Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., May 12, 13 or 15
“From NAFTA to GATT and the WTO and the current push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the goal has been to create a borderless world for goods and finance while building fences with razor wire to keep workers in place,” writes Rowan Wolf, a college teacher in Portland, Ore., and editor of Cyrano’s Journal.
“The goal has been to force workers compensation and rights lower and lower, and safety and environmental standards lower and lower,” she added. “All of this with the goal of climbing profits.
An example is the Boeing contract begrudgingly approved by workers in January that limits raises to 1 percent every other year even as the corporation projects its profit growth at 5 percent a year. Meanwhile, pension benefits were lost to financiers, and employees will have to pay up to 30 percent of their insurance costs.
Elsewhere, details are emerging about massive third-party intervention at the representation election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., in February, but the United Auto Workers dropped their federal appeal of their narrow election loss there to focus on a probe by congressional Democrats of political meddling that led to the Valentine's Day defeat.
San Francisco State University labor studies professor John Logan lists a Baker’s Dozen actions in the unprecedented interference, including U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) who twice issued a false statement of fact that he’d been given assurances that Volkswagen would expand production at Chattanooga if workers rejected the United Auto Workers as their exclusive bargaining agent; Tennessee’s GOP Gov. Bill Haslam offering $300 million in subsidies to VW – if the UAW lost the vote. (According to a confidential document uncovered by the UAW, Haslam wrote, "The incentives described below are subject to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee."); union-busting consultant Peter List (who National Labor Relations Board member Dennis Walsh said had engaged in "patently unlawful" activities in a 2007 organizing drive); and Republican State Senator Bo Watson, who threatened to block financial incentives for the company if workers voted for union representation (saying that legislators would "have a difficult time convincing our citizens to support any Volkswagen incentive package").
VW's executives reportedly called the White House to complain that it had never encountered flak like that by Republican lawmakers in Tennessee, and that it would not expand there as a result.
Because of an increasing number of similar shenanigans nationwide, incomes for everyday U.S. workers are stagnant despite increasing workers productivity and rising corporate profits, according to Wolf and EPI’s analysis.
Huge forces are lined up against labor, Wolf said.
“Clearly, the long-term goal is to eliminate these ‘pesky’ collectives that give workers a voice and actually create a ‘negotiating table’ to sit at,” she said. “Without unions, there would be no negotiation with employers.”
Meanwhile the labor movement and today’s unions have been essentially removed from schools’ textbooks, from Kindergarten through college, so young Americans have virtually no idea of labor history, nor what it has meant for this country and for workers.
“The propaganda [is] that the problem of profitability faced by corporations (and the expense of government) is the awful union workers, with their wages and benefits,” Rowan said, “except that sometimes the profits are just fine – even great.”
For workers, there’s bitter irony in words uttered by GOP icon Ronald Reagan, who said at the Statue of Liberty on Sept. 1, 1980, “Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.”
He was commenting on Poland’s workers, but labor everywhere should remember.
Rowan commented, “At what point do we start raising the question ‘Can we afford these multinational corporations?’ ”
[PICTURED: Chart from the Economic Policy Institute.]