Take the U.S. Senate, miscalled “the world’s greatest deliberative body.” Bills for the greater good of American workers fail repeatedly because it is impossible to get the 60 votes needed to thwart a filibuster.
You don’t have to be a mathematician to know that 51 votes in a 100-member Senate is a majority. But the undemocratic and archaic Senate requires a supermajority.
This false democracy recently prevented extension of jobless benefits to 2 million Americans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could muster “just” 57 votes.
Forty of the 41 thunderous nays came from Republicans, a sad fact that ought to be remembered in the November election.
The obstructionists say they are worried about the huge budget deficit. But the GOP is never concerned about the deficit when it comes to spending $2 billion a day to support two foolish wars and a global military empire.
What the GOP is really saying: to hell with workers.
In another damnation of Senate “democracy,” a bill to allow company employees to form a union if a majority of workers sign a card passed the House by 66 votes. In the Senate it passed 51-48 – but not by 60.
The GOP cited the “sacredness’ of the secret ballot and labeled the measure “un-American.” These are masks. The real reasons:
Companies intimidate, threaten, coerce and harass workers in their vicious anti-union scare campaigns. They fire and demote pro-union workers. They threaten to close plants if workers unionize.
The grossly malapportioned Senate crushes democracy. Just 18 percent of the population can defeat the will of the vast majority of Americans. For example, Wyoming has two senators with a population of 500,000. California has but two with a population of 38 million.
Then there is the unfair relic in the Constitution: the electoral college. Four times it has put a man in the White House who did not win the popular vote. The most recent egregious example: Al Gore beat Bush by 543,895 people votes in 2000.
As Tocqueville noted in his classic study: “The surface of American society is covered with a layer of democratic paint.”
Children of immigrants
Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president, recently assailed America’s hypocrisy on immigration and urged reform so immigrants too can fulfill the American Dream.
“Immigration reform is not just an economic issue,” Trumka said in a Cleveland speech. “The way we treat immigrants is about who we are as a nation.
“If you look around Cleveland you see a city built by immigrants: Hungarians and Poles, Irish and Italians, Serbs and Croats and Jews.”
Trumka deplores talk about immigrants “taking our jobs, ruining our country.”
“Did an immigrant move your plant overseas?” he asked. “Did an immigrant take away your pension? Or cut your health care? Did an immigrant destroy American workers’ right to organize? Did immigrants write the trade laws that have done so much harm?
“Most of us are children of immigrants.”
Unions pay off
A recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research underlines the obvious: union members get better pay and benefits than nonunion workers.
Union members’ pay is about 15 percent higher, roughly $2.50 more per hour. Union members also usually get benefits that nonunion workers lack such as employer-financed health insurance and pensions.
Badly needed truths
Reporters and columnists, ignorant of populist history, label practically every politician a populist. Alas, not so. Precious few American public figures are genuine populists like Jim Hightower. His newsletter, articles and columns relate the truth about politics and public affairs.
“In today’s plutocratic, corporate-controlled economy, the most effective way for working folks to restore a measure of fairness to America’s economic system is for them to unite in unions,” Hightower writes. “More than 60 million workers say they would join a union – if they could.”
But they can’t. Bosses prevent unionizing. They don’t want workers to have any say about decent wages, benefits and working conditions.
33 cheers for Solis
The hostility to unions by employers – and too many workers – ill suits the needs of working people. But somebody is trying to fix the imbalance: Hilda Solis.
Labor Secretary Solis, the brightest star of the Obama administration, is pro-labor. That is a blessing after eight years of the Bushite Labor Department being run as the Business Department.
Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.