Sure, sure, I knew what “card check” was, and it sounded like a good idea to allow employees in a workplace to unionize if more than half of them signed cards saying they wanted a union. I’m in favor of that, sure. But it took David Bonior, speaking last week at the bloggers’ tent, to drill through my thick skull the significance of passing card check (see FreeChoiceAct.org) at the federal level.
Bonior, a former congressman who fought to expose Reagan’s secret wars and who helped shepherd through Congress the Boland Amendment, which made it illegal to fund a war without consulting Congress, now chairs American Rights at Work. He stressed the electoral wrack and ruin that results for Democrats when the labor movement totters. For example, of the 22 right to work (for slave wages) states, all voted for Bush in 2004 and all but Iowa in 2000. Conversely, even though union membership now languishes somewhere between 7 and 12 percent, 25 percent of the voters are union members. Those unions, man, they know how to educate their workers on the issues, get them out to the polls, and put them to work in campaigns.
The last thirty years have been the Dark ages, though, for the labor movement in this country. The labor laws have been a dismal joke. Somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 workers are illegally fired every year for trying to organize unions. And 75 percent of the time, when a union drive starts gathering steam, corporations hire union busters. The days of guys wielding baseball bats for that purpose are over. Now businessses hire law firms that specialize in slowing the process to a crawl.
Consequently, says Bruce Raynor, who spoke at the Thursday Missouri caucus breakfast, thirty million workers go to full time jobs every day and yet make less than poverty level wages. We are becoming what Warren Buffett calls “a sharecropper nation.” Missouri is part of the exploitation of non-union workers, of course. One prime example is that military uniforms must, by law, be made in the U.S. A Missouri corporation, Eagle Industries, makes some of those uniforms. It hires Puerto Rican workers at $6.00 an hour, with no health care benefits or pension plans.
Now. Suppose card check became law. First thing it would do is start restoring a middle class in this country. There’s no reason why auto workers were particularly entitled to middle class wages any more than, say, hotel maids. They got those wages because they fought for–and some of them died for–unions. Now it’s time for service workers to unionize. Raynor told the Missouri caucus that one hotel in Denver–the Hyatt Downtown where Obama stayed–has just unionized. Here’s the difference those maids wil experience: Instead of making $7.50 or $8.50 an hour, with no health care benefits or a pension plan, those women will get a living wage, with health care and a pension plan. Furthermore, in a job that requires lifting heavy mattresses and lots of physical exertion, their workload has been cut from cleaning thirty rooms a day to eighteen.
Be happy for workers who get the benefit of union jobs, but even if you’re not a union worker, you will benefit too.Remember that 12 perent of workers are union but 25 percent of voters are union members. Union workers vote at somewhere between two and three times the rate of the general population. And they vote strongly Democratic. Get the picture? Bonior said:
When we pass this act–and we will pass this law, we will unleash a torrent of organizing activity like my father saw. The labor movement will be not only in the ascendancy but on rockets, and that will get us health care and better wages. It will get us out of that rotten war in Iraq.
We’ve got a Democratic Congress. Now all we need is a few more Democratic senators so we can block filibusters and a president who won’t veto card check.