Big Labor's RICO-inspired, extortionate tactics

It is a basic idea behind the national labor law: workers choose the union that represents them. If a union has the support of a majority of workers, it represents them. If the union doesn’t have that support, it doesn’t represent those workers. If we don’t know for sure if the workers want a union or not, a government-run secret-ballot election is held to find out. It is pretty simple and very much in keeping with our democratic traditions.

That basic principle has been under siege over the last decade as unions resorted more and more to "corporate campaign" tactics that short-circuited the union election process and imposed representation on workers with little regard for their right to choose their own representatives. But the National Labor Relations Board, to its credit, has taken decisive action that will go a long way toward restoring that right.

The National Labor Relations Act is emphatic: "Employees shall have the right to self organization, to form, join or assist labor organizations, [and] to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing." It has long been understood that the best way for workers to choose a representative is through a secret-ballot election. But the law does not always require an election — an employer can recognize and begin bargaining with a union once it is presented with evidence that a union has majority support, typically in the form of authorization cards signed by a majority of workers, a process referred to as "card check."

This process of voluntary recognition makes sense in those cases where it is clear in advance that the union would win a vote. Dispensing with the election avoids the costs and delays of a secret-ballot vote and improves the chances that union and management will build a harmonious working relationship.

But allowing voluntary recognition — in which management can decide to skip the election and recognize a union based on its own judgment of what its employees want — is not without risk. Card check by itself is not an infallible guide to employee opinion. When an employee signs a card it may be because he or she supports a union, but it may also be the result of social pressure or confusion about what the card really means. Or it may be because of intimidation by union officials — unlike an election there’s no privacy and there’s no neutral observer to verify that the whole thing is done fairly. The cards are not foolproof; even after collecting signatures from more than two-thirds of the workforce, a union’s chances of winning a secret-ballot election are no better than 50-50.

Relying too much on card check means that workers may find they have a union that most of them don’t really want. Much depends on the employer’s ability and willingness to discern its own employees’ opinions. A dishonest employer might take advantage of this procedure to foist a weak union on its own employees. Or a union might exert pressure from other sources on that employer to force it to accept a card check.

In fact, unions have been doing just that for the last decade, using a strategy known as the "corporate campaign" to put pressure on companies from customers, shareholders, government agencies and even religious groups in order to force them to forgo a secret-ballot vote and accept unions based solely on card check.

The typical corporate campaign is a cunning series of attacks on an employer’s business. The attacks can go well beyond criticizing the company’s relationship with its employees, and nothing is out of bounds. The point of the corporate campaign is not to persuade workers to join the union, but to pressure the company to accept unionization by card check and to then to say or do nothing to oppose the union during the organizing drive.

Corporate campaigns may attack a company’s relationships with its clients, and those attacks may even veer into libel. In one case the UNITE HERE union sent postcards to expectant mothers advising them to avoid using Sutter Health services because the laundry service employed by Sutter Health had returned bed linens to the hospital that still had blood, feces and pathogens on them. (UNITE HERE’s actual target was the laundry service, although Sutter Health itself was the target of another union organizing campaign waged by the SEIU.) Sutter Health would eventually win a $17 million dollar judgment against UNITE HERE for defamation.

Another tactic is to take advantage of the stock held by union pension funds to mount proxy battles against a company’s management. Unions may use relationships with friendly non-profits to pressure other institutional investors to support a "pro-social" agenda. This pressure for socially responsible investing may be well intentioned, but it also presents opportunities for unions to disrupt an employer’s operations.

Or a union may object to a company’s application for government permits. The environmental permitting process can be complicated, and union-supported legal action can result in delays or denials of government approval for a wide range of company projects, further disrupting an employer’s plans.

The union can also use its own resources, in cooperation with friendly groups, to wage a public relations campaign designed to tear down a company’s overall reputation in the community. The accusations may be focused on how the company treats its employers — the continuing union campaign against Wal-Mart is a good example, but the bad PR does not have to end there.

One common thread among all these tactics is that the corporate campaign generally is not designed to persuade workers that union representation would be valuable to them. Even in the example of Wal-Mart, the corporate campaign is largely directed at customers and community groups, with the goal of persuading shoppers to go elsewhere, and motivating politicians and community groups to use permitting and zoning rules to prevent Wal-Mart from opening new stores.

The ultimate goal is to gag the company during a union organizing drive and to force it to agree to recognize a union when it is presented with union authorization cards signed by a majority of its workers. Once the employer agrees to the union demands, the pressures on the company are relieved, but then its workers are left vulnerable to pressure tactics from a union they may not have needed or supported. Until recently, the union could resort to deception or intimidation knowing that workers would not have a chance later to make their real intentions known in a secret-ballot vote.

Under the rules created by the National Labor Relations Board, once a union was recognized it was very difficult for workers to get rid of it. The process of decertifying a union requires that workers collect signatures from 30 percent of their ranks, and then they must win another secret-ballot election. But even that had to wait until union and management have had an opportunity to negotiate a contract — this is referred to as the voluntary recognition bar — and if the two sides are able to agree to a contract quickly the NLRB’s contract bar rule meant that workers would have to wait as long as three years to file a petition and have a vote to remove a union.

Unions resorted to corporate campaign tactics because elections had become too difficult to win: the union win rate in NLRB-supervised elections has been little better than 50 percent for several years. Frustration with workers who are increasingly skeptical of union claims has led unions to resort to tactics that subvert employee choice. According to George Washington University Professor Jarol Manheim in his report “Trends in Union Corporate Campaigns,” the union win rate goes up to 70 percent with card check and neutrality in place.

But the National Labor Relations Board, to its credit, has now taken action to minimize the risks created by corporate campaigns. In a decision handed down Sept. 29, 2007, the Board changed its rules so that whenever an employer recognizes a union voluntarily — without a secret-ballot vote — workers will be given 45 days to circulate a petition for a vote of their own. Workers will need to be given notice of their right to petition for an election before the 45 day period can start. If union opponents are able to collect signatures from 30 percent of their coworkers, the NLRB will hold a secret-ballot vote to decide matters. If they cannot get the signatures, or the union wins the election, then the union will be put in place, just like before.

The new rule came about in the wake of neutrality and card check agreements that automotive suppliers Dana Corp. and Metaldyne Corp. signed with the UAW. In both cases the UAW was able to secure signed authorization cards from a majority of employees. In both cases, there was strong opposition to the union from those same employees; petitions opposing the UAW were signed by 35 percent of workers at Dana and a majority of workers at Metaldyne — something that would be impossible if card signatures were a reliable measurement of worker support.

The rule is not perfect — unions will still be able to use pressure tactics against employers and it will be up to employees to force a vote. The corporate campaign will still be useful to unions: Card check agreements can still be used to prevent employers from calling for a vote, and neutrality agreements can still be used to silence employers. The process of collecting sufficient petition signatures to force a vote will still be challenging, especially in large companies.

Ideally, there should always be a secret-ballot vote before any union can be recognized. But this decision is a step in the right direction. Workers will have a window in which to act, and a legal means to prevent a union they oppose from being forced on them. The fact that union recognition could be challenged by their own employees is likely to make employers more reluctant to agree to card check, especially when the company is not certain that its workers support unionism. For that, at least, the National Labor Relations Board deserves some credit, and workers who prefer to remain union-free can take some comfort.


Congress tilts to gov't union monopolists

Here in San Diego, when it comes to federalism, or protecting states' rights from the meddling of the federal government, it seems we often take one step forward, only to take two steps back.

One step forward was the passage of a bill by Assemblyman Martin Garrick, R-Carlsbad, to permit groups of like-minded individuals the freedom to communicate with their members, preserving free speech rather than restricting it. It's a great step in allowing people who care so much about an issue that they are willing to volunteer their money to back an idea, the freedom to do so without locals meddling.

But it seems we may soon be taking two steps back: Last week, I learned of Congressman Brian Bilbray's support for House Resolution 980, a stealth effort to prevent some of our most talented and skilled firefighters from stepping up to do what they have a burning passion for -- fighting fires. It is abundantly clear that the same trampling of one's freedom that comes from putting limitations on where one can spend their money is the same as where one is permitted to spend their free time.

There's no difference between a teacher who cares so passionately about education that she lobbies to oppose No Child Left Behind or tutor a student in her free time and a firefighter who is willing to wake up at 4 a.m. to help stamp out a fire in his neighborhood on his night off.

If passed by the Senate, HR 980 would mandate unionization of EMTs, firefighters and policemen across America. States and localities who choose not to recognize public sector unions would face a federal override, with Washington setting labor rules. There's a provision in the bill that opens the door for punishing professional firefighters from "volunteering" with "rival" units. A volunteer unit could be a "rival" to the city or county (unionized) unit.

Two weeks ago, Palomar Mountain was saved by 24 members of the Palomar Mountain Volunteer Fire Department who forced back the flames, preventing most of the mountain's 300 homes from being lost to the Poomacha fire. They would be considered a "rival" unit to the Escondido Fire Department under the current version of HR 980.

The volunteer fire service is one of the most valuable resources a community can have, according to emergency service personnel. It is those men and women who go into harm's way to save the lives and properties of countless people each year. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 72 percent of U.S. firefighters are volunteers. Most communities with less than 25,000 residents are protected by volunteer fire departments, anchored by a core of professional firefighters who volunteer during their free time.

Discouraging a highly skilled group of professionals who care about their communities, and have the talent to prevent a vast damage in any way from volunteering their expertise, because it may jeopardize their job, is simply repulsive to this taxpayer.

Coercion and economic incentives have no place within the ranks of selfless volunteers, whether they be doctors, treating a neighbor after hours, an attorney doing a bit of pro bono work or a firefighter who puts out a neighbors Christmas tree next month.

This is a deeply flawed bill that will lead to many communities being less safe than they are now.


Striking writers replace inflatable rat with pig

Writers received a large boost from celebrities Thursday as their fourth day of picketing returned to Midtown Manhattan. More than 100 noisy, boisterous picketers lined Columbus Circle in front of Time Warner headquarters. Walking with them on a chilly Manhattan morning were Robin Williams, who brought bagels for the writers, and David Duchovny.

Others included Tim Robbins, Julianne Moore, "SNL" star Seth Myers and "Sopranos" creator David Chase as well as "Law and Order: SVU" actors Chris Meloni and Richard Belzer.

Chase, carrying a "Fair Share for Net and Air" sign, said he wasn't striking for himself but instead for writers' residuals for those who aren't as well off.

"There are a lot of people who depend on those residuals to get by," Chase said.

The appearance of hard-hatted Teamsters emboldened the picketers after a brief lull, adding whistles and renewed chants of "Pens down, contract now."

The appearance of hard-hatted Teamsters emboldened the picketers after a brief lull, adding whistles and renewed chants of "Pens down, contract now." The inflatable rat was replaced by an equally large and "greedy" pink pig.

"Good luck, you guys," said one woman walking by.

Former sitcom star Roseanne Barr stopped by to show support. She said the strike wasn't affecting anything she was currently doing as she is mostly blogging.


Putting too much faith in left-wing causes

The Earth stopped for just a few seconds in October, so that we all could gaze upon St. Bridget Church in Manchester, Connecticut. A political controversy involving the church lasted about 15 seconds, but had much to teach us about God and man and politics.

A newspaper ad extolling the virtues of local-yokel Democratic candidates in Manchester noted that the Dems "worked with St. Bridget's Church and labor unions to pass the living wage ordinance showing our support for working people."

No, no, no, explained the priest at St. Bridget, we don't endorse or support candidates of any particular political persuasion.

Enough said. The Democrats apologized profusely, muttering under their breath that St. Bridget is chock-a-block full of union activists who did, in fact, campaign for Democrats and the dumb living-wage ordinance. Left unsaid was that the political advertisement expressed the modern reality that churches and religious denominations and sundry "faith-based" groups have become eager political operatives, putting aside the God-stuff in favor of sponsoring seminars on the earned-income tax credit.

Many of the mainstream Protestant faiths have been led astray by denominational staff that has grown bored with transcendence and prefers to probe the mysteries of air pollution and property tax reform. Even some of the more praise-the-Lord evangelical types have begun to scratch the itch to become "environmentalists." Which coal-scrubbing technology would Jesus recommend? Apparently, you don't learn that in chemical engineering class; you learn it at seminary.

In these here parts, the Greater Hartford Coalition for Equity and Justice, for instance, is a church-fueled advocacy group indistinguishable from the lefty fringes of the Democratic Party and irrelevant labor unions. In a sermon in 2003 at the Washington National Cathedral, the executive director of the Christian Conference of Connecticut used the occasion to spew anti-Bush rhetoric that even many Democrats found embarrassing.

For perspective on political discomfort, the St. Bridget folks can recollect the rambunctious political career of the Rev. Robert Drinan, a Jesuit who wandered off to politics in the 1970s, winning election as a U.S. representative in Massachusetts, before Pope John Paul II got cranky and told him to find a new vocation.

As late as the 1970s, the state of Tennessee was still fighting off legal challenges to its 18th-century ban on clergymen in the state legislature - a statute finally put out of its misery by the U.S. Supreme Court. The American people have an ambiguous, uncomfortable attitude toward denominational and clerical dabbling in things political.

As the faith-based amateur politicians meander into the complexity of modern economic and political life, they lose their moral standing and become just another set of braying special interests, with nothing special to offer that can't be found in the average precinct club or labor hall.

When the Catholic bishops issued a naive letter on the U.S. economy in the 1980s, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer captured the sentiment of many: "It is one thing for religious leaders to remind their politicians and parishioners of the prophetic duty to care for the poor. It is another thing when these prophets, armed with the authority of technical experts, produce an outline of exactly how that is to be undertaken in a complex political system."

The National Council of Churches, which over the decades evolved into a left-wing political mess that couldn't find God if he struck them with a lightning bolt, issued a wonderful survey of pastors in four mainstream Protestant denominations in 1977. It grimly reported that only 4 percent of the clergy said the primary aim of church "mission" was to "improve the well-being of people by giving them new and improved methods of agriculture, industry, education and health."

Needless to say, the preachers also indicated that the ultra-lefty national staffs of their denominations were "out of touch" with the majority of the folks in the pews.

By the mid-1980s, the American people were so uncomfortable with the political bent of their faiths that, according to a Gallup Poll in 1986, Americans trusted the military more than their religious leaders. As the president of Gallup explained it, religious leaders "have become controversial and more political - and thus just more noisy, partisan voices.

And that is the lesson of the sensitivity about politics from St. Bridget Church in Manchester. Go in peace.



Nurses abandon posts nationwide to join strikers

Representatives from nursing organizations in several states demonstrated at Appalachian Regional Healthcare's corporate offices in Lexington yesterday in a show of support for nurses who have been on strike against ARH since the first of last month.

About 40 people, including nurses from California, Washington state, New York, Oregon and Ohio, waved signs and chanted outside ARH's offices on Executive Drive, and made an unsuccessful attempt to speak with company officials. They later left in a caravan, bound for various ARH hospitals in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.

The nurses stopped in Hazard, where tensions have been running high between those inside the hospital and those on strike. A skeleton sitting in a lawn chair wearing a Santa hat greets cars as they drive into or past the hospital. The sign it holds reads: "My nurse was a scab."

The traveling nurses joined those on the picket line -- holdings signs and chanting messages in support. They waved at passing cars who honked in support.

"It's been tough," said Wilma Jones, president of the Hazard unit of the Kentucky Nurses Association. "It's so uplifting to have their support."

Jones handed out $400 checks yesterday to those on the picket line. The money came from the Kentucky Nurses Association emergency fund, as well as from donations brought by the nurses from other states.

About 630 nurses walked off their jobs at seven ARH hospitals after their contract expired on Oct. 1.

The visiting nurses planned to walk picket lines at other ARH hospitals today.

ARH spokeswoman Candace Elkins said the action by "outsider unions" would not help end the strike.

"We believe they are taking advantage of our nurses and using this for their own political gain," Elkins said. "We don't believe they care about health care in the mountains, or our patients. They're not here to resolve this, or to get ARH nurses back to work."

Zenie Cortez, vice president of the California Nurses Association and one of the nurses who took part in yesterday's demonstration, said the strikers walked off their jobs in an effort to secure agreement on adequate staffing to provide care for patients.

"There was a call for national unity for the nurses, so we flew in here Thursday," Cortez said. "We're just glad to be here to support these nurses who have been on the picket lines for five weeks, and it's all in the name of patient care."

Several members of the group entered the building where ARH is housed, but couldn't reach ARH's upper-floor offices because the elevator was turned off and the stairway door was locked, said Kentucky State AFL-CIO president Bill Londrigan, who accompanied them. The demonstrators streamed back out into the parking lot, chanting, "We'll be back; we'll be back."

The group left after two Lexington police officers arrived and entered the building. There was no confrontation between police and the demonstrators.

The nurses maintain the strike is about patient care and staffing, arguing that ARH needs to to hire more help so nurses will have enough time to give individual patients high-quality care.

But ARH chief executive Jerry Haynes argues that the real issue is money.

Haynes says the nurses' three-year proposal -- including a 7 percent salary boost annually, plus more sick leave, standby pay and other compensation -- would increase costs by $28 million over three years, and $40 million if extended to four years.

Londrigan, the Kentucky AFL-CIO president, said Haynes is engaging in "union busting," and "showing disrespect for nurses and patients."

Nurses and ARH officials are scheduled to meet with a federal mediator in Lexington on Wednesday, according to Elkins. Three previous mediation sessions have produced no progress.

ARH has been hiring permanent replacements for the strikers and has added 130 new people since the strike began, according to Haynes.

Elkins said all ARH hospitals are continuing to take care of patients.

Harry Rodriguez, president of a health care workers' local in New London, Conn., said the strike should be ended.

"The nurses have been out long enough," he said. "It's time to put them back to work."


Unions' costly political campaign to end NCLB

In 2001, the National Education Association took no position on the No Child Left Behind Act. It did not lobby for or against the bill, which Congress passed with large bipartisan majorities late that year.

This year, the nation’s largest teachers’ union is neither quiet nor equivocal. As Congress works to revise the NCLB law, the 3.2 million-member union and its California affiliate are mounting a vigorous campaign against the law and the most prominent proposal for reauthorizing it.

From its national headquarters in Washington, the NEA’s staff has issued “action alerts” urging its members to oppose a House draft bill that would change key parts of the law. For a September hearing, the NEA flew in union members from all of the congressional districts represented on the House Education and Labor Committee to lobby House members in the hallway and in the committee’s anterooms.

“What we do not need is another bad No Child Left Behind bill,” NEA President Reg Weaver said in an interview last week. On the West Coast, the California Teachers Association has staged a press conference in front of the San Francisco office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and paid for a series of radio and Web ads that attack the House draft bill.

“We learned from the last time from not getting involved,” CTA President David A. Sanchez said in an interview last week.

The NEA is known for the influence it exerts in electoral politics and legislation, both at the federal and state levels. The 340,000-member CTA is the NEA’s largest state affiliate and one of the most politically active. Last year, the CTA spent $12.6 million on statewide campaign activities, according to reports filed with the California secretary of state’s office.

While the CTA is a powerful force in state politics, its clout on the NCLB reauthorization extends to federal policy because federal lawmakers from California play pivotal roles in the law’s future. In addition to Rep. Pelosi’s role as speaker, two Californians hold the most important spots on the House Education and Labor Committee. Rep. George Miller, a Democrat, is the panel’s chairman, and Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon is its senior Republican member.

A Turn Against School Law

When the No Child Left Behind bill—an overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, first adopted in 1965—was under consideration in 2001, the NEA decided to remain neutral because the union supported some of its provisions and opposed others. ("Unions' Positions Unheeded on ESEA," Nov. 6, 2002.)

The law requires states to assess students in grade 3-8 and once in high school and hold schools accountable for their students being proficient in reading and mathematics by the end of the 2013-14 school year. It also requires that states establish definitions of a “highly qualified teacher.”

By 2005, the NEA had turned against the law and filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of three school districts and 10 of its affiliates, claiming that NCLB wrongly imposed unfunded federal mandates.

The National Education Association and its largest affiliate, the California Teachers Association, have been campaigning against a draft House proposal to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act:

NEA President REG WEAVER, in Sept. 10 testimony before the House Education and Labor Committee: "The bottom line is this: While we applaud the committee for identifying most of the problematic provisions of the current law, we do not believe the committee’s first discussion draft of Title I adequately remedies them.”

CTA President DAVID A. SANCHEZ, in a radio ad that played in California: "Now, there’s a proposal to pay teachers based on … test scores. This means more teaching to the test and will make it harder to attract teachers into lower-performing schools.”

An “action alert” sent to NEA members on Sept. 19: Tell your members of Congress to Reject Test-based Pay Programs Take Action Now! Co-sponsor the Improving Student Testing Act and the Improving Student Testing Act of 2007 Take Action Now! Get ESEA Reauthorization Right Take Action Now! Support Important Principles for ESEA Reauthorization Take Action Now! Support NEA’s Positive Agenda for the No Child Left Behind/ESEA Reauthorization Take Action Now!

From a Web ad posted by the CTA on Sept. 10: NCLB is again now up for reauthorization. And the proposal by California Congressman George Miller and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi does nothing to improve the law. California teachers are calling on Congress to vote NO on the Miller/Pelosi NCLB reauthorization plan. SOURCE: Education Week

A federal district judge in Michigan dismissed the case, a ruling that is under appeal.

The NEA’s opposition intensified this past August, when the leaders of the House education committee released a “discussion draft” of a bill to reauthorize the law, which President Bush signed in January 2002 and which stands as one of his biggest domestic-policy accomplishments. Rep. Miller and Rep. McKeon released the proposal as a first step in the reauthorization process.The draft would expand the types of data used to determine whether a school is meeting its achievement goals under the law and would create a program encouraging districts to experiment with rewarding teachers for their students’ achievement gains.

But Reps. Miller and McKeon haven’t been able to agree on details in the draft and haven’t generated enough support for it. A NCLB reauthorization bill is unlikely to pass the House this year.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, DMass., the chairman of the Senate education committee, has said the Senate isn’t going to be able to take up the NCLB law in 2007.

The lobbying by the NEA and the CTA has been one reason for the postponements, said Bruce Hunter, the associate executive director of public policy for the American Association of School Administrators, based in Arlington,Va.

“This thing you can do best if you’re a big hitter is stop things,” said Mr. Hunter, whose organization also opposes the NCLB law and the House draft bill to change it.

In their campaigns against the main federal law for K-12 education, the NEA and its California state affiliate have highlighted their opposition to the law’s emphasis on using tests scores to determine whether a school is successful. Their biggest complaint about the House draft bill, however, is that it would provide competitive grants to encourage districts to reward teachers, in part, based on their students’ achievement on those tests.

By contrast, the 1.3 million-member American Federation of Teachers has opposed many of those same sections of the bill but has done so in lower-profile ways, such as through testimony before the House education committee and in written comments about the draft.

The NEA and the CTA have been vocal in complaining that the merit-pay proposal would violate the collective-bargaining rights of their local affiliates. Almost all teacher contracts establish a salary scale that bases pay primarily on teachers’ educational credentials, such as attainment of a master’s degree, and years of service.

The national union’s opposition to new forms of compensation is “wrongheaded,” said Brad Jupp, a former vice president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, an NEA affiliate.

Mr. Jupp, now an adviser to the 72,000-student Denver district, helped design an alternative-compensation program while he was the Denver union’s lead negotiator in 1999. The union agreed to pilot a pay-for-performance plan. The plan, which has since been adopted districtwide, rewards teachers for improving student achievement, choosing to work in hard-to-staff schools, and earning positive appraisals from peer evaluators.

Accepting the new system was the only way Denver teachers could win a substantial raise at the bargaining table,Mr. Jupp said.

“It’s just a matter of time before [union locals] make that bargain,” Mr. Jupp said, adding that national union leaders “have failed to hear the cry that it’s time to change the way teachers are paid.”
Teachers’ Best Interests

Enough states and districts are experimenting with new pay systems that the NEA and the CTA are unlikely to succeed in their efforts to stop them, said Russlynn Ali, the executive director of the Education Trust-West, the Oakland, Calif., office of the Education Trust.

The Washington-based group is a vocal supporter of the NCLB law. “The idea of pay for performance … is not something that is going to go away on the state level or the federal level,” said Ms. Ali, who has opposed the CTA on proposals to change teacher pay programs in California. “It’s going to bubble up in many states.”

But on issues related to testing and accountability, one teacher who belongs to the AFT said the NEA is representing teachers’ best interests. In the nearly six years since the No Child Left Behind Act became law, it has spurred changes in classroom practice to focus on basic skills, and has taken away teachers’ authority to design their curricula and assess students’ learning using their own measures, said John Thompson, a history and government teacher at Centennial High School in Oklahoma City.

“The closer you are to the classroom, the more you despise that law,” said Mr. Thompson, an American Federation of Teachers member. The NEA’s leaders are “just saying the hard truths that people agree with,” he said.

The national union is feeling emboldened by the CTA’s success in stalling the NCLB reauthorization process, said Mr. Sanchez of the CTA.

Mr. Sanchez said that whether Congress reauthorizes the law under President Bush or his successor, he hopes federal lawmakers find a way “to come out with a bill that will bring back the joy of teaching and not have a stringent, one-size-fits-all approach.”


Election results show unionists energized for 2008

Off-year election results in state and municipal races on Nov. 6 show union voters are already energized for 2008, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says. And they also show unionists and the country want “a clear rejection of Bush administration policies,” adds federation Political Director Karen Ackerman.

Ackerman, Sweeney and others spoke in a telephone press conference after election returns came in from New Jersey local races, the Virginia legislature, gubernatorial contests in Kentucky and Mississippi, mayoral races in several large cities and ballot initiatives in many states.

The most notable results were in “red” states. In Kentucky, former Lieut. Gov. Steve Beshear (D), making his first statewide race in 20 years, handily ousted scandal-scarred GOP Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Beshear’s margin was around 20 percent.

In Utah, one of the “reddest” states for anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush in 2004, the Utah Education Association and its allies waged a successful campaign to defeat a plan to give taxpayer-paid vouchers to attend private schools to the parents of every child in the state, destroying public education.

Vouchers, passed early in the year by the GOP-run state legislature -- but only by one vote in the state house -- lost by a 62 percent margin and lost every Utah county.

In Virginia, where unionists are only 4 percent of the workforce, their get-out-the-vote efforts, phone banks and precinct walking helped overcome GOP campaigning against immigrants. Virginians ousted 5 GOP state senators, changing party control there to the Democrats for the first time since 1991, and cut the GOP margin in the state assembly. In New Jersey, 33 more unionists joined 400 already elected to local offices.

Sweeney, Ackerman and Karen White, campaigns and elections director of the independent National Education Association -- the nation’s largest union--particularly cited the Kentucky and Utah results as evidence of the energy among unionists. Ackerman and Sweeney predicted it would carry over into 2008.

“There were 350,000 union voters out of a total of 1.05 million in Kentucky,” Ackerman said, including unionists, members of their households, retirees and 50,000 Kentucky members of Working America, the AFL-CIO’s affiliate for people who do not have union locals. “And 77 percent voted for Beshear. That’s an astounding number.”

And there in and in Virginia “we’re gearing up for Senate races” and the presidential race next year, she added. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has $9 million in the bank and who has won past elections easily, faces Bluegrass State voters next year. Virginia’s GOP-held U.S. Senate seat is open.

“Working people are driving a major change in the political landscape. We’re on the cusp of a shift that could redefine American politics for decades to come,” Sweeney predicted. Voters, he added, “sent a powerful message that if you attack working people, you do so at your peril.”

Though Sweeney did not say so, McConnell led the GOP filibuster that killed the Employee Free Choice Act, which would help level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing and bargaining, earlier this year.

In the Utah vote, 60 well-heeled right wingers pumped $3.8 million into their pro-vouchers campaign, and their ad blitz tied opposition to vouchers to “liberals” and unions. It didn’t work due to what

NEA’s White called “our new ground game.” Unions and their allies, including student groups and school boards, spent just over $3 million.

White explained the Utah campaign featured microtargeting of pro-education voters, especially in rural areas, along with close coordination with the AFL-CIO. That microtargeting, identified--and sent tailored mailings to--persuadable voters or to pro-worker voters who, however, were unlikely to go to the polls in years past.

Microtargeting will be particularly useful, White added, next year because NEA, unlike the other big teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, has a high proportion of rural members and chapters in every state. That could help turn out pockets of pro-education voters where, before, none existed. She said NEA would continue and expand both microtargeting and cooperation with the AFL-CIO in 2008.

“We paid special attention to rural areas. We pointed out there weren’t even private schools available for some of these parents to send their kids to. Some would have had to drive hundreds of miles--and we showed them that on our website,” White said. The results were led by vouchers’ 4-to-1 loss in a rural southwest Utah county.


Theaters go dark as Broadway stagehands strike

A strike by Broadway stagehands will shutter the majority of Broadway shows starting on Saturday, theater owners and producers said. "Due to a strike by Local One ... there will be no performances today at many Broadway theaters," the League of American Theaters and Producers said early on Saturday on its Web site, www.livebroadway.com.

Off-Broadway theaters, non-profit theaters on Broadway and a handful of other productions, including major shows such as "Mary Poppins" and "Young Frankenstein" were not affected, the latter two having separate contracts.

The theater league confirmed the strike after media reports on Friday night said the stagehands would walk out starting on Saturday, just as the crucial holiday season approaches. Union officials could not be reached for comment.

The strike follows three months of negotiations over new work rules. A strike authorization vote was held on October 21 and Local One's parent union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, authorized a strike on Thursday.

At issue is new work rules for stagehands involving how many work on a particular show and for how long, as well as what duties they perform.

Refunds or credits were being issued for canceled performances, the theater league said.

League members speculated that the strike would only last a few days, The New York Times reported, while union members contend that it could last for weeks if necessary.

The last strike to hit Broadway was in 2003 when musicians walked out for four days. Before that it had been nearly two decades since one of the city's main tourist attractions, which brings in hundreds of millions of revenue annually, was affected by a labor dispute.


Partisan Gov. uses unions to cripple state GOP

Colorado Republicans have reacted to Gov. Bill Ritter's executive order establishing limited collective bargaining rights for state employees by "squealing like a stuck pig," as we say in Eastern Colorado.

Some degree of GOP fury is understandable. Instead of bringing such an important public policy decision to the legislature, where it could be debated with full input from interested citizens, the governor made his move at 3:30 p.m. on Friday after talking almost exclusively to the union leaders who helped elect him.

As Republicans learned with their notorious 2003 "midnight gerrymander," such attempts to slip partisan power plays under the radar don't avoid public outcry, they multiply that outrage tenfold. So it's fair for Republicans to now pummel Ritter for using the same sneaky tactics they did four years ago.

Still, there is more than simple "tit-for-tat" partisan sparring here. Republicans seem genuinely afraid of the consequences of Ritter's move. After talking to state Rep. Rob Witwer, a moderate Jefferson County Republican, I understand why.

Republicans believe Ritter has handed Colorado's fledgling public employee unions a golden opportunity to drown the Grand Old Party under a tsunami of campaign contributions to Democrats that Republicans would be legally prohibited from matching.

Our story begins with a seeming "loophole" in Amendment 27, the 2002 Colorado campaign finance law written by Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. It allows labor unions to contribute up to $4,000 to candidates to the legislature. Businesses and private citizens like you are limited to one-tenth as much as unions can contribute, no more than $400 per election season.

Republicans don't believe this enormous fundraising advantage handed to unions — who give virtually all their money to Democrats — was accidental. Common Cause and the League of Women Voters claim to be nonpartisan. But they're better known among Republicans as "Common Scold" and "the Plague of Women Voters" because their liberal leanings usually align them with the interests of Democrats. That's especially true of Common Cause, which is largely responsible for the loophole.

Here's how it works: "Small donor committees" are allowed to give politicians 10 times as much as any other person or group if they get only $50 or less per contributor.

If a union sponsored a barbecue and asked 100 members to kick in $40 each to elect a Democratic challenger to Witwer, he'd have no reason to complain. But that's not how it works. For example, unions can deduct $4 a month from a member's $15 monthly dues to the Colorado Association of Public Employees/Service Employees International Union, and count the resulting $48 a year as a "small donor" contribution from a member who may not even be aware that she made that supposed "donation."

There are about 83 races for the legislature in a given election, which would allow a single union to pour $332,000 into legislative campaigns. But that's only the start — each union local can play the same game with dues money. If CAPE/SEIU organizes just five such locals, it could pour $20,000 into each of those races, more than $1.6 million. If four other unions followed suit, that would mean $100,000 for each friendly Democrat, more than $8 million in all.

And don't forget, Republicans trying to counter this torrent of Democratic cash would be limited to no more than $400 per donor. No wonder Republicans are crying havoc.


Gov. enacts union agenda by executive order

Drowned out by the racket over bargaining partnerships for state workers is another debate: whether Gov. Bill Ritter overstepped when he enacted such a hot-button policy by executive order.

The governor argues it's well within his power to create policy targeting employees in the executive branch. And many of his fellow Democrats say they don't consider Ritter's week- old order any big deal. "To call this a major policy initiative is a hell of a stretch," said Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville.

But Republicans - who despise the idea of welcoming unions into state government - are lashing out at Ritter for an "abuse of power." "This governor has an obvious affinity for unilateral action," said Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction. "Somewhere, Dick Cheney is smiling."

The bulk of executive orders signed by the past four governors - Ritter included - are for issues as bland as burn bans, road closures due to flooding and states of emergency because of wildfire.

Ritter has signed 36 executive orders since January, but Republicans have complained about only three of them.

Still, Ritter has by some accounts earned a reputation for being the boldest when it comes to signing orders.

"Voters elected Gov. Ritter to solve problems, to take action, to find new solutions that move Colorado forward - and to not let politics get in the way," Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said.

One of Ritter's first official acts was an executive order establishing a Medicaid discount drug program that had topped the Democratic legislative agenda for years. In March, he restored a rule overturned by former Gov. Bill Owens that let state employees pay union dues through payroll deductions.

"In one year, that's a lot of policy decisions made by executive order," said GOP consultant Katy Atkinson. "Whether he was making a statement that there was a new sheriff in town, or the legislature didn't want the heat, they were willing - or labor was willing - to have a short-term saver."

Short term because the next governor could easily rescind Ritter's order.

"The fact that Gov. Ritter or any future governor can rescind it is exactly the point we've been making," Dreyer said. "This is a flexible, agile and nimble framework that allows each administration to adapt to how it chooses to conduct state government employee relations."

Democrats argued that two executive decisions during Owens' eight years in office were just as controversial as Ritter's order creating bargaining partnerships with state workers. Owens stopped letting state employees use payroll deductions to pay union dues and restricted groups that perform abortions from getting state money for family planning and pregnancy prevention.

Still, two former governors - Owens and Dick Lamm - have criticized Ritter's move.

Lamm, a Democrat, called the executive order a "mistake" and said Ritter was "pushing the limits." He said the issue should have been debated in the legislature.

Owens, a Republican, said the policy was too controversial to enact by executive order. "For the first time in Colorado history, we're talking about collective bargaining for state employees," he said.

Former Gov. Roy Romer, a Democrat, refused to comment, saying he has a policy of not critiquing other governors.

Colorado State University political scientist John Straayer said time will prove Ritter's order wasn't major.

"This is not sweeping unionization at all," he said. "They can't strike. They can't force nonunion members to pay. There is no binding arbitration. It just strikes me as kind of a middle-of-the-road act on the governor's part."

Straayer called Republican reaction to Ritter's order "pretty predictable."

"The Republicans are still smarting from losing the majority, and they are doing what any minority party would do - reach for whatever issue you can get your mitts on," he said.


Judge limits striking teachers' picketing

Judge David Henderson issued a ruling in the Edison (OH) Local Teachers Strike limiting pickets at the entrances to schools. The hearing lasted several hours.

The ruling limits pickets to eight at each entrance of Edison Local High School. Twenty are permitted along the fence at the High School. Six pickets are allowed at the Middle School.

The teacher strike is now in its third day. As of Friday, no new talks are scheduled. But union officials say they have asked the board to go back to the bargaining table.


Teamsters intimidate, NLRB to investigate

A Kalispell (MT) logging trucker has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against the Butte-based Teamsters union, saying he wants to see union records to prove he is not being overcharged for dues.

Michael Weller, an employee of Hanson Trucking and Resin Haulers Inc. in Columbia Falls, is not a member of the Teamsters Local 2 union, but believes he is being overcharged for the dues he must pay as a nonmember to cover his portion of collective bargaining costs. His complaint includes several letters from the union saying it would request that he be fired if he did not pay the dues the union set for nonmembers.

Federal 'Beck rights' entitle non-union workers to a third-party audit of union expenses to prove that they are not being charged for expenses like union political activities. After learning of his right to pay reduced dues, Weller wrote to the union electing to do so.

Mark Brandt, secretary and treasurer for the Teamsters Local 2 union replied in two letters that reduced Weller’s monthly dues by 69 cents, from $39 to $38.31, and told him if he didn’t pay a $150 objector fee, the union would request his termination. Brandt said he hadn’t had time to review the complaint and couldn’t comment.

Weller paid the charges out of fear of losing his job, and is now seeking financial disclosure documents from the union that break down whether he is paying the correct amount.

“He could be paying more, and we have no idea because the right financial disclosure documents have not been provided,” said John Powell, a spokesman for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is handling the case.

The case now goes before the NLRB’s regional board, which will investigate the charges and decide whether to issue a formal complaint against the union.


Auto dealer strike continues in St. Louis suburb

Service department workers at Valley Ford auto dealership in Hazelwood (MO) reported Friday no end to their nine-day strike.

The workers include 18 members of the International Association of Machinists District 9, Local Lodge 777 and 10 members of the Teamsters Union Local 618.

There were no plans Friday afternoon to return to negotiations, said Tony Rippeto, business representative for IAM district 9.

For the first time in more than 30 years, individual auto dealers have negotiated separate labor agreements with service department employees. The majority of contracts have been similar and were negotiated successfully.


Union control of school boards worrisome

Imagine if you had the opportunity to choose your boss - the person who would set your pay and benefits. You would take advantage of it, right?

The state's largest school employees union, the Michigan Education Association, has been doing that for years through school board elections - including Tuesday's scattered voting. It has figured out that if the union issues endorsements and hands out contributions, union officials will find its friends sitting at the table come contract negotiation time.

This should worry voters, particularly in these tough economic times when tax dollars need to be stretched. In Rochester Community Schools, for example, the MEA Political Action Committee contributed more than $3,000 each to trustees Michelle Shepherd and Timothy Greimel in 2005 alone. The union PAC also paid nearly $1,000 for mailings to voters, according to campaign documents. Both candidates were elected and were key votes in approving the latest contract.

In Tuesday's elections, reform-minded Steve Kovacs was defeated by union-endorsed Beth Talbert. With Kovacs off the Rochester board, there will be one less voice asking tough questions on spending priorities.

School board elections typically are low-turnout affairs. A 2006 nationwide study by Terry Moe of the Hoover Institution found that in the typical school election, roughly 9 percent of the public shows up to vote. By comparison, 20 percent of teachers who live in the district (but work elsewhere) vote on Election Day. Teachers who live and work in the district are four-and-a-half times more likely to vote.

Add on top of that family members and friends, and it's not difficult to see how the interests of taxpayers get overwhelmed at the polls.

Candidates who earn union endorsements will be the most sympathetic to the union's case and least likely to look for savings through bidding competitively for health care or bidding for noninstructional services. The union has become increasingly sensitive to the plight of the Michigan Educational Special Services Association, its insurance affiliate, and heading that off at the pass - at the board level - is the strategy.

The profileration of front groups does not help the situation. A quick search of the Secretary of State's campaign finance search page shows the MEA has more than 20 PACs registered to its name. Keeping track of the money that flows through virtually every county to influence the outcome of school elections is difficult to do.

Our group tracks these things. Union involvement is a clear indication of who it thinks its friends will be in labor talks.

There are several actions Michiganians must take to get better control of public education:

• Know your school board candidates, who has endorsed them and who has contributed to their campaigns.

• Determine whose interests the candidate will represent: taxpayers and parents' or the union's.

• Vote for candidates based on who will stretch dollars as far as possible.

Ultimately, taxpayers hold the power in their hands to demand reform of public education spending in Michigan. But they must know their candidates and vote accordingly to ensure their wishes are granted and more dollars are freed up for students.


Governator intervenes in writers' strike

Former actor and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says he has assumed an unspecified backstage role to bring an end to the screenwriters strike. "I'm talking to the parties that are involved because I think it's very important that we settle that as quickly as possible, because it has a tremendous economic impact on our state," Mr Schwarzenegger said.

The Terminator star was for many years a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) but left showbusiness to run for governor as a Republican in 2003. Mr Schwarzenegger, sometimes called the "Governator" since he entered politics, did not elaborate on what he could do to solve the writers strike.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike against the major film and television studios on Monday as negotiations on a new contract for its 12,000 members collapsed, shattering nearly 20 years of Hollywood labor peace.

The talks, which began in July, foundered largely on the failure of the two sides to reach a deal on writers' demands for a greater share of revenues from the Internet, widely seen as a key future distribution channel for most entertainment.

While there has been no obvious immediate impact on the feature film industry, TV production was thrown into turmoil as work ground to a halt on several prime-time series and most late-night talk shows were forced into immediate reruns.

If the strike drags on, most scripted comedies and dramas in prime time were expected to shut down production by the end of November.

But the networks say they still have filmed enough advance episodes to keep many shows on the air without repeats until December, January or even February.

Out of work

However, production halts have thrown many hundreds of crew members out of work, from hairstylists and makeup artists to camera operators and carpenters, with fallout rippling through the local economy.

"That's the sad story, because the studio executives are not going to suffer, the union leaders are not going to suffer, the writers that are striking, they are not going to suffer. Those are all people that have money," Mr Schwarzenegger said when asked about the strike.

Veterans of past showbusiness labour confrontations have said the current strike could be a long one given what they see as an unusually high level of acrimony and public posturing on both sides.

"This negotiation has spent too much time in the public eye and not enough at the bargaining table in my view," entertainment lawyer and former studio negotiator Howard Fabrick said.

The last major Hollywood strike was a 1988 walkout by the Writers Guild that lasted for 22 weeks, delayed the start of the fall TV season that year and ultimately cost the industry an estimated $US500 million.

Some studio executives, such as News Corp chief operating officer Peter Chernin, have said the strike could actually have a short-term benefit because the companies save on production and development costs.

The News Corp-owned Fox network revealed on Wednesday it would postpone launching the seventh season of its hit spy thriller 24 for the duration of the strike.


UAW members vote on contract betrayal at Ford

As it did in the previous contracts at General Motors and Chrysler, the United Auto Workers is once again seeking to batter down rank-and-file opposition and impose an agreement at Ford Motor Co. that will drastically undermine the conditions of auto workers. Ford workers began to vote on the contract Thursday, with UAW officials saying they hoped to wrap up ratification in less than a week.

At GM the UAW called a two-day strike before announcing a deal. At Chrysler, the union reached an agreement after a six-hour strike. At Ford, the UAW did not even bother to make a pretense of opposition before coming back with a contract that goes even further in cutting jobs and wages.

Under the terms of the agreement, at least a dozen plants will be closed. Another 14,000 workers will be offered buy-outs and early retirement packages, in addition to 33,000 workers who left the company over the last two years. It is widely expected that Ford will announce further job cuts after the agreement is signed, just as GM and Chrysler did.

As with GM and Chrysler, the linchpin of the Ford agreement is a two-tier wage system that will cut the pay of future workers in half—from $28.75 to $14.20. While the union claims it will limit “entry-level wages” to 20 percent of Ford’s workforce, it is clear that both the company and union are working to rid the Ford of its higher-paid veteran workers and replace them with a work force of lower-paid workers.

Entire facilities, such as Rawsonville stamping and Sterling Axle in Detroit’s suburbs, will be exclusively low-wage plants. Local unions will bid against each other to sign “competitive operating agreements” that will expand the use of “entry-level” workers and low-paid temporary and part-time employees.

On Monday, this betrayal received unanimous support from the union’s Ford local presidents and plant chairmen at a meeting in Dearborn, Michigan. In the face of mass discontent among Ford workers—and just days after a similar deal was nearly rejected by Chrysler workers—the local officials hailed the agreement and gave UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and other top negotiators repeated standing ovations.

Kell Quantz, vice president of UAW Local 900 at the Wayne Stamping and Assembly Plant outside of Detroit, told Bloomberg News that union delegates were happy with the agreement. “We won’t have any problem getting this ratified,” he said.

Even the president of Local 882 in Altanta—which lost 2,000 members when Ford shut down its assembly plant in the city last year, praised the agreement. “Given the state of the industry, I’m thinking we did the best we could,” Samuel Stephens told the Detroit News.

He added, “The job commitments will go a long way. We know we have to start making profits again in North America and from this we can say we are really doing our part.”

“It’s a beautiful contract. They saved a lot of plants,” said Judge Kennard of UAW Local 900 at the Wayne Assembly plant.

Such brazen lies are the way the UAW does business. The 28-page booklet being passed out to Ford workers for the ratification vote is headlined, “UAW Ford Bargainers Preserve Jobs, Protect Wages and Benefits.”

The UAW officials in no way feel accountable to the members they claim to represent. Their positions and perks do not depend on the conditions of their members, but on their incestuous relations with management and their success in suppressing any resistance to the corporation’s dictates.

The quid pro quo for sacrificing the jobs and living standards of auto workers in this contract is a multi-billion-dollar retiree health care benefit trust fund controlled by the UAW. The fund—known as a voluntary employees’ beneficiary association, or VEBA—will be partially funded by Ford, which in turn will be relieved of its obligation to provide medical coverage to 125,000 retired workers and their surviving spouses.

UAW President Gettelfinger and other top union officials have been intent on setting up a VEBA with Detroit’s Big Three auto companies at least since 2005. The union bureaucracy sees in the scheme a guaranteed income flow and a means of insulating itself from the disastrous consequences of its policies for auto workers. For years, the UAW has sought to find other sources of income to replace lost dues revenues, with union membership declining by two-thirds since 1979.

The VEBA plan emerged from years of discussions between the UAW and Lazard, a top Wall Street asset management firm. They devised a plan to leverage the money owed by the companies to retirees into a private investment fund that would guarantee huge returns for the UAW and its top officials. The combined value of the trusts set up with GM, Chrysler and Ford will be about $70 billion, making it one of the biggest private investment funds in the US.

A substantial portion of the VEBA at Ford is being financed with shares of the company stock. As the Wall Street Journal noted, this will “make the union Ford’s largest shareholder, with a stake that if converted could be at least four times that of the Ford family’s.”

As a corporate entity, the UAW will have a direct financial incentive to reduce benefits to retirees, while increasing the exploitation of its members in the factories in order to push up Ford’s share values. Some portion of this income no doubt would flow down to local officials and appointees who are on the UAW gravy train.

There is another factor in the effusive praise for the contract by the entire UAW apparatus. To a man, the leading personnel in the UAW are career functionaries who never led a struggle and are incapable of expressing even in the most distorted way the interests of the working class.

The officials rose to prominence in the UAW long after the consolidation of a pro-capitalist bureaucracy that purged the socialists and other left-wing militants who built the UAW in the mass struggles of the 1930s. They were trained in the corporatist outlook of labor-management “partnership” and flag-waving nationalism that has dominated the UAW.

A biographical sketch of Gettelfinger himself makes this clear. “It was never Gettelfinger’s intention to become an auto worker,” the Detroit News wrote in 2002, when he took over the union. After dropping out of Indiana University in 1964, he went to work at the Ford plant in Louisville. “If he couldn’t avoid the shop floor,” the News wrote, “he would use it to catapult himself to better things.”

While taking business courses at night, Gettelfinger got involved with “UAW local politics,” according to the newspaper, and in 1978 became bargaining chairman at the plant, enabling him to get off the assembly line.

The workers at the Louisville plant had a reputation for militancy and resistance to speedup. Because of this, Ford decided to shut the plant in 1979.

Gettelfinger and Local 862 President Owen Hammons went to work to blackmail their members into accepting management’s demands. Hammons, who is described as Gettelfinger’s union “mentor,” denounced the Louisville workers, writing, “No one wants to do more today than they did yesterday even if before, for four hours, they didn’t do a thing. I mean, that’s not what a union is about. It really isn’t.”

Gettelfinger and the hundreds of high-paid union officials below him have set out to crush the resistance of workers to the historic betrayal represented by the Big Three contracts. While they have earned the justified hatred of thousands of auto workers, they have won nothing but praised from Detroit’s auto bosses and the news media. Detroit News columnist Daniel Howes recently hailed Gettelfinger for his “courage to see the competitive world as it is, not as old union hands wish it still was.”

Howes went on to say that it was the union that took the initiative in the proposals that would supposedly revive Detroit’s auto industry. “It was the UAW, backed by the financial savvy of Lazard, that pushed the concept of off-loading billions in retiree health care liabilities,” Howes wrote. “It was the UAW... that agreed to various forms of a lower ‘second-tier’ wage... It was the UAW that proposed Ford exchange a portion of its cash contribution to the VEBA for a larger convertible note and then invest the difference in plants, new equipment and flexible body shops,” he gushed.

The Detroit News columnist concluded, “And as much as these deals could transform GM, Ford and Chrysler, they are also likely to transform the union and its image from a graying bulwark against change into a younger, solutions-oriented union primed to reverse its decline.”

Indeed, the UAW is out to reverse its long-term decline. But this has nothing to do with the defense of workers’ jobs and living standards. The UAW is redefining itself as a corporate entity, which will enforce the most brutal conditions in the factories, while becoming, in the words of the Wall Street Journal, “a major financial player.”

There is no way workers can fight to defend their jobs and living standards while they are trapped inside such an organization. The prerequisite for any such struggle is to break free from the UAW and organize a fight independently of it.

The creation of a genuine movement to defend the working class requires a rejection of the reactionary politics that have produced this catastrophe. First of all, workers must reject the pro-capitalist politics of the UAW and revive the powerful socialist traditions of the American working class.

Workers must break from the two political parties of big business and war—the Democrats and Republicans—and build a political movement that sets as its aim not the reform of the profit system, but the reorganization of economic life to meet the needs of working people.

The national chauvinism of the UAW must be rejected. The fight to defend auto workers’ jobs and living standards is an international fight, which requires the unity of auto workers in the US, Canada, Latin America, Europe and Asia in a common struggle against the global auto giants.

The struggle for this perspective above all requires the building of a new political leadership in the working class, the Socialist Equality Party. We call on workers who are looking for a way forward to study our program and make the decision to join and build our party.

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