Jul 18, 2013 - Issue 525

 BlackCommentator.com: Senate GOP: Masters of Blockade to Stop Worker Progress - Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - BC Columnist

With the U.S. economy crumbling at their feet, Republicans in the U.S. Senate every day find new ways to prevent any move to support working women and men in their attempts to improve their lives and, by that, improve the economy of the entire nation.

The GOP has been busy in the Senate slowing or halting any effort to help the working class and the middle class out of the depression they are in, whether that depression is economic or emotional. Whether it’s the food stamp program, education, housing, health care, or any of myriad other issues and programs that they want to curtail or even stamp out, they have lots of help from the House of Representatives, where their fellow Republicans rule.

House Republicans have taken the lead over the Senate GOP, when it comes to cutting and slashing social programs, while all the time seeking to further cut money coming into the U.S. treasury, by cutting the taxes, meager as they are, of the rich and of Corporate America. They never stop championing their masters and benefactors.

There is discussion among the top politicians about the condition of the stock market and the corporations that are listed there, but there is not much discussion, let alone debate, about the condition of workers and those who have yet to find jobs in a tottering economy. The working class and the middle class are on their own, as far as they are concerned. After all, we are told, there are so many jobs that are going begging for workers to fill them. We aren’t told how unemployed workers from one part of the country are going to save enough money to get to those jobs, maintain their families back home, and pay living expenses where the jobs are. Some of those jobs require education, licenses, or certification, all of which may take a few or a half-dozen years to meet the requirements.

Also, we’re told, now that the nation’s unemployment rate has “improved” that there are only three or four applicants for each available job, rather than the four or five applicants a few years ago, when things were a little worse than they are now. So, why is the Right Wing of American politics on the attack against workers? It is not clear, but this is evident by their nasty moves in several states, to cut unemployment benefits, either for long-term unemployed or by those who are newly unemployed. Nothing like kicking workers and their families when they are down, through no fault of their own.

Workers are beginning to see the light, starting at the very bottom of the wage scale. There are stirrings of low-wage workers in retailing, such as Walmart, and in the fast-food “industry,” in places like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s. All of the workers in those places are not teenagers saving to buy a better phone or a car. They are adults (mostly minorities in the cities) and they have families that they cannot support on the minimum wage, or even $10 or even $15 an hour.

They have conducted one-day strikes and picketed their workplaces and held rallies, demanding higher pay and benefits. Much of this has happened spontaneously over the past few years, with some help from a union, or two. It has gone largely unnoticed by most Americans, but the realization that workers have to organize themselves is growing and they are supported by a growing number of Americans, especially those in the union movement who know the value of working under a fairly negotiated contract.

One thing that has surprised so many picketing and striking workers and some observers is that so many of the striking workers were taken back after the job action without missing a beat. A small number have even seen some improvement in their working conditions, but the idea that they have not generally been punished is a victory, of sorts. They have engaged in concerted activity (in concert, that is, with their fellow workers), as is encouraged in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the law going back some 70 years that was intended to protect workers in their efforts to form unions.

The idea that solidarity will give them strength against the overwhelming power of their bosses and Corporate America is growing in the minds of some of the most vulnerable and low-paid workers in the country. They are almost spontaneously forming the idea that solidarity among workers is a good thing. It’s not a great leap of understanding from that, to forming a union, and that’s what the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), formed to protect workers’ rights under the NLRA, was all about.

The NLRB continues to be under attack by the political right, in this era, as it has for decades and the opposition consists mostly of Republicans, backed by Corporate America and its billions of dollars that are used every day to weaken the workers’ position in society and in the economy. And their attacks destroy the ability of workers to organize themselves into unions for protection of the common good. The latter is something that the nation’s founders talked about, but the common good never seemed to extend to the people on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. That’s why we have unions and that’s why unions traditionally have taken this matter of the common good into their own hands. It is a small beginning, but it is the people, themselves, who are pursuing the common good.

And that’s why the powerful have been so hell-bent on destroying the ability of the NLRB to see to it that workers have an agency of government that protects their interests. The ability of the board has been weakened over time by a number of schemes, not the least of which is the appointment of board members who have no interest in the well being of the working class. Now, however, the Republicans have taken a different tack: they have withheld confirmation of appointments to the board, thus keeping it from having the required quorum of three members, especially since President Obama would be likely to appoint people who tend to care about the common good.

Obama has nominated five persons, three Democrats and two Republicans, but, as has been the case for years, those nominations have stalled. As of early this month, the president was considering recess appointments, but the Senate GOP has pulled another trick. They claim that keeping a few of their members in Washington during recess will keep Obama from making any “recess” appointments, since, they claim, the Senate is not really in recess. It remains to be seen whether that ploy will work.

Unions and other worker support groups have created a “give us five” campaign, aimed at the Senate Republicans, demanding that they give Obama’s nominations an up or down vote. At the same time, the groups are demanding that, if the Republicans do not allow an up or down vote on nominations, that Democrats change the Senate rules (they are the majority, after all) to allow a vote to come to the floor.

The NLRB is the one agency of the federal government that protects private sector worker rights on the job, union or non-union. Corporations and right wingers, led by the likes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have tried for years to destroy the NLRB’s effectiveness, even though, at its best (in its early years), it was not a match for the power of Corporate America. One of the more revealing comments about the Republican and corporate attitude about the board and, by extension, about the rights of workers, was by Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): “The NLRB as inoperable could be considered progress.”

He and others, in Congress and the corporate world, have tried to make the board inoperable for decades and, right now, they nearly have put it in that condition. The campaign of workers and unions might work and either the Senate Republicans or Democrats might make a move that will break the impasse. It’s true that this is only one of the impasses in our beleaguered political and economic system, but it is one that affects some 80 million private sector workers. That’s a lot of families who depend on some semblance of fairness in the workplace. The NLRB should be the instrument of that fairness, but it can’t do its job until it gains some respect from politicians who detest workers and the board that (sometimes) defends them. They won’t even give it enough members for a quorum.

This is one instance in which the institution of organized labor, the unions big and small, can learn something from those who are paid a pittance and who have nothing...fast food workers. Yet, they gathered together in front of industrial hamburger and chicken joints and made their demands and, even without protection of a union or the government, they didn’t suffer the mass firings that might have been expected.

A little solidarity among workers, in general, is in order. There are federal buildings and NLRB offices in every state. When enough workers begin to mass in front of those buildings and in front of politicians’ offices, the politicians will begin to pay attention. They may even take action. Under the right circumstances, agreements can be reached between labor and capital, with or without the NLRB.

BlackCommentator.com 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. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.