BuzzFlash Reader Commentary
October 8, 2002
Bush Weakens Union Negotiating Strengths
BuzzFlash Reader Commentary
President Bush took a brief respite from attending $5,000-a-plate fundraisers and beating the drum for war on Iraq, to appoint a board of inquiry in the West Coast lockout of workers that preempts the collective bargaining process and weakens union negotiating strengths.
This is the first step toward a Taft-Hartley Act injunction, which would order union members back to normal business operations in an 80-day cooling off period, according to an AFL-CIO prepared statement. Usually a Taft-Hartley injunction is issued when workers strike, not when business owners lock them out. It's ironic that this laissez faire rightwing administration, which trumpets deregulation of multinational corporations as a panacea, now wants to step into the fray.
"The dockworkers want to work and open the docks -- it is the employers who have locked these workers out of ports and are responsible for the cargo that is piling up in the nationís harbors," said union spokesman Richard L. Trumka in a prepared statement. "But the (Pacific Maritime Association) has continued this lockout, and has been completely unwilling to meet the union halfway at the table, because it has known since the summer it had the Bush administration squarely in its corner."
The PMA is an association that negotiates on behalf of shippers and port terminal operators.
"This is the first time ever that the Taft-Hartley process has been used in a lockout, and the first time it has been used at all since 1978," Trumka said.
It was with the implied backing of his pro-business and reactionary administration that the PMA locked out 10,500 dockworkers on Sept. 29 following bitter contract negotiations.
A union spokesman Steve Stallone told the Associated Press in August that a Labor Department lawyer threatened to run the ports with Navy personnel or back legislation that would further weaken the unions' position.
The irony that the Department of Labor was formed to protect workers was not lost on Stallone, who said, "The Department of Labor is supposed to represent workers in the administration. But what we have is a Department of Labor, whose attorney wants to overthrow the National Labor Relations Act, the very law heís supposed to be enforcing."
The National Labor Relations Act, signed into law in 1935, gives workers the right to collective bargaining and the right to organize.
In August Labor Department officials warned in the Associated Press that the Bush administration might send U.S. troops if union negotiations breakdown. Now the administration has taken steps in that direction.
The Washington Post reported that Joseph Miniace, president of the PMA, defended the lockout, which threatens an already weakened U.S. economy, by accusing longshoremen of orchestrating a work slowdown.
The lockout stymied 29 West Coast ports from Seattle to San Diego, which move about $2 billion of cargo per day. Huge cargo ships loaded with goods from abroad are anchored outside ports, while overland shippers are left waiting for the goods to arrive on land.
In an editorial published in the Los Angeles Times, Miguel Contreras of the American Federation of Labor wrote, "Rather than bargain in good faith, the (PMA) has fabricated a crisis to sabotage bargaining that could lead to a resolution of the outstanding crisis." He added, "There have been no strikes or slowdowns."
Meanwhile, workers' options are limited by a Republican administration that clearly sides with Big Business at the expense of the dockworkers, who have been working without a contract since July 1.
The laws in the U.S. that grant broad authority to the White House to limit options for workers stack the legal deck against those who canít afford $5,000 tickets to Republican fundraisers. At the whim of a reactionary president, who is beholden to corporate special interests, federal troops can be dispatched to crush workers' strikes. Since the 1890s when workers organized a strike at Pullman, Illinois that was brutally smashed by state and federal troops, unions have never gained much of a foothold in the U.S. After being sent to prison for his leadership in the Pullman strike, labor leader Eugene V. Debs of the American Railway Union declared that unions couldn't survive in a capitalist society.
In the age of greed and deregulation that has produced such disastrous and crooked economic models as Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco, Qwest and others, it is now time for changes in our federal government that benefit workers instead of only the ruling elite.
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This commentary contains the writerís opinions. Edward B. Winslow is a freelance writer, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Sean Dennis Cashman, America in the Gilded Age From the Death of Lincoln to the Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, (New York and London: New York University Press, 1984) 132
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