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The Democrats Attack Unions Nationwide May 16, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
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By shamus cooke
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Obvious political truths are sometimes smothered by special interests. The cover-up of the Democrats’ national anti-union agenda is possible because the truth would cause enormous disturbances for the Democratic Party, some labor leaders, liberal organizations and, consequently, the larger political system.
Here is the short list of states that have Democratic governors where labor unions are undergoing severe attacks:   Massachusetts  , Connecticut, Oregon, California, New York, Illinois, Washington, Hawaii, Minnesota, Maryland and New Hampshire. Other states with Democratic governors are attacking unions to a lesser degree.
The Democrats in these states have sought to distance themselves from the Republican governors of Wisconsin and Ohio, who have specifically attacked the collective bargaining rights of unions. The above Democrats all hide their anti-union attacks behind a “deep respect for collective bargaining;” akin to a thief who will steal your car but, out of respect, will not target your deceased Grandma’s diamond earrings.
For example, the anti-union Democratic governor of Connecticut is demanding $1.6 billion in cuts from state workers! The contract has not been ratified yet, but Governor Malloy referred to the agreement as: “historic because of the way we achieved it – we respected the collective bargaining process and we respected each other, negotiating in good faith, without fireworks and without anger.”
The anti-union Democratic governor of the state of Washington uses similar language:
“They [labor unions] contributed [to fixing the state budget deficit] with a salary cut; they contributed by paying more in health care. They have stepped up and said we want to be a part of the solution. I did it by going to the table, respecting their collective bargaining rights and we got the job done.”
The anti-union Democratic governor of Oregon is demanding 20 to 25 percent pay cut for state workers:
“But [says the Governor] those concessions will be made across a bargaining table through our collective bargaining process and with mutual respect.”
This garbage normally wouldn’t fool a 4th grader, but some labor leaders are playing dumb, in the hopes that the above attacks will not ruin the long-standing friendship between unions and Democrats. Of course, such hopes are founded on illusion: workers are not so blind as to not notice that the governors they campaigned for are now demanding their wages and benefits be destroyed in an unprecedented attack.
But by minimizing the Democrats role in targeting unions, some labor leaders are disarming the labor movement. On the one hand, labor leaders of both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations have drawn some correct conclusions from the events in Wisconsin, especially when they say that “labor is in the fight of its life” and “the corporations are out to bust unions.” On the other hand, both union federations have made excuses for the anti-union Democratic Party, enabling labor to be vulnerable on its “left” flank to the anti-union attack.
The fight against massive cuts in wages and benefits cannot be separated from the attack on collective bargaining; they are two sides of the same coin. Workers only care about collective bargaining because it enables them to improve their wages and benefits. A union that agrees to massive cuts in wages will not remain a union for long, since workers will not want to pay dues to an organization that cannot protect them. Concessionary bargaining destroys the power of a union in the same way that cancer destroys the body; pulling the plug [ending collective bargaining] comes after losing a battle with cancer.
Fighting the concessionary cancer is the essence of the problem. This is the real lesson of Wisconsin: workers want to fight back against the nationwide attack against their livelihoods, whether it be wages and benefits or collective bargaining. The AFL-CIO and Change to Win realize this to a certain degree; they are separately creating campaigns to deal with the attack, with SEIU jumping out in front with its Fight for a Fair Economy.
These union campaigns are doomed to fail if the energy generated by them is funneled into the 2012 campaign for Barack Obama.
Any successful union campaign will require that massive resources and energy be used, since the attack workers are facing is colossal. If workers are told to halt their campaigns to door knock and make phone calls for Obama, the campaign will lose all legitimacy, since Obama has established himself as a friend of Wall Street and thus no friend to workers. Voting for Democrats has a demoralizing effect on workers when the inevitable “betrayal” happens; and demoralized union members will not fight as effectively for their own pro-union campaign.
A successful union campaign will require that workers are energized about it. SEIU’s campaign focuses largely on making more connections with other labor and community groups, which is very positive. However, without waging an energetic battle to prevent state workers from making massive concessions, the campaign will fail, because workers who make massive concessions will be demoralized and not take the union campaign seriously, since it failed to address their most pressing needs. The fight to defend state workers has the potential — as Wisconsin proved — to unleash tremendous fighting energy among workers, while also uniting those in the broader community, who are eager for working people to fight back.
If labor unions continue down their current path of making huge concessions in wages and benefits while making excuses for the Democrats attacking them, the movement will wither and die.
If, on the contrary, labor unions demand that state budget deficits be fixed by taxing the rich and corporations, workers would respond enthusiastically; if public-sector unions demanded No Cuts, No Concessions, workers would energetically join the union’s cause; if unions banded together to demand that a national jobs campaign be created by taxing the top 1 percent, a flood of energy would erupt from working people in general; if, during election time, unions joined together to run their own independent candidates with these demands, an unstoppable movement would quickly emerge.
Without using aggressive demands aimed at solving the immediate problems facing working people, a social movement cannot be created to deal with the crisis facing labor unions and working people in general.    ONLY a national social movement with Wisconsin-like energy has the potential to shift the direction in which the country is going, away from the rich and corporations towards working people. Such a social movement cannot be born from soft demands, half-fought battles, or campaigning for Democrats.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for  Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org)

1) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/14/nyregion/connecticut-reaches-deal-with-unions-to-close-budget-shortfall.html?_r=2&hp

2) http://www.npr.org/2011/02/27/134103416/Governors-Meet-As-Pro-Union-Protests-Spread

3) http://www.katu.com/news/local/117565323.html

Obama’s Real Plan in Latin America April 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Colombia, Cuba, Latin America, Mexico, Venezuela.
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Written by Shamus Cooke   

 

Wednesday, 29 April 2009, www.towardfreedom.com

 

At first glance Obama seems to have softened U.S. policy toward Latin America, especially when compared to his predecessor.  There has been no shortage of editorials praising Obama’s conciliatory approach while comparing it to FDR’s “Good Neighbor” Latin American policy.

It’s important to remember, however, that FDR’s vision of being neighborly meant that the U.S. would merely stop direct military interventions in Latin America, while reserving the right to create and prop up dictators, arm and train unpopular regional militaries, promote economic dominance through free trade and bank loans and conspire with right-wing groups.

And although Obama’s policy towards Latin America has a similar subversive feeling to it, many of FDR’s methods of dominance are closed to him.  Decades of U.S. “good neighbor” policy in Latin America resulted in a continuous string of U.S. backed military coups, broken-debtor economies, and consequently, a hemisphere-wide revolt.

Many of the heads of states that Obama mingled with at the Summit of the Americas came to power because of social movements born out of opposition to U.S. foreign policy.  The utter hatred of U.S. dominance in the region is so intense that any attempt by Obama to reassert U.S. authority would result in a backlash, and Obama knows it.

Bush had to learn this the hard way, when his pathetic attempt to tame the region led to a humiliation at the 2005 Summit, where for the first time Latin American countries defeated yet another U.S. attempt to use the Organization of American States (O.A.S.), as a tool for U.S. foreign policy.

But while Obama humbly discussed hemispheric issues on an “equal footing” with his Latin American counterparts at the recent Summit of Americas, he has subtly signaled that U.S. foreign policy will be business as usual.

The least subtle sign that Obama is toeing the line of previous U.S. governments — both Republican and Democrat — is his stance on Cuba.   Obama has postured as being a progressive when it comes to Cuba by relaxing some travel and financial restrictions, while leaving the much more important issue, the economic embargo, firmly in place.

When it comes to the embargo, the U.S. is completely unpopular and isolated in the hemisphere.  The U.S. two-party system, however, just can’t let the matter go.

The purpose of the embargo is not to pressure Cuba into being more democratic: this lie can be easily refuted by the numerous dictators the U.S. has supported in the hemisphere, not to mention dictators the U.S. is currently propping up all over the Middle East and elsewhere.

The real purpose behind the embargo is what Cuba represents. To the entire hemisphere, Cuba remains a solid source of pride.  Defeating the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion while remaining fiercely independent in a region dominated by U.S. corporations and past government interventions has made Cuba an inspiration to millions of Latin Americans.  This profound break from U.S. dominance — in its “own backyard” no less — is not so easily forgiven.

There is also a deeper reason for not removing the embargo.  The foundation of the Cuban economy is arranged in such a way that it threatens the most basic philosophic principle shared by the two-party system: the market economy (capitalism).

And although the “fight against communism” may seem like a dusty relic from the cold war era, the current crisis of world capitalism is again posing the question:  is there another way to organize society?

Even with Cuba’s immense lack of resources and technology (further aggravated by the U.S. embargo), the achievements made in healthcare, education, and other fields are enough to convince many in the region that there are aspects of the Cuban economy — most notably the concept of producing to meet the needs of all Cubans and NOT for private profit — worth repeating.

Hugo Chavez has been the Latin American leader most inspired by the Cuban economy.  Chavez has made important steps toward breaking from the capitalist economic model and has insisted that socialism is “the way forward” — and much of the hemisphere agrees.

This is the sole reason that Obama continues the Bush-era hostility towards Chavez.  Obama, it is true, has been less blunt about his feelings towards Chavez, though he has publicly stated that Chavez “exports terrorism” and is an “obstacle to progress.”  Both accusations are, at best, petty lies.  Chavez drew the correct conclusion of the comments by saying:

“He [Obama] said I’m an obstacle for progress in Latin America; therefore, it must be removed, this obstacle, right?”

It’s important to point out that, while Obama was “listening and learning” at the Summit of Americas, the man he appointed to coordinate the summit, Jeffrey Davidow, was busily spewing anti-Venezuelan venom in the media.

This disinformation is necessary because of the “threat” that Chavez represents.  The threat here is against U.S. corporations in Venezuela, who feel, correctly, that they are in danger of being taken over by the Venezuelan government, to be used for social needs in the country instead of private profit.  Obama, like his predecessor, believes that such an act would be against “U.S. strategic interests,” thus linking the private profit of mega-corporations acting in a foreign country to the general interests of the United States.

In fact, this belief that the U.S. government must protect and promote U.S. corporations acting abroad is the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, not only in Latin America, but the world.

Prior to the revolutionary upsurges that shook off U.S. puppet governments in the region, Latin America was used exclusively by U.S. corporations to extract raw materials at rock bottom prices, using cheap labor to reap super profits, while the entire region was dominated by U.S. banks.

Things have since changed dramatically.  Latin American countries have taken over industries that were privatized by U.S. corporations, while both Chinese and European companies have been given the green light to invest to an extent that U.S. corporations are being pushed aside.

To Obama and the rest of the two-party system, this is unacceptable.  The need to reassert U.S. corporate control in the hemisphere is high on the list of Obama’s priorities, but he’s going about it in a strategic way, following the path paved by Bush.

After realizing that the U.S. was unable to control the region by more forceful methods (especially because of two losing wars in the Middle East), Bush wisely chose to fall back a distance and fortify his position.  The lone footholds available to Bush in Latin America were, unsurprisingly, the only two far-right governments in the region: Colombia and Mexico.

Bush sought to strengthen U.S. influence in both governments by implementing Plan Colombia first, and the Meridia Initiative second (also known as Plan Mexico).  Both programs allow for huge sums of U.S. taxpayer dollars to be funneled to these unpopular governments for the purpose of bolstering their military and police, organizations that in both countries have atrocious human rights records.

In effect, the diplomatic relationship with these strong U.S. “allies” — coupled with the financial and military aide, acts to prop up both governments, which possibly would have fallen otherwise (Bush was quick to recognize Mexico’s new President, Calderon, despite evidence of large-scale voter fraud).   Both relationships were legitimized by the typical rhetoric: the U.S. was helping Colombia and Mexico fight against “narco-terrorists.”

The full implication of these relationships was revealed when, on March 1st 2008, the Colombian military bombed a FARC base in Ecuador without warning (the U.S. and Colombia view the FARC as a terrorist organization).  The Latin American countries organized in the “Rio Group” denounced the raid, and the region became instantly destabilized (both Bush and Obama supported the bombing).

The conclusion that many in the region have drawn — most notably Chavez — is that the U.S. is using Colombia and Mexico as a counterbalance to the loss of influence in the region.  By building powerful armies in both countries, the potential to intervene in the affairs of other countries in the region is greatly enhanced.

Obama has been quick to put his political weight firmly behind Colombia and Mexico.  While singing the praises of Plan Colombia, Obama made a special trip to Mexico before the Summit of the Americas to strengthen his alliance with Felipe Calderon, promising more U.S. assistance in Mexico’s “drug war.”

What these actions make clear is that Obama is continuing the age old game of U.S. imperialism in Latin America, though less directly than previous administrations.  Obama’s attempt at “good neighbor” politics in the region will inevitably be restricted by the nagging demands of “U.S. strategic interests,” i.e., the demands of U.S. corporations to dominate the markets, cheap labor, and raw materials of Latin America.  And while it is one thing to smile for the camera and shake the hands of Latin American leaders at the Summit of the Americas, U.S. corporations will demand that Obama be pro-active in helping them reassert themselves in the region, requiring all the intrigue and maneuvering of the past.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org).  He can be reached at shamuscook@yahoo.com

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