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Arlen Specter Checked A Card

The irony was hard to miss. Senator Arlen Specter, checking a card changing his party affiliation from Republican to Democratic, saying that he won't support the right of working people to check a card to change from unaffiliated to affiliated with a union.

Somehow, what's been lost in all this debate is that democracies typically invite people to check a card to register their desire to participate in that democracy. In the USA, for example, we call it "voter registration."

Unions are democracies. Each has its own "constitution" (bylaws) determined by its members. Each democratically elects its own officers and leaders (by secret ballot). And American workers would like the right to check a union registration card to bring a union to their workplace.

Every voter in America, in fact, checked and signed a card - a public card, which is part of a public record - to be able to participate in our democracy. We publicly register to vote to say, "Yes, I want to be part of the democratic processes in our republic!" For example, Arlen Specter is registered to vote, that voter registration card he checked and signed being the necessary prerequisite to participate in the political processes of this democracy we call The United States of America.

Once registered as a member of a small-d democratic institution, whether it is the USA or the Teamsters, all subsequent votes are in secret. And to register to vote in our national democracy is even more public than to register to vote in a union - card-check records for union organizing are kept confidential from both the union and the employer.

The Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers', and Wal-Mart's talking points on this are pretty simple. They argue that giving people the right to simply check "yes" on a card and sign their name to it to join a union will open up potential union members to coercion. Much like the "coercion" right-wingers decry from voter-registration groups like ACORN. How dare they actually walk up to people and ask them if they want to join a democracy and participate as a voter in determining our collective fate and future?!

Specter publicly checked a card to register to vote. He publicly checked a "yes" box on a card to register to run for political office. He publicly checked a "Democrat" box on a voter-registration-change card to become a Democrat.

How tragic that he doesn't understand - or is willing to kowtow to corporate donors who don't want him to acknowledge - that the right to check a card to join a democracy is the essence of our American system.

And that without the strong presence of democracy in the workplace - unions - balancing the antidemocratic power of corporate capital, American democracy will never be as healthy or resilient as it could and should be.

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Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann (thom at is a Project Censored Award-winning New York Times best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk program The Thom Hartmann Show. His most recent books are Rebooting the American Dream: 11 Ways to Rebuild Our Country and an updated edition of "Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became "People" - And How You Can Fight Back." Previous books include:  Threshold: The Crisis of Western Culture," "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,"  "We The People: A Call To Take Back America," "What Would Jefferson Do?," "Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It," and "Cracking The Code: The Art and Science of Political Persuasion." He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute.

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