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Est. April 5, 2002
July 16, 2015 - Issue 615

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Full Frontal GOP Assualt
Against Workers Continues


"The government agencies, such as the U.S.
Department of Labor and others, are either
incapable of protecting the working class or
are under instruction (however it’s done) of
the major parties’ representatives in Congress
not to give workers too much of a boost
in their personal lives."

Jeb Bush, Republican candidate for his party’s nomination for president, recently said that Americans must work longer hours, to be more productive and to gain for themselves a higher standard of living, while the Republican governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, has demanded that workers give up fundamental things such as collective bargaining.

Whether Bush’s statement on the campaign trail was an inadvertent gaffe or just a misstatement of his real intent, what he said revealed what the GOP and other on the right think of the hard-fought set of workers’ rights in the U.S. His handlers scrambled to make sense of what the former Florida governor said.

What he said, however, betrays the same lack of understanding of wage-working Americans that his father displayed when he was president: President George H.W. Bush expressed surprise at the computerized supermarket checkout procedure and remarked about the actual price of staples such as bread and milk. Such are the problems of the nation’s 1 percent. They can, and do, live their lives without so much as a thought about the everyday chores of life…they hire that part of their lives out to low-wage minions.

Explaining his statement about working longer hours, his handlers said that workers should be working not 30 hours a week, but 40 hours a week, without explaining what the problems are. He spoke like a true member of the 1 percent. Corporate America and most of its members like Wal-Mart, have set the work schedules of millions of wage workers at 30 hours a week, designating them as part-time workers, so they can avoid any cost to the corporation to provide a penny of “benefits,” such as health care, sick time, maternity leave, or vacations. At least until recently, Wal-Mart even held classes to instruct their workers how to make use of all of the social programs that we all pay for (including the low-wage workers, themselves), such as Medicaid, food stamps, and other social benefits for working poor.

If that’s what Jeb Bush meant, he should have said so, but that’s not how he thinks and that’s why he said what he said. But, he is not about to say that corporations are responsible for our low-wage nation and that they are the ones, which are solely responsible for the dilemma that vast numbers of workers find themselves. The government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Labor and others, are either incapable of protecting the working class or are under instruction (however it’s done) of the major parties’ representatives in Congress not to give workers too much of a boost in their personal lives.

The Illinois businessman-turned-governor, Bruce Rauner, has reiterated a GOP plan to further curb the rights of workers to raise their standards by use of their union power in the economic arena, by reducing or removing their right to collective bargaining, to provide a mix-and-match pension system (one sure to debase their living standard in retirement), and, probably worst of all, set up a two-tiered pension system for new hires in some departments of local government, such as police and fire.

For those newly hired, they would be given the choice of a smaller portion of a regular, guaranteed pension, along with a 401-K contribution to their own retirement. This has been the dream of the Republicans for many years (to eliminate defined benefit pensions and even Social Security), one that has been strongly opposed by unions, because the retirement benefit based on voluntary contributions would be dependent on the domestic stock market. We know how safe our individual retirement benefits were during the recent collapses of stock markets. Some “worker-investors” lost as much as one-third to one-half of their retirement savings in these collapses. They just could not compete with the computerized investing of the Wall Street whizzes, but when individual workers lost their life savings, they couldn’t go to the market and recoup their losses, because they are the farthest thing from insiders in market trading and manipulation. In fact, they are completely shut out, with no way to get back in.

Rauner has said that his plan, contained in a 485-page proposal, has a lot that Democrats should like. Even though he has flirted with some of the same reductions in the dwindling power of unions to improve the lives of workers that Democrats have proposed or implemented in other places, Illinois Democrats have drawn the line at such things as reducing or eliminating collective bargaining and the freezing of wages, along with the raising of the retirement age and continuing reduction of pension benefits, in general.

What both Jeb Bush and Rauner have forgotten is that, basically, the workers and their unions have little say in what makes for a more productive economy (and that includes the productivity of the public sector). Rather, it is the plant that makes for the increase in production. For example, installation of robots in factories allows the hiring of fewer workers. Thus, productivity increases because more goods are produced with fewer workers…the same is true in the public sector, but with work-saving protocols, rather than more robots installed. And, that’s the main factor in higher per-worker productivity. In the past several decades, that higher productivity has not resulted in higher wages for workers, but rather more money in the coffers of corporations and the pockets of the 1 percent.

There is little mention of this factor in the campaign trail perusings of people like Jeb Bush or the dictatorial impulses of the GOP governors like Rauner. In recent years, such governors have without shame attacked working people and what remains of their unions. If Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is an anti-worker virus, this American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-directed official has infected the rest of the elected Republican governors and other such elected officials across the country like an epidemic.

Much of what they propose is straight out of the playbook of ALEC, an organization of billionaires and millionaires that presents Republicans with ready-made bills that strengthen the grip of the rich over the rest of the nation and, as an added benefit, virtually destroy what’s left of workers’ unions, the only refuge they have in a dog-eat-dog economy.

The attack on government and workers by Bush, Rauner, Walker and the dozen or more GOP declared candidates for the Republican nomination for president is a slogan, not an indication that they would know what to do to govern the nation, whether the government is large or small. Since some of them see little function for a federal government (at least, that’s what they say or indicate in their speeches), it’s hard to see why they would want to be elected to office at all, except that it seems to be a way to quick riches.

Despite what they might say, the GOP candidates and the rest who agree with them in their attacks on “big government,” public service has been a way up and out of poverty for black Americans and other minorities, ever since the desegregation of the military in the time of President Harry Truman. In addition to the military, think of the U.S. Postal Service, the myriad departments of cities, counties, and states, as well as the teaching professions. As always, there is a racial and class element to the Right Wing aim of destroying as much of government (public) service as possible, deny it though they might.

Underneath it all, whether we are talking about worker productivity (Bush), further reduction of worker power and living standards (Rauner), or destruction of unions (Walker), we are faced with a broad-fronted movement that intends to reduce working Americans to a kind of indentured servitude that has not been seen in this country for some time. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.

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Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
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