National Commentary

Union Blows & Budget Woes

“Which Side Are You On?” was the song during the painful 1930s when the working class decided they needed decent wages and hours during a work day.

“Which Side Are You On?” was the song during the painful 1930s when the working class decided they needed decent wages and hours during a work day.

Under the leadership of United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis and United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther, the labor movement made great strides. It was not easy. The strikers were brutally opposed by the entrenched companies, who fought the unioners engaged in sit-down strikes. Thugs were hired to beat down the workers’ legitimate rights.

After the battles, a union card was a legitimate mark of respect. But, many corporate leaders were unreconciled.

The U.S. enjoyed many years of labor peace, with some upsets during World War II. Then came future president Ronald Reagan, six times elected president of Hollywood’s Screen Actors Guild, a union man who turned conservative and anti-union when he began broadcasting for General Electric. Reagan became firmly against unions, despite the fact his father, a Democrat from Dixon, Illinois, handed out Works Progress Administration checks during the Great Depression.

Ironically, the air controllers were the first union to back Reagan’s first bid for the presidency, and he showed his gratitude to unions by going after the air controllers when they went out on strike in defiance of government restrictions.

I was in the Oval Office a few minutes before Reagan walked out to the Rose Garden to fire 13,000 striking air controllers. He had a big smile on his face.

Many of those workers lost their jobs permanently, and some tragically committed suicide after being unable to support their families.

Now we come to 2011, with Republicans dominating the House and many GOP governors determined to cut the deficit on the backs of the poor and the deprived.

That’s the way they have interpreted the mid-term elections – as a mandate to break the unions.

Leading the charge is Scott Walker, a Republican businessman elected governor of Wisconsin. He is one of several GOP governors apparently out to destroy organized labor. Walker is determined to deny public sector workers their collective bargaining rights. He is doing so under the guise of reducing the Wisconsin state budget.

A New York Times/CBS News poll last Tuesday showed a majority of Americans say they oppose efforts to weaken the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions. The poll showed they are also against cutting the pay and benefits of public workers to reduce the budget deficit.

Nearly every state has big budget problems and is deeply in the red. But none are suggesting that taxes for the rich – who can pay more taxes – be increased. And why not? When thousands of Americans are being asked to lay down their lives for the country, what makes the Republicans refuse to reach down in their pockets to keep the government going?

The Republicans also want to cut funding for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcast System (PBS), denying the nations’ pre-schoolers popular programming such as Sesame Street, among other things.

They also are considering barring federal funds for Planned Parenthood, which provides breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, testing for HIV and advice on family planning.

Despite the major concessions the unions made to help meet the state deficit, Walker made no bones about his goal – to destroy the public unions.

One wonders, are there any poor Republicans? Obviously not, but compassion is not their strong suit. The bankrollers for Walker and the GOP, who drive to wipe out collective bargaining rights, are the Koch brothers, Charles and David, multi-billionaire owners of a private energy conglomerate based in Wichita, Kansas.

The military industrial complex is prevailing in this country, while millions of Americans are suffering from the great recession. The U.S. is spending billions every month. What planet are our leaders living on? The working and middle class is being eliminated. Like Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana are taking the same anti-labor route. Missouri, of all places, is weakening its child labor laws to allow 14 year olds in the workplace. Maybe the American workers will get as angry as they are in the Middle East. After a span of many years, once more labor has to identify its rights.