to.
The Wisconsin Capitol building is the focus of the protest. It sits in the middle of a huge, square block, surrounded by streets on all four sides. Forty to fifty thousand activists are walking around the square chanting and singing. There is a huge rally with another couple thousand people on one side of the building, and another rally with a thousand more people on the opposite side. People are lined up hundreds deep on the remaining sides of the building. Flags, banners and pickets can be seen everywhere. The mood and energy is incredibly powerful, and positive.
On every door of the Wisconsin Capitol building, there are coloured post it notes with messages to the elected. I posted a note of solidarity from the BCGEU. Today I will line up and hang our BCGEU Flag in solidarity.
Nearly every store and business has a sign in the window supporting the unions. There is a lot of local police presence here, but many of them are having pictures taken with protesters and shaking hands and hi-fiving people. The people of Madison are clearly supporting this rally.
Sprinkled throughout the crowds are palm trees all shapes and sizes. Last week, right wing news channel FOX News showed violent demonstrations on their newscasts. They said it was footage from Madison, Wisconsin, that happened to feature palm trees in the back ground. That was obviously not Madison, where the average temp now is six degrees celsius. Home made palm trees of all shapes and sizes now grace central Madison, along with signs stating "FOX lies." FOX News is engaged in a disinformation campaign, calling Madison protestors "greedy" and "violent unions."
As I type, I can hear bagpipes. Firefighters decked out in gear are playing bagpipes and drumming. As I get closer in the middle of the parade, I see Michael Moore has come to join the rally. He addressed the rally for about 20 minutes thanking everybody who has maintained a hold on Wisonsin's Capitol for almost three weeks.
He told them not to walk away. "We're going to do this together. Don't give up. Please don't give up," he said. (Click here for a video of Michael Moore's speech.)
Stay tuned for more BCGEU dispatches from Wisconsin.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good.
NUPGE, Wed Mar 9 2011
Labor has come a long way since then-a long way down. At the outset of the nineteen-sixties, one in four workers had the protection of a union. By the early eighties, after President Reagan destroyed the air-traffic controllers' union, the proportion was down to one in five. Now it's one in eight. In a workforce twice the size it was in Edward P. Morgan's heyday, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s onetime fifteen million has shrunk to twelve million, with a couple of million more in unions unaffiliated with the federation.
Organized labor's catastrophic decline has paralleled-and, to a disputed but indisputably substantial degree, precipitated-an equally dramatic rise in economic inequality. In 1980, the best-off tenth of American families collected about a third of the nation's income. Now they're getting close to half. The top one per cent is getting a full fifth, double what it got in 1980. The super-rich-the top one-tenth of the top one per cent, which is to say the top one-thousandth-have been the biggest winners of all. What is always called their "compensation" (wage workers lucky enough to have a job simply get paid) has quadrupled.
Over the same period, the composition of the labor movement, as it still defiantly styles itself, has radically changed. A few weeks ago, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, for the first time, more union members are government workers, not private-sector employees. The Times quoted an official of the United States Chamber of Commerce as pronouncing himself "a little bit shocked," and he wasn't the only one. Yet this development has nothing to do with some imagined spike in public-sector unionism. It is entirely a function of the collapse of organized labor in the private sector. For the past four decades, the portion of the public workforce belonging to unions has held remarkably steady, at a little more than one in three. In the private sector, just one worker in fifteen carries a union card.
The causes of the disparity are many and mostly familiar, the hollowing out of American manufacturing notable among them. Unlike factories, government agencies cannot be relocated to China. Nor can government agencies flout the (notoriously weak) labor laws with the insouciance of private employers, many of whom, guided by anti-union "consultants," regard it as their fiduciary responsibility to fire troublesome workers illegally now and, in the rare cases where a worker tries to get justice, pay a trivial fine years later. In short, union-busting has traditionally been a matter for private business. But this winter it has suddenly gone public, and its weapon is not flouting laws but making them.
from the issue
Last Friday-in the wee hours of morning, after two weeks of tumult and protest demonstrations-Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill that is breathtaking in its fealty to the ideology of the far right. The bill, dictated by the new Republican governor, Scott Walker, strips the state's employees of their half-century-old right to bargain collectively-except over base pay, which can never be increased above inflation without a public referendum. It makes union dues purely voluntary and prohibits their collection via paycheck deduction. It requires the unions to face a certification vote every year-and, to get recertified, a union must win a majority of all employees, not just a majority of those voting.
The bill has not yet passed the Wisconsin Senate, because all fourteen members of its Democratic minority decamped for Illinois, thereby depriving the chamber of the quorum required for legislation of this type. Governor Walker claims that his bill is needed to close a budget gap. That is false: the unions have already agreed to all the cuts and givebacks he has demanded. Anyhow, Walker has called his dedication to deficit hawkery into question by pushing through large tax cuts for business (with more to come) and a law forbidding tax hikes without either a two-thirds legislative majority or a statewide referendum.
Liberals who applaud the Wisconsin senators' interstate flight have been accused of hypocrisy, given that these same liberals indignantly reject the undemocratic use of the filibuster in the Senate of the United States. The analogy is as clever as it is flawed. The Wisconsinites are not trying to kill the bill (they can't stay away forever); they merely want to delay a vote in the hope of mobilizing public support for compromise. And, instead of simply declaring an intention-the only effort a modern filibuster requires-they have to do something; to wit, camp out in cheap motels at their own expense, away from their families. They even have to forgo their own salaries: the Republicans have halted direct deposit to their skedaddling colleagues' bank accounts. If they want to get paid, they have to come back to Madison to pick up a paycheck. And the Democrats have another point: although Walker now claims that he ran on curbing collective bargaining as well as cutting employee benefits, no one has been able to find any record that he ever said anything of the kind.
What's getting awfully difficult to deny is that what the Wisconsin Republicans are doing-and they have plenty of imitators and admirers-is solely for a partisan purpose, and a potentially lethal one. Of the five biggest non-party organizational contributors to political campaigns in 2008, the top two were unions, both of them pro-Democratic and both composed partly or wholly of public-sector workers. The other three were pro-Republican business groups or PACs. In 2010, after the Supreme Court threw open the cash sluices in the Citizens United case, only one union made it into the top five, and it came in fifth. And from now on, thanks to five Justices, corporate campaign spending will be literally limitless.
Yes, unions will have the same freedom. But unions are already maxed out-and their resources, stretched to the breaking point, are diminishing. If, as Anatole France observed, the law in its majesty forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, the Supreme Court, in its majesty, permits both to spend as much as they can lay their hands on. If a Republican Party that has lately become rigidly, fanatically "conservative" can succeed in reducing public-sector unions to the parlous condition of their private-sector brethren, then organized labor-which, for all its failings, all its shortsightedness, all its "special interest" selfishness, remains the only truly formidable counterweight to the ever-growing political power of that top one-thousandth-will no longer be anything close to a match for organized money. And that will be the news, brought to you by a few very rich, very powerful Americans-and many, many billions of dollars.
New York, Mon Mar 7 2011
Byline: Hendrik Hertzberg
One of the key points of the Walker bill is that it would remove public employees' right to bargain collectively for anything, except for higher wages. However, any wage increases would be capped at the federal Consumer Price Index rate of inflation, thus inhibiting any real wage increases.
Further, the proposed legislation would force public employees to have new union elections every year and employer collection of union dues would be prohibited. Such actions would severely handicap and inhibit public employees' unions from functioning.
Walker claims the reason for such drastic legislation is because the state is facing a deficit and public employees are paid too much and need to sacrifice. Yet the fact is, is that Wisconsin was facing a budget surplus until Walker brought in two corporate tax breaks, thus lessening state revenues. So while corporations will see extra profits, workers' standard of living and democratic rights are under threat.
Walker is one of many Republicans supported by the Koch brothers who run Koch industries. The Koch brothers, who are billionaires, fund millions of dollars to think-tanks that deny global warming. They also provide similar amounts of money to the right-wing Tea Party movement. Finally, they have provided millions of dollars to support anti-labour legislation and to bust unions in the USA.
But the people of Wisconsin are not taking it lying down! Rallies have been growing, with attendance reaching 70,000 and 100,000 and workers have even occupied the State Capitol! There is even talk and attempts to broaden the fight back and organize a general strike. What we are witnessing is one of the most momentous mobilizations by working people in North America in decades.
We gather here not merely to show our solidarity with our sisters and brothers who are fighting for their right to organize, to represent themselves collectively and democratically, but also to draw attention to the similar attacks here in Canada.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has stated he wanted to see public transit declared an essential service. He's now gotten the help of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, whose government has introduced legislation that will strip the unionized Toronto transit workers of the right to strike. The right to withdraw their labour when an employer refuses to negotiate is an essential right workers have fought and won over many, many decades in North America.
The only way to win is to broaden the scoop of struggle and solidarity to oppose the war on workers. An attack on any section of working people, is an attack on all working people. By undermining unionized workers, all workers face the threat of lowered standards, wages and quality of life. If the labour movement is to grow and extend itself it must fight. An injury to one is an injury to all!
Telecommunications Workers Union
It wasn't the smartest thing for Mr. Ryan to say, since he probably didn't mean to compare Mr. Walker, a fellow Republican, to Hosni Mubarak. Or maybe he did - after all, quite a few prominent conservatives, including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum, denounced the uprising in Egypt and insist that President Obama should have helped the Mubarak regime suppress it.
In any case, however, Mr. Ryan was more right than he knew. For what's happening in Wisconsin isn't about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker's pretense that he's just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin - and eventually, America - less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that's why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators' side.
Some background: Wisconsin is indeed facing a budget crunch, although its difficulties are less severe than those facing many other states. Revenue has fallen in the face of a weak economy, while stimulus funds, which helped close the gap in 2009 and 2010, have faded away.
In this situation, it makes sense to call for shared sacrifice, including monetary concessions from state workers. And union leaders have signaled that they are, in fact, willing to make such concessions.
But Mr. Walker isn't interested in making a deal. Partly that's because he doesn't want to share the sacrifice: even as he proclaims that Wisconsin faces a terrible fiscal crisis, he has been pushing through tax cuts that make the deficit worse. Mainly, however, he has made it clear that rather than bargaining with workers, he wants to end workers' ability to bargain.
The bill that has inspired the demonstrations would strip away collective bargaining rights for many of the state's workers, in effect busting public-employee unions. Tellingly, some workers - namely, those who tend to be Republican-leaning - are exempted from the ban; it's as if Mr. Walker were flaunting the political nature of his actions.
Why bust the unions? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state's budget prospects even in the long run: contrary to what you may have heard, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications, so there's not much room for further pay squeezes.
So it's not about the budget; it's about the power
In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we're a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we're more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.
Given this reality, it's important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.
You don't have to love unions, you don't have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they're among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years - which it has - that's to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.
And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.
There's a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America's oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.
So will the attack on unions succeed? I don't know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn't.
Both the Canadian and Colombian governments maintain that Colombia in a post- conflict era after years of violent civil war in which thousands of union leaders and social activists disappeared,were killed, or injured by government paramilitary. Ms Celeyta told a group of 50 at CUPE's national office that since August, 2010 under the newly elected Santos government there has been the assassination of more than 2,000 people.
One of the key issues in the ongoing conflict is land ownership. Multinational companies are interested in mining the land - and indigenous peoples are being removed from their homes. It is estimated that 4.5 million Colombians have been displaced because of potential resources in their land.
Celeyta said,"We are persuaded that peace has to be accompanied by health, education, housing and public services. But the Colombian government is carrying out free trade treaties, which will not respect these rights. They say Colombia is Latin America's oldest democracy, but more people have died under this so-called democracy than under the dictatorships of Chile or Argentina."
CUPE partners with NOMADESC - the association for social research and action, in the union's work in Colombia. The three pillars of NOMADESC are education, research and communication. CUPE national president Paul Moist committed CUPE's ongoing support to NOMADESC and their important labour and human rights work.
cupe.ca, Thurs Mar 2 2011
But there's another battle brewing closer to home that has more significance for working people in the U.S. and Canada.
It's a fight about democracy and whether North America will continue to have a viable middle class.
The most prominent battleground is Wisconsin, where hardline Republican Governor Scott Walker says it's necessary to strip middle-class, unionized, public-sector workers of their rights to bargain collectively in order to balance his state's books.
The truth is that Walker is using public-sector unions as scapegoats for problems that were caused by years of failed Bush-era policies.
It wasn't teachers or nurses who transformed the U.S. from a powerhouse into the sick man of the world economy.
That feat was accomplished by waves of de-regulation, budget cuts, trade deals and tax give-a-ways to the wealthy - policies that hammered the middle-class, impoverished schools and other vital public services and paved the way for the global financial meltdown.
The emptiness of Walker's arguments became apparent when it was revealed that almost all of his state's $140-million deficit is attributable to a $137-million tax cut given to corporations.
It's important to note that Walker is still calling for an end to union negotiating rights even though the unions have agreed to deep wage and benefit concessions.
So, if public-sector workers are ready to deal, why is Walker so hell-bent on killing unions?
Bankrolled Tea Party
It's because he - and people like the billionaire Koch brothers who bankrolled many Tea Party campaigns -understand something important about unions.
They understand unions are one of the last counter-balances to unbridled corporate power and conservative political dominance.
That's why Walker isn't backing down - he wants to use his manufactured budget crisis to stack the deck even more dramatically in favour of conservatives.
The good news is that most Americans understand that working people - union and non-union alike - need unions to protect the middle-class lifestyle that millions feel slipping away.
Despite massive and distorted coverage from media outlets like Fox News, a recent New York Times/CBS poll revealed that Americans oppose weakening union bargaining rights by a margin of nearly two to one (60% to 33%).
What does all of this have to do with Canada and Alberta?
In the past two weeks, the Sun and other major news outlets have published columns echoing the Tea Party attack on unions.
More ominously, the Tea Party's biggest funders, the Koch brothers, have significant interests in Alberta.
They are responsible for receiving and handling about 25% of the oilsands crude sent to the U.S. and they own Calgary-based Flint Hills Resources Canada.
Don't expect these guys to stay out of our politics.
In fact, they may already be funding the Wildrose Alliance and Tory leadership candidates (we can't know for sure because both parties refuse to reveal their donors).
War moving north
So, be prepared for the war on unions and the middle class to move north.
But rest assured, Canadian unions will be ready.
We'll make the case for quality public services. We'll defend decent jobs.
We'll remind the powers-that-be that, in Alberta, the only reason we have a deficit is because of massive and unjustified giveaways to hugely profitable energy companies.
In the battle to preserve Canada's middle class, Canadian unions will (as always) stand on guard for thee.
Calgary Sun, Thurs Mar 3 2011
London Free Press, Tues Mar 8 2011
Byline: Gil McGowan
The governor isn't budging. AWOL Democrats aren't planning to come back. And, despite talk of deadlines and threats of mass layoffs, the state doesn't really have to pass a budget to pay its bills until at least May. Even then, there may be other options that could extend the standoff for months.
"This is a battle to the death," said Mordecai Lee, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "Unless one party can come up with a compromise that the other party will buy, which I doubt, this really could go on indefinitely. I could see this going on until the summer."
The confrontation began Feb. 11, when Republican Gov. Scott Walker proposed legislation that would strip most public workers of their collective bargaining rights as part of a plan to fix a budget deficit projected to be $137 million by July.
Democrats, who are in the minority in the Legislature, hightailed it for the Illinois border on the day the Senate was to adopt the bill. Their absence left the chamber one member short of the quorum needed for a vote.
Two weeks later, Republicans are becoming increasingly creative in their attempts to lure the 14 Democrats home. They've tried cutting off access to copying machines for their staff and requiring lawmakers to pick up their checks at the Capitol rather than having them deposited directly in bank accounts.
On Wednesday, the Senate passed a resolution imposing a $100 fine for each day the Democrats remain on the run. Republican senators were also assigned to oversee the staff members of the missing Democrats.
State Sen. Chris Larson said the fines show that Republicans are becoming "increasingly petty." He said none of the Democrats flinched after learning of the move. He was resolved to stay away as long as necessary.
"In fact, my family just brought down clothes for me," he said. "We're committed to this cause."
The bill passed the Republican-controlled Assembly last week after a nearly three-day filibuster. Republicans in the Senate say they have enough votes to pass it once Democrats return.
Behind the scenes, Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald met earlier in the week with two of the missing Democrats to discuss ways they could be persuaded to come back. Fitzgerald said Wednesday he was told by one of the Democrats that as many as six of them had planned to return that day, but then decided against it.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller said Democrats would eventually be back to fight the full budget plan Walker introduced Tuesday to slash state aid for schools and local governments by about $1 billion.
But when will they actually set foot in the chamber? Miller said that was a day-to-day decision.
"We are currently no closer to coming back than we were a week ago," he said.
Whether the Democrats show up or not, the lights in the Capitol will stay on, snowplows will continue to clear streets and the wheels of state government will keep turning.
Senate Republicans hold a 19-14 majority, but without that all-important 20th vote, they can't pass anything that spends money. That's what held up the budget bill, since its main purpose was to refinance debt and force state workers to pay more for their benefits.
Instead, the Senate has been forced to take up lesser matters: a resolution commending the Green Bay Packers on winning the Super Bowl and a measure designating Jan. 26 as Bob Uecker Day, for instance.
It's not as if the Democrats' absence has kept them silent. They're still firing off press releases, doing interviews on national television and - in the case of Sen. Jon Erpenbach - appearing on "The Colbert Report" in a segment poking fun at how the group is hiding in plain sight.
Democrats say they left the state to avoid being compelled to return by Wisconsin police, but state law prevents them from being arrested simply for not showing up to work. Among the group is 83-year-old Sen. Fred Risser, the longest-serving state lawmaker in the country, with 54 years in office.
Walker has rejected every offer of compromise floated by unions, Democrats and even a Republican state senator. All of the proposals would balance the budget without permanently eliminating collective bargaining rights.
During the stalemate, the governor has issued a number of threats and ominous deadlines trying to force Democrats to return. A large part of his proposal to balance the budget this year was based on refinancing state debt to save $165 million, but the deadline to do so came and went Tuesday.
Missing that deadline, Walker said, raises the risk of deeper cuts and widespread layoffs of state workers, although he's refused to offer specifics on who and what would be targeted.
Walker can't order the layoffs of teachers or other local workers, and even if he were to go after state employees, it would be at least 31 days before anyone lost a job.
Plus, if the budget bill passes, court challenges seem inevitable. The Milwaukee city attorney has suggested parts of the bill are unconstitutional because they interfere with the city's authority over its pension plan.
Some voters have seized on the standoff to try to remove politicians on both sides. Five Democratic state senators and eight of their Republican colleagues have been targeted by recall attempts. If recall organizers gather enough signatures in the next two months, the lawmakers must face another election.
Budget stalemates are nothing new in Wisconsin. In 2007, the state did not pass a budget until mid-October. Government didn't shut down during the impasse, and no one is even hinting at that possibility now.
The biggest problem for Walker is figuring out how to pay for the state's Medicaid bills when the program runs out of money sometime in May. But even when that happens, federal law would prevent the state from cutting off services to the roughly 1 million low-income, disabled and elderly people who depend on the program.
The most likely scenario would be for the state to delay payments to providers into the next budget year, which begins in July.
azcentral.com, Wed Mar 2 2011
Byline: Scott Bauer
The email the party sent out on Wednesday afternoon is excerpted below:
In 60 days you can take Wisconsin back. It's that simple.
This morning citizens from around the state took the first steps by filing recall papers against key Republican Senators who have stood with Scott Walker and pushed his partisan power grab that will strip thousands of middle class teachers, nurses, librarians and other workers of their right to collective bargaining. And we learned just last night that their disastrous budget that will cut millions from our schools and universities.
In 60 days you can take Wisconsin back by recalling the Republican Senators who have decided to push Scott Walker's divisive attack on the rights of workers and his assault on schools, universities and local communities. Can you contribute $60 today to support the Democratic Party's recall efforts?
Make no mistake, these Republican Senators are vulnerable to recall for their radical partisan overreach. Senator Randy Hopper won his last election by just 184 votes. And Alberta Darling won her last race by only 1,007. By recalling just three of the eight Senators we are targeting, we can regain control of the Senate.
But we need your help today. The clock is ticking and we have just 60 days to collect the signatures we need to force a recall. Every day and every dollar counts.
If we can recall at least three Senators and regain control of the Senate, we can end the ugly games Republicans in the legislature have played in the last few days -- unplugging phone lines, bolting windows inside the Capitol shut, and withholding the paychecks of Democratic legislators.
Huffington Post, Tues Mar 1 2011
Byline: Sam Stein
Meanwhile, the Egyptian Independent Trade Unionists have published their demands. Some of these demands relate to raising the minimum wage and prohibiting differences in wages in excess of 15 times between senior managers and workers. Another demand is greater job security and prohibition of the use of temporary workers. While some demands may be unreasonable to the extent they tend to decrease flexibility in the Egyptian labor market and would thus make the Egyptian economy even less competitive than it is now, others are eminently reasonable, indeed necessary, and ought to be recognized immediately. These include the following: 1) The right to organize independent labor unions; 2) The removal of corrupt managers; 3) The right to strike; and, 4) The dissolution of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation.
These demands are necessary components of any future reform package that hopes to improve the efficiency of the Egyptian economy. A strong labor movement with the power of independent collective bargaining can reduce the incidence of corrupt, self-serving management, as well as aid in a more just distribution of national income, two goals that the Mubarak regime utterly failed to achieve. And, given the deep penetration of the Mubarak political machine into the economy, dismissal of corrupt managers would seem to be a revolutionary imperative.
More generally, however, the Trade Unionists' declaration that the fair distribution of wealth, along with the establishment of formal democratic rights, must be one of this revolution's priorities, cannot reasonably be denied if this revolution is to succeed. For that reason, Egypt should adopt a social democratic model, along the lines of the so-called Nordic model. The Scandinavian countries all enjoy highly efficient economies, but yet are characterized by relatively low levels of inequality, strong social services, strong labor unions, and a strong social safety net that substantially eases the cost of (temporary) labor unemployment. Establishment of a social democracy in Egypt, however, will require the upper and professional classes to make economic sacrifices on a scale that they perhaps did not contemplate when they embarked on this revolution, demanding only greater democratic freedoms.
Yet, they should understand that without these sacrifices, any democratic experiment in Egypt will be tenuous at best, or lapse quickly into a police state at worst. The risk of a return to the Mubarak-era police state is palpable in light of Egypt's recent experience under Mubarak: in order to control a growing population of poor and a labor force that was losing its ability to earn a decent living, the government dramatically expanded its police forces to the point that the police force swelled to approximately 1.5 million.
Since the Mubarak regime embarked in the early 1990s on the IMF and World Bank sponsored structural adjustment programs, Egypt has become more unequal; its police forces have swelled; and its commitment to public education as a proportion of the national budget and Egypt's GDP decreased substantially: public spending on education declined from 16 percent of the national budget in 2005 to 11.9 percent in 2008; and educational spending as a proportion of Egypt's GDP declined from 4.8 percent to 3.8 percent over the same period.
Yet, during the last 20-odd years, the economy grew substantially. From this perspective Mubarak's Egypt confirms the wisdom of the 2002 UN Arab Human Development Report's refusal to consider solely macroeconomic indicators such as rising national income to measure development. That report documented the disturbing long-term trend in the Arab world of declining relative investment in education, from 20 percent of that spent by industrialized countries per capita in 1980 to ten percent in the mid-1990s. The 2002 Report also warned against the rise of a bifurcated education system: an expensive system of private education accessible only to the relatively well-off, and a poorly funded public educational system incapable of assisting the less well-off achieve social and economic advancement. Only a commitment to social democracy can reverse these destructive trends.
These figures confirm that the lion's shares of growth in Egypt over the last two decades redounded to the benefit, almost exclusively, of the relatively well-off. But this is not simply a story of transferring wealth from the have-nots to the haves: it is also a story of a state that was unwilling to invest in improving the capacities of its own people. The Mubarak regime effectively purchased temporary macroeconomic stability at the price of future growth by failing to make the necessary social investments in Egypt's people that would assure continued stable growth.
That bill is now due. The upper quartile of Egypt's society by wealth and income must understand that if they truly want a stable democratic regime, with competitive elections and peaceful transition of power among civilians, then they must share more of the economic pie with the rest of Egyptian society. This can take place along two axes: the first is the reduction in subsidies that benefit largely the well off. The gasoline subsidy is one such example. So is free tuition to all public university students without regard to their wealth. Reducing subsidies to the well-off will free up valuable resources to support the poor and the working classes, who are eminently more worthy of state support than families sufficiently well-off to buy imported cars, or even own several apartments.
Likewise, the well-off will need to accept substantially higher taxes. A wealth tax may be easier to implement in the current circumstances than a rise in income tax rates, if only because it avoids the difficulty of documenting taxpayers' earnings, especially if much of that income is generated from real property rather than documented salaries or interest, dividends or capital gains from stock, bonds and certificates of deposit. The government could impose a progressive-style property tax, for example, which would take into account whether the property is the taxpayer's primary residence, its location, and its size, i.e., number of bed rooms; whether the property is the tax payer's first or second home (or even third, etc.); whether the property is occupied or unoccupied. A punitive tax on unoccupied housing as a means to encourage absentee landlords to rent their properties should be considered, in order to increase the supply of rental units in the housing market and thereby make housing more affordable. At the same time, rent-controls should be gradually lifted in at least more well-to-do neighbourhoods to allow appreciations in the values of those properties which in turn could also increase the tax base. A wealth tax could also be levied upon bank accounts, certificates of deposits, bonds and publicly-traded shares, without necessarily causing wealthier Egyptians to shun such investments.
While tax experts might have better suggestions, it is clear that Egypt will not be able to solve its economic problems without responding to the ongoing immiseration of Egypt's working classes and poor. And it will not be able to respond to those problems without risking runaway inflation unless the state's tax base and tax revenues substantially increase. This can only be accomplished if the relatively well-off agree to pay more in taxes.
If Egypt can implement the Nordic model of capitalism, its economic future will be much brighter than if it persists in its current anti-labor, anti-social policies: direct foreign investment would likely increase with evidence of a genuine political commitment to address the structural sources of instability in Egypt; namely, authoritarian rule and gross economic inequality. The resumption of social investments in Egypt's people will also increase Egyptian labor's productivity, thus increasing Egypt's attractiveness as a destination for labor-intensive investments .
Policies such as those described above would also reinforce Egypt's nascent democratic institutions because it would succeed in broadening the base of the citizenry who have a stake in the preservation of parliamentary democracy. With 40 percent of the population living on $2/day or less, it is not too difficult to imagine scenarios of vote-buying or worse. After all, don't the Mubarak thugs, the baltagiyya, come from the poorer classes who are eager to find any kind of work, even if it means acting to repress the rights of their fellow citizens? Accordingly, without a solution to the structural inequality of Egyptian society, there is good reason to fear that any democratic gains from this revolution will be quickly lost. The best way to guarantee that these gains are preserved is for the well-off to commit that they are prepared to make economic sacrifices in the form of social policies that will allow the great mass of Egyptians to share in future prosperity.
There is some evidence that the Supreme Military Council has begun to realize that Egyptian labor has legitimate demands and that the transition to a new government cannot proceed without incorporating labor's views. Today's edition of the Egyptian daily al-Ahram is reporting that the Supreme Military Council has finally agreed to meet with the leaders of the Egyptian Independent Trade Unionists. This is a crucial first step in giving Egyptian labor the recognition that is its due, but until meaningful commitments are made to protect workers' interests, don't hold your breath waiting for labor to get back to work. Nor should they.
FP Foreign Policy, Mon Feb 28 2011
Posted by Mohammed Fadel
Mohammad Fadel is the Canada Research Chair for the Law and Economics of Islamic Law and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.