Fix U.S. Foreign Policy, Pass the Employee Free Choice Act

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SOMETIMES A “STRATEGIC” opportunity for
reform comes along which changes the
playing field for efforts to win other
reforms in the future. The passage of the
National Labor Relations Act was a strategic
reform. It empowered the people previously
excluded from power, and thereby
reduced the power of corporate interests. The same is
true of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).
The passage of EFCA is easy to justify on the basis of
guaranteeing the human rights of working Americans. When
it is signed into law, millions of private sector workers will
have greater protection from having their rights violated.
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
of 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 would the EFCA change this situation? Anti-union
employers will have less freedom to intimidate people, a key
reason anti-union employers oppose this bill, 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 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 EFCA. 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.
Suppose you‘re not a nonsupervisory private sector worker
and don‘t believe you‘ll ever be in a union or that your
working conditions will be directly affected by unions.
Apart from your belief in fairness and in protecting the
rights of others, do you have a stake in the passage of the
EFCA? Absolutely you do.
If it bothers you that corporations have too much
power in Washington and 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 EFCA.
Look at the northern European countries. They seem so
different from the United States. Universal health care.
Less 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 EFCA becomes law, more working people in
America will join unions and, as America‘s labor unions
become stronger, working people will have more political
power. 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 the political power
of the pharmaceutical industry, we‘d all be paying Canadian
prices for prescription drugs.
Likewise, there might not have been a housing bubble
nor a financial crisis, and, even if there were, we‘d be
restructuring the banks instead of bailing them out with
hundreds of billions in tax dollars.
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
and killing America‘s youth in the process. Do you have
any stake in the passage of the EFCA? Absolutely you do.
We‘re never going to get a foreign policy that reflects
the values and interests of the majority of Americans until
working people in America—the vast majority of the population—
have more political
This might not be obvious to
people who don‘t know the full
history of the labor movement
in America. The AFL-CIO
backed the Vietnam War. Why
would, then, it improve U.S.
foreign policy for the labor
movement to have more
But the labor movement that
existed in the early years of the
Vietnam War didn‘t drop down
from the sky. It was the product
of a deliberate government
campaign to destroy the most
progressive wing of the labor
movement, following World
War II. A key motivation for
that campaign was to remove
domestic political obstacles to
foreign military and economic
policies the U.S. government
intended to pursue — policies
that weren‘t in the interest 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 in the thirties this way in
his 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 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,…, raising funds for anti-Nazi organizations,
demanding an end to American sales of scrap iron to
the Japanese military complex, and on and on.“
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.
In January 2007, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney
denounced President Bush‘s proposal for military escalation
in Iraq. In March 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. These statements played a significant role in
aligning Democrats in Congress in favor of a timetable
for U.S. withdrawal for Iraq. And the position of 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 from the Bush Administration
a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.
The internal struggles over the U.S. labor movement‘s
foreign policy are by no means over and would likely
never be. But the direction of motion is towards an American
labor movement that opposes foreign military and
economic policies that are against the interests of the
majority. A dramatic expansion in the ranks of organized
labor will help push labor in a more progressive direction
on foreign policy. That‘s why Americans who want to end
U.S. foreign policies based on war and economic institutions
dominated by corporate interests, and who want
policies based on peace, economic development, and
diplomacy have a stake in the passage of the Employee
Free Choice Act.
Interviews with Steve Arney and Eldon Smith were conducted
by Marti Wilkinson. For the entire interviews, you can go to

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