BUSH'S WORKING-CLASS LIES
By Dick Meister
By now, only the hopelessly naive could possibly believe that President Bush
and his Republican cohorts in Congress are sincere in the praise for
firefighters, police and other public service employees and working people
generally that they've been mouthing since Sept. 11.
GOP members of Congress even blocked legislation that would have granted
state and municipal employees the basic right to bargain collectively with
their employers on pay and working conditions -- a federally-guaranteed
right long held by most workers in federal and private employment.
Democratic sponsors of the bill had argued that, if nothing else, the heroic
actions of firefighters, police and others in the aftermath of the September
attacks earned them the right to the unionization that's denied public
workers in 18 states and granted only in limited fashion in most others.
Although politically careful to laud the public workers' heroic acts,
leaders of the Republican majority in the House that killed the union-rights
bill trotted out the shop-worn argument of "states' rights" to justify their
opposition. Why, said they, it wouldn't be proper for federal lawmakers to
tell local lawmakers to grant their employees the same rights that federal
law requires other local employers to grant the people who work for them.
What it amounts to, of course, is that the GOP is no less anti-labor now
than it was before Sept. 11.
Nor are Bush and the party any less pro-business. That's glaringly obvious
from their continuing shameless attempts to use the "War on Terrorism"
proclaimed by the President as an excuse to add to the riches of the
corporate interests they actually serve while pretending to act in behalf of
The most blatant evidence of that came in passage by the
Republican-controlled House of a bogus "economic stimulus" bill that would
grant billions of dollars in tax cuts to the country's richest corporations
and individuals. Not surprisingly, the GOP-sponsored measure provided
virtually no relief for others, including the hundreds of thousands of
workers the corporations have laid off since the attacks.
Although Democrats have managed to block Senate approval of the of the bill,
Bush and his GOP allies are continuing to push hard for it. Meanwhile, they
have blocked passage of labor-backed legislation that would provide extended
and improved Unemployment Insurance benefits, help pay for health insurance
premiums and otherwise assist the laid-off workers.
Bush and friends clearly are not much interested in providing workers
anything beyond politically self-serving lip service. Yet more evidence of
that came in the Republican-sponsored measure that provided $15 billion in
cash and loan guarantees to U.S. airlines, but no relief at all to laid-off
You want shameless? To also have provided extra unemployment benefits and
other help to the 150,000 aviation workers who've lost jobs, House Majority
Leader Dick Armey argued, would "not be commensurate with the American
If Republicans had their way, the airlines would even have been allowed to
continue using dangerously inept but low-cost private security firms to
screen baggage rather than turning the job over to better-paid unionized
federal employees, as Democrats advocated. The firms have been able to bid
low on screening contracts because they are largely non-union and so could
keep pay at or close to the legal minimum -- and, like the GOP's other
corporate beneficiaries, contribute handsomely to Republican election
But though GOP lawmakers failed to block transfer of baggage screening to
federal employees, they did force a compromise that gave individual airports
the option of switching back to private firms for screening after three
years. The federal screeners, furthermore, will have limited union rights.
They are prohibited from striking, for instance, and have less protection
against arbitrary firing than other federal workers.
Thanks an executive order issued just recently by Bush, several thousand
employees of the Justice Department's Criminal Division and all 93 U.S.
attorneys' offices nationwide -- secretaries, paralegals, clerks and others
-- have been stripped of their right to union representation, their union
contracts torn up. Bush acted under a 1978 law that, while allowing the
workers to unionize, also allows a president to deny that right in agencies
that deal with "intelligence, counter-intelligence, investigative or
national security work."
Administration spokesmen explained -- and with straight faces -- that Bush
acted because unionized employees might keep their non-union attorney bosses
from taking actions needed to better protect Americans. They actually
claimed it would undermine national security if workers had a voice in
determining their working conditions rather than having them imposed
Bush also is trying to get the Customs Service and Border Patrol designated
as "secure agencies," so as to deny their employees union rights too.
It's pure and simple union-busting, noted Carl Goldman of the American
Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- "a cynical attempt to
use Sept. 11 to weaken unions."
The President already has fired all seven members of the Federal Service
Impasses Panel that is the last resort for federal workers who have reached
an impasse in bargaining with their employers but who of course lack the
right to strike. The panel tries to forge a compromise agreement or, in
extreme cases, dictates a settlement. Those named by Bush to replace the
fired panelists naturally are anti-labor, headed by Becky Norton Dunlop,
vice president of the notoriously right-wing Heritage Foundation.
Another Bush appointment that's rightfully angered labor is that of Eugene
Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, as the Labor
Department's solicitor or chief lawyer. Bush had delayed appointing Scalia
because he knew he couldn't get Senate confirmation. But as soon as
Congress recessed in December he named Scalia to the job as a "recess
appointment," meaning he can serve in the job for a year without having to
Some choice to head a department whose function is supposedly to champion
workers. Scalia is a corporate management attorney whose job has been to
oppose labor in labor-management conflicts.
Scalia's anti-labor position was made most clear in his writings against the
ergonomics regulations developed by the Clinton administration to try to
protect workers from the repetitive stress injuries that are the most
extensive of the many serious on-the-job hazards threatening U.S. workers.
Scalia called the scientific studies that led to the regulations "quackery"
and argued that the regulations would only burden employers with increased
Scalia wrote that the regulations were adopted as "a major concession to
union leaders, who know that ergonomic regulation will force companies to
give more rest periods, slow the pace of work and then hire more workers
(read: dues-paying members) to maintain current levels of productivity."
Talk about "quackery." And imagine, how terrible, making work easier and
opening more jobs.
Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have of course rescinded the
Clinton regulations on ergonomics and, though Bush has promised to
promulgate new rules, it's highly unlikely he will do so. The
administration has in fact been easing job safety regulations in a wide
variety of occupations and cutting funding for the Occupational Safety and
Certainly there'll be no movement in the other direction from Secretary of
Labor Elaine Chao, another former management representative. Just about the
only good thing labor might say about Chao is that she's not Linda Chavez,
Bush's first choice for labor secretary. Cbavez' virulently anti-labor
record, you'll recall, prompted such heavy opposition to her confirmation
that he withdrew her nomination to the post.
Among the other Bush actions against labor count his executive orders
blocking strikes at United, Northwest and Delta airlines.
The president and congressional Republicans are even opposing a proposed
increase in the pitifully inadequate minimum wage of $5.15 an hour.
Corporations that rely on cheap, highly exploited non-union labor in poor
countries also can count on Republican help. Bush, backed by most GOP
members of Congress, is seeking so-called "fast-track" authority to
negotiate trade agreements that would not have to guarantee any rights to
There's more, too -- much more. Bush also has issued executive orders that
ban so-called Project Labor Agreements under which federal contractors
promise to follow union work rules in exchange for union agreement not to
strike and has rescinded regulations limiting the granting of federal
contracts to companies that repeatedly violate labor laws.
Bush tried to require contractors to post signs telling employers they did
not have to join unions or, if they were members, did not have to pay fees
that went to political activities regardless of whether a majority of the
union's membership voted to financially support such activities. That at
least was struck down by a court as violating the National Labor Relations
Pressure from women's groups and Democratic House members forced Bush to
back off from plans to close the 10 regional offices of the Labor
Department's Women's Bureau which for 81 years have played a leading role in
protecting and advancing the rights and conditions of working women.
There can be no doubt, surely, that the talk of working class heroes by Bush
and his fellow Republicans is but a clumsy attempt at deception.
Copyright 2002 Dick Meister, a freelance columnist in San Francisco who has
covered labor and political affairs for four decades as a reporter, editor