Why California progressives must stand with organized labor on November 8

By California Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg
Labor unions have become enemy No. 1 in this California special election battle waged by Gov. Schwarzenegger and his right-wing, Bush Administration allies. But one need only recall a little bit of labor history to realize just how off-base these attacks are, and to understand why we must defeat the Governor’s initiatives on November 8.

First, the only reason we are no longer working 12-14 hours a day, six days a week is that labor unions fought bloody battles to win shorter workdays, and workweeks. Today, the average union salary is 15% higher than what a comparable worker makes at a non-union job. Health benefits, paid vacations, sick leave, and paid holidays are all working conditions we take for granted. Each of them became a reality because of the struggles of
union workers.
The legislation that ended child labor, and dealt with needs of working women was proposed, fought and won by union workers. Trade unions created apprenticeship programs to guarantee a high standard of American workmanship by using skilled workers to pass on their skills to the next group of workers.
Workplace safety rules, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation programs all exist because of the perseverance of union workers. CalOSHA, fire safety regulations, special protective gear, and attention to hazardous materials at the work site all owe their existence to labor unions, which pushed legislators and governors and presidents to make sure that workers and the communities near factories were protected from noxious and harmful chemicals, and that they had someplace to turn when injured at work.
Finally, labor unions have been at the forefront of most progressive struggles. It was the American labor movement that early on in U.S. history, insisted on and fought for a system of “free public education for all.” They went so far as to advocate for and win the establishment of public universities and colleges. Labor unions were critical to the victorious struggle for Social Security, as well as for private company pension programs. Organized labor has fought for increased national, state, and local budgets for healthcare, affordable housing, and public works projects such as road construction and repair. And, to reduce the rampant corruption in government, unions won the struggle to institute a merit system for government employees called “civil service.” There is no larger positive force for progressive legislation throughout most of American history. Labor unions have done so much for us. We need to help them now by voting a resounding “NO” on Propositions 74, 75, 76, and 77.
This special election is part of a national strategy led by Republicans and corporate interests to obliterate organized labor in America. Unions in both the private and public sectors have been under serious attack in recent years. Law firms and consultants now specialize in union-busting either by tying up organizing drives in phony lawsuits, and in phony complaints to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Even if a union drive finally leads to union certification, these same law firms and consultants advise employers on how to endlessly drag out negotiations so that the union seems to never actually get a first contract. And, new tactics of “mandatory” group meetings and one-on-one meetings with supervisors and managers has lead to lies, threats, and the firing of employees who even speak in favor of joining a union. Union-busting is big business, and hospitals, and small and large private employers are willing to pay literally millions of dollars to prevent a union from coming to their company, or to drive out an existing union.
Bush and Schwarzenegger continuously vilify public employee unions that now make up a large part of the organized labor movement in America. They attack the nurse’s union while claiming to “love individual nurses,” and they attack teacher’s unions while saying they “love teachers.” Schwarzenegger has specifically targeted unions that represent nurses and teachers because these groups have fought his attempts to reduce the number of nurses required in emergency rooms, and protested when he broke his promise to repay schools money that was borrowed to help balance last year’s budget.
Why does Schwarzenegger fight so hard against unions? Well, the reason is very, very clear. Public employee unions are the only remaining force left to fight against the complete corporate privatization of public sector agencies and employment. Unions are the only voices loud enough to be heard demanding some sort of public health system for all. Unions are trying to prevent further tax breaks for the wealthiest 1% of Americans. In fact, the only serious, organized, well-financed resistance to the privatization of schools, hospitals, prisons, water and electricity, and everything else not nailed down, is provided by dues-paying union members.
Rather than propose real solutions to California’s problems, Schwarzenegger is backing a series of initiatives that serve to directly undermine public employee unions. Prop 74 punishes teachers and tries to make teacher unions appear ineffective. Prop 75 is a direct assault on the ability of unions to gather money to fight corporate-funded ballot measures and right-wing candidates. Prop.76 is a way to begin trying to reduce or end the current public employee pension systems, and in general to reduce wages and benefits of public employees or to contract out their jobs altogether under the guise of so-called budget reform. Prop 77 would rewrite the state’s district lines, the goal of which is to reduce the number of Democrats in the legislature. This of course, would increase the number of right-wing, anti-union Republicans.
We must resist. These four ballot measures, as well as Prop 73 (threatens teen safety) and Prop 78 (drug-company backed prescription drug non-reform), must be defeated. Please vote Nov. 8, tell your family and friends, and remember to “nix the first six.”