Worker Anger Ain’t No Tea Party – It’s Rage Against The Wall Street Machine That Destroyed Our Jobs – 04/09/10
By Doug Cunningham
The real anger among working families across America ain’t no tea party – it’s rage against the banking and Wall Street machines that destroyed millions of jobs. The economic devastation Wall Street wrought has led to millions of home foreclosures and untold human suffering. Larry Ginter is an Iowa farmer and activist who articulates the deep anger shared by millions of regular folks at what they see as Wall Street’s rape of our economy and it’s subsequent arrogance and greed after taxpayer money bailed them out.
By Doug Cunningham
Hundreds of SEIU cleaners are holding prayer vigils outside of Immigration Customs Enforcement offices around the country to protest recent enforcement actions the union says are outrages against hard-working tax-paying cleaners. SEIU is calling on ICE to refocus its efforts on targeting crooked employers. The vigils Thursday and today are an effort to illustrate the ongoing human cost of what SEIU says is the mis-guided, out of control current immigration strategy. The union says the tactics are only hurting hard-working people.
Wednesday night AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka spoke at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy, Jr. Forum about the anger of working people. Jesse Russell reports.
After his speech the former coal miner was asked about the recent mine tragedies in both the United States and China and if U.S. mining unions have ever tried to form alliances with Chinese mining unions. Trumka explained that U.S. unions have always worked to build bridges with unions in other countries, but China is unique because their unions are “really an adjunct of the government, so they’re not free trade unions.”
This week’s disaster at Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 25 miners, with four still unaccounted for, means 45 coal miners have died at Massey operations since 2000.
Mine Workers President (UMWA) Cecil Roberts says the “grim statistics that are associated with Massey and the mines under its control,” cannot be ignored.
Every year, like clockwork, at least one person has been killed since 2000 on the property of Massey or one of its subsidiaries….No other coal operator even comes close to that fatality rate during that time frame. That demands a serious and immediate investigation by [Mine Safety and Health Administration] MSHA and by Congress.
The safety violations at the nonunion mine—more than 450 last year and just last month another 57, including two on the day of the explosion—have been well-chronicled since the deadly blast. Click here, here and here.
But just today, the Charleston Gazette revealed the MSHA inspectors issued 60 orders last year and so far this year to close part or all of the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, W.Va.
Tony Oppegard, a former MSHA staffer and longtime mine safety lawyer in Kentucky, told the Gazette:
That’s way off the charts. I’ve never heard of that amount of withdrawal orders in that short of a period of time.
Under federal law, MSHA cannot shut down an entire mine without a court injunction, but the withdrawal orders allow MSHA to force mine owners to remove workers from an area until the specific hazard is removed.
The latest information on the Massey mine’s abysmal safety record comes from a document MSHA prepared last week for Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.). But it does not specify the exact violations or when and if they were corrected. President Obama today tasked federal mine safety officials to report next week on their initial assessment of the cause of the nation’s worst coal mining disaster in more than a quarter century and what actions could prevent future tragedies.
Meanwhile, Massey CEO Donald Blankenship—with a long history of anti-union actions to go along with the coal conglomerate’s safety record—is coming under long-needed media spotlight. According to an ABC News profile:
One miner who worked in Massey mines most of his 25-year career said working for CEO Don Blankenship was “like living under a hammer. It’s all about the bottom line, we all know that.” The miner, who would only agree to speak with an ABC News reporter if his name was not used, said Blankenship believes in “stretching the men to the limit and they want every ounce out of the men that they can get.”
While Massey operates 44 underground and surface mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, Blankenship has particularly close connections to the Upper Big Branch Mine. This from ABC, in an interview with author Michael Shnayerson, whose 2008 book, Coal River, looks at Blankenship and the Massey empire:
“Don was and is a complete micromanager. He knew everything that was going on at Upper Big Branch. A lot of the fault of the explosion would have to be laid at his feet.”
Shnayerson described how Blankenship had a special red phone installed at Upper Big Branch so he could reach managers whenever he needed to. “It was like the line to the Kremlin, only it went to Don.”
He also describes Blankenship’s yearlong battle to bust the union after Massey took control of the mine.
“Don made it his own personal campaign. He began flying in every week in his helicopter. He gave pep talks. He took a whole bunch of [Upper Big Branch miners and their families] on trips to Dollywood, where they went to concerts. He went with them and bonded with them. New cars started turning up in their driveways,” Shnayerson said.
But as soon as the union was gone, Shnayerson said Blankenship shifted gears. Work hours increased from eight hours to 12 hours. Bonuses were cut. If they got injured, their jobs were at risk.
In a post on Daily Kos, the National Nurses United (NNU), writing under the byline National Nurse Movement, points out there is a “major part of the story that is missing from most of the media coverage.”
An examination of a series of mine disasters in recent years would find a common thread—accidents happen far more often in non-union mines.
Those nonunion mines include Sago, where 12 died; Crandall Canyon, where 9 miners and rescue workers were killed; Darby, that claimed two lives; and now Massey’s Upper Big Branch, where 25 coal miners are dead.
The column cites Dr. Charles McCollester, an industrial and labor relations professor, who commented after the 2006 Sago disaster.
A union presence at the Sago mine might well have prevented the disaster….Critically, workers in a union mine are not afraid to speak. In a non-union operation, asking questions or challenging company mining practices or safety procedures can lead to termination. The company’s fear of knowledgeable, independent inspectors was illustrated in their attempt to bar the entry of UMWA at Sago.
It is not just coal mines where union representation can make the difference between life and death, writes the National Nurse Movement.
It goes beyond worker safety, to also mean safer conditions for the public.
Nurses have long known that union representation empowers them to advocate for safer patient care conditions and improved workplace standards for themselves.
For those who accommodate or acquiesce to the anti-union rhetoric so pervasive in corporate America, the halls of Congress and state legislatures, and all too often the public airwaves, there is a price. It is more dangerous workplaces, whether a mine or a hospital, and a greater threat to worker and public safety.
There are many efforts under way to assist the families of those killed at Upper Big Branch. Click here for more information, courtesy of Huffington Post, on how you can help.
Think you’re angry now about CEO bonuses, bailouts and the wheeling and dealing of Big Banks on Wall Street?
Just wait until Tuesday, April 13. The AFL-CIO 2010 Executive PayWatch launches that day, and it will spotlight Wall Street’s Big Six: Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo/Wachovia. Each stuck its hands out for the billions of dollars of corporate welfare under the Treasury Department’s Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP)—and now is using our taxpayer money to pay multimillion-dollar bonuses and, even worse, to lobby against financial reform in Congress to ensure they can continue to get away with economic murder.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will highlight a live webcast at noon EST the same day to review the new data and outline plans to enact real financial regulatory reform and make Wall Street pay for job creation through a financial speculation tax.
Here are just some of the other hot information AFL-CIO Executive PayWatch will unveil:
- New analyses of CEO pay at financial institutions aggressively fighting financial regulatory reform.
- The updated and comprehensive executive pay database.
- Overview of the union movement’s grassroots campaigns to engage the public and urge Congress to act.
The 2010 Executive PayWatch updates its comprehensive database of executive compensation for thousands of corporations.
Pop quiz time. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is making claims about the new health care reform law that are:
- Wildly inaccurate.
- Stemming from a partisan analysis based on false assumptions.
- An outright misrepresentation.
- All of the above.
The answer to the question about Gingrich’s claims, like those of so many radio blabbers, tea pot stirrers and even “mainstream” (if any are still around) Republicans, is ”all of the above.”
The scary part is that some of these outlandish pronouncements and outright lies can gain traction. The good folks at Media Matters for America pull the pins out from under some of the more recent fibs about health care reform. (We’ve got facts and fliers on health care reform at the AFL-CIO health care resources page here as well. Check it out).
Let’s start with Newt and his oft-repeated claim that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will hire 16,000 new “agents” to act as “health police.” Media Matters notes that both FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.com debunk Gingrich’s dire warning about IRS agents in the exam room with you.
The basics are (click here for the details) he is using a figure from a Republican House Ways and Means Committee report that looked at a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis. The report examined how many new employees, clerks, accountant, telephone operators and the like, not the dreaded auditing IRS agents, the IRS might need to hire to inform small business and workers about tax credits and subsidies they are entitled to under the new law. But then, with pretzel logic, the House Republican report twists the numbers and the facts and then Gingrich added his own twists and turns.
And that’s how we got to D, all of the above.
Next, let’s look at Dick Morris, the former Democratic strategist who’s turned hard right and is seen regularly on Fox News’ stable of hyperbolic blowhards. He’s claming nearly all of us are due for an immediate rate hike in our health care premiums because of the new law. Surprise, wrong again.
Media Matters points to Politifact and the CBO, which find that people who get their health coverage through their employment will see their costs stay about the same or slightly decrease because of the new law.
CBO estimated that by 2016 a majority of people insured on the individual market would receive subsidies, which would decrease their premiums compared to what they would pay without health care reform.
Click here for a more detailed exposure of the lie.
On a Fox News business show, Ben Stein, the curmudgeonly comedian, conservative commentator and former Nixon insider, put on his best scary face and told seniors the new health care reform law eliminates subsidies for drug costs for companies that sponsor retiree prescription drug plans. The wink-wink, nod-nod, inference was to scare seniors into believing companies would drop retiree drug coverage.
Well, wrong again. In real simple terms, the new health care reform law does not eliminate subsidies for drug coverage. It’s not there, anywhere. Look as hard as you want Ben, you won’t find it. Media Matters offers a more complete look here.
Let’s end this look at health care reform lies with a bit of truth about the new law and what it really can do, courtesy of Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Mitchell Schnurman, who writes:
Soon after President Barack Obama signed health reform, a local baby with a heart condition was rejected for insurance. The story became front-page news in Fort Worth and was picked up nationally.
The insurer quickly reversed its decision and agreed to pay for a procedure the newborn had received days earlier.
He notes that it was likely that bad publicity thawed the insurance company’s icy cold heart because legally they had no obligation to cover the newborn.
But the episode stands as another exhibit of what’s wrong with health insurance in America, and how it’s about to get better.
In six months, the same sequence of events won’t happen, because insurers won’t be allowed to reject children for a pre-existing condition, even a heart defect.
And that, my friends, is just one of the many truths about health care reform.
An economy that seems to work for just a privileged few, 11 million vanished jobs and a bailout for banks and Wall Street—but not working families—is fueling justified anger in workers. Speaking last night at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told an audience about the “forces of hate” and “radio voices” that are frantically fanning the flames of that justified anger to divide working people.
There are forces in our country that are working hard to convert justifiable anger about an economy that only seems to work for a few of us into racist and homophobic hate and violence directed at our President and heroes like Congressman John Lewis. Most of all, those forces of hate seek to divide working people—to turn our anger against each other.
Trumka said a progressive movement that includes mobilizing union members and electing public officials “committed to bold action to address economic suffering” and can fight back against the forces of hatred. But he told the Harvard audience that an “alliance between working people and public minded intellectuals is also crucial.”
It is all about standing up to entrenched economic power and the complacency of the affluent. It’s an alliance that depends on intellectuals being critics, and not the servants, of economic privilege.
The code words of hate and overheated rhetoric spewed against President Obama and lawmakers have been heard before, Trumka said.
When President Franklin Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” other voices were on the radio, voices saying that what we really needed to fear was each other—voices preaching anti-Semitism and Nazi-style racial hatred.
When President John F. Kennedy stepped off the plane in Dallas on November 22, 1963, radio voices were calling for violence against the President of the United States. And the violence came—and took John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers and so many others.
In fact, just yesterday, a California mother said Fox News commentators’ hate speech drove her son to make death threats against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The nation survived the 1930s Depression, Trumka said, because working people discovered they could elect leaders “who would fight for them, not the financial barons who had brought on the catastrophe.”
This is a similar moment. Our politics have been dominated by greed and the forces of money for a generation. Now, amid the wreckage that came from that experiment, we hear the voices of hatred, of racism and homophobia.
I think this is an important point to make here at Harvard. The economic elites at JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and the other big Wall Street banks are happy to hire intellectual servants wherever they can find them. But the stronger the alliance between intellectuals and economic elites, the more the forces of hatred—of anti-intellectualism—will grow.
He warned that massive unemployment and growing inequality threaten our democracy and that “the stakes couldn’t be any higher.”
If you care about defending our country against the apostles of hate, you need to be part of the fight to rebuild a sustainable, high wage economy built on good jobs—the kind of economy that can only exist when working men and women have a real voice on the job
Click here for Trumka’s full speech.
Also yesterday, CNN tapped Trumka as one of the day’s “Most Intriguing People.” Click here.
Workday Minnesota editor Barb Kucera reports on the Minnesota AFL-CIO’s job action yesterday.
Cement mason Jessica Keeley had a message for lawmakers Wednesday at the state Capitol:
We want to collect paychecks—not unemployment checks!
Keeley was among hundreds of workers and union leaders who rallied to urge the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) to take action to save and create jobs. They said the government cannot cut its way to prosperity and must use fair taxes to fund important public services. As Keeley put it:
The bottom line is we can’t grow private sector jobs without fair public sector investment.
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum were among the speakers who echoed that message.
Nationally, about one in every 10 workers is unemployed. And that doesn’t include those who have stopped looking and are no longer counted.
“This jobs crisis is a disaster,” Shuler told the crowd. “We need to take action to create jobs….We need to take it now.”
Ellison said the rally signified “a movement for working-class prosperity. We have a vision of everybody who wants a job has one—and it pays good.
The vision, he said, also includes health care, education and retirement security for all.
We are together demanding prosperity for working people.
McCollum said that while the economy started to show some employment growth last month,
the jobless numbers are just plain unacceptable. We have more work to do.
While the Legislature acted last month to pass a jobs creation bill, union leaders worry that lawmakers’ response to the state budget crisis will undercut any gains made. Already, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor majority in the Legislature has approved $222 million in program cuts and Pawlenty has signed the legislation.
Mike Buesing, president of AFSCME Council 5, the largest state workers’ union, said:
If the Legislature balances the budget with cuts alone, essential services will be gutted and at least 3,400 public service jobs will be lost.
The solution, Buesing said, is “We need to grow good jobs. And we need to tax the rich.”
Several speakers said wage earners pay a far larger share of their income in taxes than do the rich. They urged a change in state tax policy to generate the money needed for public services.
“It is time for a balanced approach,” said Linda Hamilton, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association-National Nurses United, who warned the cuts are jeopardizing the health of the state.
Shar Knutson, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, which organized the rally, said:
That’s why we’re here today—to stand up for a Minnesota where we invest in our people….Everyone pays their fair share to improve everyone’s quality of life.
After the rally, participants fanned out to meet with lawmakers and reinforce that message.
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