Educating on Employee Free Choice, Part 36

Paul Begala has an incredibly powerful and persuasive op-ed in Politico today making the case for the Employee Free Choice Act. After introducing nightmare hypothetical scenarios of workers getting fired for trying to organize, Begala pulls back the curtain and reveals the stories are about real workers who were fighting for better jobs.

All of these stories are absolutely true. The stories of Trish Miechur, the CNA, and Corey Kresse, the metalworker, are replicated in boardrooms and factories across America. The story of Ken Lewis, Bank of America’s CEO? Well, that’s a familiar one, too. So here’s the question: Why are their experiences so different? Whom do we want our economic policies to benefit?

For eight years under the GOP, economic policy gave CEOs such as Ken Lewis the gold mine, while giving hardworking, middle-class Americans such as Trish and Corey the shaft. President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress were elected to change that, and protecting employees from corporate abuses is part of the change we need. That’s what the Employee Free Choice Act will do.

Corporate lobbyists say the phrase “Employee Free Choice Act” as though it were a curse. But for Trish and Corey, it’s a blessing. The point of the Employee Free Choice Act is to say that we’ve had enough of an economy that works for Ken Lewis — and Bernie Madoff, for that matter. We want an economy that works for Trish Miechur and Corey Kresse.

The Employee Free Choice Act gives workers an opportunity to bargain with their employers for better job security, wages and health care at a time of astounding corporate greed. The legislation has three main parts: 1) It says that when a majority of workers want to form a union, a real path is provided for them to do so — a path chosen by workers, not corporate special interests; 2) it penalizes employers who try to fire or harass workers for attempting to form a union; and 3) it says that once workers have voted for a union, employers have to come to agreement with workers on a contract. Simple stuff, right?

So why are corporate interests squealing like a pig stuck under a gate? Maybe because they’re the only ones who prospered under the Bush-Lewis-Madoff policies.

As of now, it’s unclear when the Employee Free Choice Act will be given a vote in Congress. Recent press stories, based largely around anonymous comments from Democratic aides, has suggested that it is unlikely the bill will get a vote any time soon and especially not prior to the completion of healthcare reform. But legislative delays don’t diminish the moral and economic imperative for sweeping labor reform and as a result, we must continue to call on Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act with majority sign-up.   As Begala notes, this popular piece of legislation will get America’s economy moving again, so we have no time to lose.

Specter on Consistency, EFCA reports:

In a rhetorical flourish sure to peeve his political opponents, Senator Arlen Specter says his views on the Employee Free Choice Act have been “consistent, and suggestions to the contrary by those intending to run against me are incorrect.”

Specter made the assertion in a letter to the editor published in Wednesday’s Inquirer. He was responding to a column that detailed his shifting public statements on the legislation.

Indigo Montoya responds on Specter’s use of the word “consistent”:

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

To be clear, Specter was a cosponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act in 2007 while he was a Republican. Earlier this year, he voiced objections to the legislation, which was identical to what he had previously cosponsored, on the grounds that he did not like the majority sign-up provisions. For Specter to say he has been “consistent” on Employee Free Choice and not immediately become a cosponsor of the legislation is laughable. He hasn’t been consistent and it is his lack of consistency that can be pointed to as a major cause that this important piece of reform legislation has stalled.

More on the Rule of Law in China

While Woeser’s piece yesterday certainly identified the incredibly difficult situation the Chinese government creates for human rights lawyers, especially in Tibet, today’s Washington Post op-ed on the assault on China’s human rights lawyers by Teng Biao is truly a break-through for American awareness in the plight of the rule of law in China. While the New York Times is America’s paper of record, the Post is our capitol’s paper. Teng’s detailed litany of abuses rights lawyers face by the government will surely open eyes in DC. Moreover, Teng identifies China’s desire to be a respected member of the global community that allows enough space for rights lawyers to function.

We can do these things not because China’s rulers are becoming more tolerant (they are not) but because, for several reasons, they find that they need a legal system in order to rule. A few decades ago problems such as property disputes, domestic violence and even murders were handled by Communist Party functionaries inside communes or “work units.” But now, because communes and most work units are things of the past, the role of lawyers and courts has to expand. Modern business also needs law. And, perhaps most important for us who do “rights law,” the government needs, for reasons of prestige at home and abroad, to pretend that it strictly observes the law. Officials still violate the law, especially in political cases, and get away with it. But they always have to pretend that what they do is “according to law,” because their claim to legitimacy depends on it.

This divergence between practice and pretense is what gives space to rights lawyers. When we insist on the rule of law and are public about it (because of the Internet, millions of people might be watching), we can at least embarrass government officials for their illegal actions and hypocrisy, and embarrassment sometimes stays their hands. But they do not like this, and sometimes we pay a price.

The price Chinese rights lawyers pay is dear – from revoking their license to practice, to blackballing them at academic jobs, to arrest, detention, torture, prosecution, and in some cases, even disappearance.  It is a testament to the strength of the desire for freedom that these lawyers continue to fight for human rights in the face of such brutal opposition. Teng concludes the op-ed with a sense of optimism:

Still, somehow, rights lawyers as a group have not lost their spirit. The letter of the law remains on our side. Moreover, the growing appetite of the Chinese people for the idea of “rights” is easily apparent on the Internet as well as through the many demonstrations, large and small, that happen almost every day in one part of China or another. We feel that history is on our side, and we put our faith in the proverb that says, “The darkest hour is right before the dawn.”

As someone who has been highly critical of the Chinese government’s occupation of Tibet and paid close attention to their lack of respect for human rights, I too am heartened by the rise of this courageous band of human rights lawyers. Teng is right – there is just enough space for them to begin to hold the government accountable. There will likely come a time, hopefully someday soon, when the tension between the government’s refusal to follow their own laws and the commitment of lawyers to hold them to the law can no longer persist without dramatic change…to a government that is accountable to their people and their laws and no longer functionally criminalizes criticism of the government and its actions. At that point, one can only expect that the Chinese Communist Party will lose its grip on power and democracy may flourish in China.

Woeser on the Rule of Law in China

Famed Tibetan poet and blogger Woeser has a new piece that has been translated and posted on the unmissable blog High Peaks, Pure Earth. In it she writes about legal rights in Tibet and China and how the Chinese government has railroaded not only Tibetans who peacefully protested Chinese rule during the spring 2008 national uprising in Tibet, but the Chinese lawyers who sought to defend them from the absurd charges levied against them. Not only has the Chinese government tortured and disappeared Tibetans suspected of being involved in protess during the uprising, but they have denied those they do take the time to try fair and public trials and adequate legal represenation of their own choosing. The lawyers that have bravely represented them, where possible, have been subjec to sanctions on a massive scale. In short, the Chinese government’s handling of its prosecution of Tibetans who have spoken out for independence has dramatically undercut all pillars of the rule of law which should be protected by the Chinese constitution. Their fear of Tibetans’ desire for freedom has caused them to sever what little ties their constitution gave them to rule of law as maintained in a nation that is an upstanding member of the international community.

Woeser poetically closes her article with a paean to standing up for human rights:

It must be said that in real life, many of us do not understand at all, as citizens, which rights we are entitled to enjoy, or how many rights we have. Also, what does the legal system, often described as holy and sublime, eventually mean as far as citizens are concerned? I wrote in a previous article that many Tibetans have always lacked the consciousness of their rights and of how to safeguard their rights. Especially when there is high political pressure, because of extreme fear, they will not dare to fight for their own rights. However, whatever circumstances may be, we must understand what our rights are as human beings, even if under the system in this country, human rights have already been cut down greatly. We must not only understand, but also fight for and most importantly defend our rights. This is because human rights are strongly linked to human dignity and humans’ intuitive knowledge of what is right or wrong. Therefore, human rights are worth fighting for.

Calling Out Blue Dogs

Paul Krugman offers one of the best analyses of how the Blue Dogs operate and how incoherent their objections to healthcare reform are.  It’s rare that politicians policy statements, especially conservative ones, are evaluated next to each other. The words “fiscal responsibility” are adeptly wielded by Blue Dogs and, generally speaking, the press allows them cover behind them. But Krugman doesn’t.

Well, they talk a lot about fiscal responsibility, which basically boils down to worrying about the cost of those subsidies. And it’s tempting to stop right there, and cry foul. After all, where were those concerns about fiscal responsibility back in 2001, when most conservative Democrats voted enthusiastically for that year’s big Bush tax cut — a tax cut that added $1.35 trillion to the deficit?

But it’s actually much worse than that — because even as they complain about the plan’s cost, the Blue Dogs are making demands that would greatly increase that cost.

There’s much more beyond that, but you get the idea. It’s a truth-telling session. Hopefully many officials in the administration, Senate leadership, and the House read Krugman’s piece and see the need to pressure Blue Dogs to stay with the party line.

More importantly, hopefully other journalists see Krugman’s column and begin to question Blue Dogs who cry fiscal responsibility while pushing for policy measures that will make healthcare reform legislation substantially more expensive. Right now the debate is being dominated by people who aren’t making any sense. And yet they’re holding the House Energy and Commerce Committee hostage, while the Finance Committee in the Senate continues to stall. Together, incoherent conservative Democratic legislator are stopping reform and killing momementum for change.

It’s not as if these legislators aren’t hearing from their constituents that they should support meaningful reform, including a public option. MoveOn, Healthcare for Amerian Now, SEIU, and Organizing for America, among others, have been driving hundreds of thousands of legislative contacts in support of reform. But as Krugman points out, these Blue Dogs are more loyal to their corporate donors and caucus self-interest than their constituents.

Another sure way for the Blue Dogs to lose their influence in this process is if the Progressive Caucus came together to make themselves a comparable obstacle to any legislation that isn’t suitably aggressive in driving reform. Given a counterweight, the Blue Dogs would no longer control the narrative nor the legislative process. This requires a stronger push from progressives to define their lines in the sand…and for a simultaneous effort to let leadership know that they have to make a choice between defending Blue Dogs while getting no meaningful change and defending progressives while achieving landmark reform. The choice shouldn’t be hard, but you never know with today’s Democrats.