Reform US Foreign Policy by Passing EFCA

Sometimes an opportunity for reform comes along that is "strategic" in
that it changes the playing field for efforts to win other reforms in
the future. The passage of the National Labor Relations Act -
establishing the right of American workers to organize unions and
bargain collectively - was a strategic reform. It increased the power
of people previously excluded from power, and thereby reduced the
power of corporate interests.

But the right of workers in America to organize has been steadily
eroded by unpunished abuses by anti-union employers. Passage of the
Employee Free Choice Act is easy to justify on the basis of
guaranteeing the basic human rights of working Americans. When the
Employee Free Choice Act is signed into law, millions of private
sector workers will have greater protection from having their rights

What difference would that make? Ask Steve Arney. He used to be a
reporter at the Bloomington Pantagraph, a newspaper in Illinois owned
by Lee Enterprises.

A majority of employees at the Pantagraph signed cards to support
forming a union with the St. Louis Newspaper Guild. Lee Enterprises
responded with a campaign to defeat the effort by Pantagraph employees
to form a union.

As part of Lee's anti-union campaign, Steve Arney lost his job.

Arney had worked at the Pantagraph for sixteen years. He'd been a
writer in various departments, and had had excellent evaluations. At
the time of the organizing drive, he was working as a Features writer.
Arney says:

"They said I was selected because they had decided to cut
a job in Features, and I had the least seniority among three people
who were writing for Features. To which I responded, 'Well, we know
that's a lie, because I can work in any other department in the
newsroom.' I had proven year after year that I was a very versatile
reporter. I was selected because I was involved in the union, it's
just that simple."

Firing someone for supporting a union is a violation of federal labor
law. So, if Lee Enterprises fired Steve Arney for supporting a union,
then Lee Enterprises should have gotten in trouble, right?

Here's what Steve Arney says about that:

"I had to take the severance, because I didn't make enough
to save up a bunch of money. So I accepted the severance, so I lost my
right to sue. Had I sued, the outcome, at best, two and half years
later, the way the system is rigged for the companies right now, I
would have got my job back. Two and a half years later. After appeals,
and fights, and all kinds of headaches. I would have been a fool not
to take the severance. So they can say, 'Well, our hands are clean.'
They aren't. They're dirty."

Eldon Smith worked at the Pantagraph as a shortage driver. "I
delivered papers to people that did not get their papers," he says. "I
had had several comments that I was one of the best shortage drivers
that they had ever had."

About two weeks after he marched in a pro-union rally, Smith says,
"they called me in and told me I was working too many hours, and they
cut my hours back." After cutting his hours again, they told him his
job was being eliminated. "There is no question in my mind why my job
was eliminated," Smith says.

How will the Employee Free Choice Act change this situation?
Anti-union employers will have less freedom to intimidate people - a
key reason that anti-union employers oppose the Employee Free Choice
Act. Arney says:

"They'll lose a half a year...from the time that we turn
in our cards that say our company workers want a union, and then for
the next weeks - and then they delay it - for the next months, they
cajole, badger, intimidate, fire people...make life miserable for
people who are in favor for collective bargaining. So the deck is
stacked right now for management, and they want that deck continually
stacked for them. They don't care about our secret ballot. They care
about their power and their profit."

These are examples of Americans whose basic human rights are being
violated today, whose rights would be protected under the Employee
Free Choice Act. Tens of millions of private sector workers who don't
have union contracts today would benefit, both because they could more
easily form unions, and because the threat of unionization would drive
up wages and benefits overall.

But suppose you're not a nonsupervisory private sector worker or that
you don't believe you'll ever be in a union, or that your working
conditions will be directly affected by the prospect that you might
join one. Apart from your belief in fairness and in protecting the
rights of others, do you have a stake in the passage of the Employee
Free Choice Act?

Absolutely you do. If it bothers you that corporations have too much
power in Washington, if you want to see the kinds of reforms in
America that people hoped for during the Obama campaign, you have a
huge stake in the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Look at the northern European countries. They seem so different from
the United States. Universal health care. Very little poverty. Better
education. Better family leave and childcare policies. What do these
countries have in common?

Working people in these countries have more political power than
working people in the United States.

If the Employee Free Choice Act becomes law, more working people in
America will join unions and as America's labor unions become
stronger, working people in America will have more political power,
like they do in northern Europe. That's why there's a wall of
opposition from Wall Street. It's not just about wages and benefits.
Wall Street financial institutions don't pay their employees so badly.
It's about the political power of working people - including the power
to rein in corporations. And that's key to many other domestic
reforms. If there were a more powerful counterweight to the insurance
industry's political power, we'd already have universal health care.
If there were a more powerful counterweight to Wall Street's political
power, there might not have been a housing bubble and a financial
crisis, and even if there were, we'd be restructuring the banks now
instead of bailing them out with hundreds of billions in tax dollars.
If there were a more powerful counterweight to the political power of
the pharmaceutical industry, we'd all be paying Canadian prices for
prescription drugs.

But suppose what really moves you is reforming U.S. foreign policy.
You're tired of the U.S. being an international outlaw, invading other
people's countries, bombing their villages, killing their children,
toppling their governments, killing America's youth in the process. Do
you have any stake in the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act?

Absolutely you do.

At any point in time, the folks who want peace have to oppose new and
ongoing wars with whomever is available. You oppose war with the peace
movement you have, not the peace movement you might like to have, as
Donald Rumsfeld might say. But in the long run, we're never going to
get a foreign policy that truly reflects the values and interests of
the majority of Americans until working people in America - the vast
majority of the population - have more political power.

This might not be so obvious for people who don't know the full
history of the labor movement in America. The AFL-CIO backed the
Vietnam War. Why would U.S. foreign policy improve if the labor
movement had more power?

But the labor movement that existed in the early years of the Vietnam
War was a historical anomaly that didn't drop down from the sky. It
was the product of a deliberate government and employer campaign after
the Second World War to destroy the most progressive wing of the labor
movement. A key motivation for that campaign of destruction was
removing domestic political obstacles to foreign military and economic
policies the U.S. government intended to pursue, policies that weren't
in the interests of the majority of Americans.

Prior to the purge, there was no boundary between the labor movement
and what we know today as the peace and international solidarity
movements. Saul Alinsky described the labor movement scene in the
thirties this way in his 1971 book "Rules for Radicals":

"The agendas of those labor union mass meetings were 10
per cent on the specific problems of that union and 90 per cent
speakers on the conditions and needs of the southern Okies, the
Spanish Civil War and the International Brigade, raising funds for
blacks who were on trial in some southern state, demanding higher
relief for the unemployed, denouncing policy brutality, raising funds
for anti-Nazi organizations, demanding an end to American sales of
scrap iron to the Japanese military complex, and on and

The labor movement that exists today may be a far cry from your
grandfather's labor movement that existed in the 1930s. But it's also
a far cry from your father's labor movement that existed in the 1960s.

Part of the ferment in America's labor unions that led to the election
of John Sweeney as President of the AFL-CIO in 1995 was longstanding
anger at the previous AFL-CIO leadership's relationship to anti-worker
U.S. foreign policies - ineffective opposition in some cases, active
collaboration in others. There was a lot of outrage at the failure to
effectively fight the anti-worker NAFTA agreement. But that was just
the most prominent among a list of grievances relating to U.S. foreign

Since Sweeney's election, opposition to anti-worker U.S. foreign
policies has been more vigorous. In 1997 - under Clinton - organized
labor and its allies defeated the renewal of "fast-track" authority to
negotiate anti-worker trade agreements. Today the labor movement is at
the center of efforts to block the anti-worker Colombia trade
agreement. And immediately after taking office, Sweeney shut down
parts of the AFL-CIO's international apparatus that had supported
brutal anti-worker U.S. government policies overseas, including the
CIA-linked AIFLD.

In January 2007, President Sweeney denounced President Bush's proposed
military escalation in Iraq. In March 2007 the General Executive
Council of the AFL-CIO called for
the end of the U.S. military occupation of Iraq and a timetable for
withdrawal of U.S. forces
. The AFL-CIO statement played a
significant role in aligning Democrats in Congress in favor of a
timetable for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. And the insistence by
Democrats in Congress - especially presidential candidate Barack Obama
- in favor of a timetable for withdrawal decisively strengthened the
hand of the Iraqi government in successfully demanding a timetable for
U.S. withdrawal from Iraq from the Bush Administration.

The internal struggles over the U.S. labor movement's foreign policies
are by no means over and likely never will be. But the direction of
motion is towards an American labor movement that increasingly opposes
foreign military and economic policies that are against the interests
of the majority, increasingly challenges anti-worker institutions like
the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and increasingly
supports international solidarity to lift up workers around the world.
And a dramatic expansion in the ranks of organized labor in America -
which will disproportionately pull in the most disadvantaged sectors
of the labor force, including recent immigrants who maintain links to
their former countries - will help keep organized labor moving in a
progressive direction on foreign policy. That's why Americans who want
to end U.S. foreign policies based on war and corporate domination -
and who want to enact policies based on peace, economic development,
and diplomacy - have a big stake in the passage of the Employee Free
Choice Act.

Have you spoken up yet? You can add your voice here.

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