Fighting on Two Fronts

Fighting on Two Fronts

Union Perspective on the War on Terrorism

The last year has been a tough time for anyone who cares about economic justice in the United States. Since September 11, trying to promote a labor union agenda-or talking about economic equality at all-has been like walking under water. For one thing, it seems impossible to rally the public around the issues we face. Who cares about the problems of farmworkers or nurses when we’re worried about anthrax? For unions negotiating new contracts it’s even worse; compared to buildings falling down, protesting about our own wages and benefits seems like petty, self-centered whining.

In this atmosphere, we’ve become tongue-tied. For many of us in the labor movement, it’s as if we’ve been administered a nationwide dose of anesthesia. We know that our problems haven’t changed, but we can’t figure out how to articulate our issues in a way that seems compelling to anyone.

Politics by, of, and for the Rich

Unfortunately, while we’ve been silenced by the need to sacrifice for the common good, big business and the super-rich have used the national crisis to pursue a selfish agenda at the expense of the great majority of the country. The Bush administration has promoted a dramatic legislative agenda, any part of which would have provoked large-scale opposition before September 11. Just a short list of these sweeping changes includes the following:

Social Security: Before September 11, Al Gore and George Bush were competing over who had the stronger “lock box” for safeguarding the Social Security surplus. The “lock box” was raided one day after the terrorist attacks, when the president took forty billion dollars from Social Security, declaring it necessary for the war on terrorism.

Fast Track: This is likely to cause at least as much damage to working people as NAFTA.

Missile Defense: We are diverting huge amounts of money to this project when there’s no clear evidence either that it will work or that it is needed.

Huge Corporate Giveaways: The president proposed a hundred billion dollars in corporate tax cuts with no guarantee that the money will be used to create jobs.

The USA Patriot Act: This legislation is now being used to threaten immigrant workers and union activists around the country-with language so vague that any non-citizen (including legal residents) could be arrested and deported for supporting a union boycott.

The Port and Maritime Security Act: This bill is the worst of pending legislation. It is a means to help shipping companies that are out to break the longshore unions. The bill only appears to have something to do with security: shipping companies have refused to allow inspection of the actual cargo containers, but want workers screened and fired if they have any felony conviction in the past twenty years. This is the equivalent of having uselessly str...