It’s a given that anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan is not going to win her race for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s seat in November’s congressional elections. But hopefully, attention will be paid to Sheehan’s platform. It spells out, with unusual clarity, the many needs of American workers and possible ways for meeting them.
Few politicians have demonstrated such sympathetic understanding of working people as has Sheehan, who’s running as an independent against Democrat Pelosi and Republican and Libertarian candidates in San Francisco’s eighth congressional district.
Sheehan is concerned above all that "the right to organize unions, bargain freely and strike when necessary is being destroyed by employers and their representatives in government."
She notes that many employers are allowed to illegally fire union activists and otherwise wage campaigns "of fear, threats and slick propaganda" to keep workers from making "a genuinely free choice" on whether to unionize.
Sheehan would have the government crack down on such employer actions and extend to all public employees the full union rights that are now denied many of them. That would include the right to strike – "a fundamental principle of the workers’ movement that must be safeguarded. The right to withhold one’s labor is a basic human right that our government should guarantee to all working people – including the military."
The right to strike would be strengthened by prohibiting employers from hiring workers – "scabs" — to replace strikers on a temporary or permanent basis.
Sheehan wants to repeal the Taft-Hartley Act, which for six decades has kept union members from waging sympathy strikes and has otherwise limited their ability to act in solidarity with other unionists.
She also advocates granting immigrant workers the same union rights as all other workers. That would include undocumented immigrants, who would have the chance for "a swift and expedited path to legalization."
The current Guest Worker programs that bring in groups of immigrant farmworkers to harvest particular crops, says Sheehan, "are designed to make indentured servants out of our brothers and sisters from Mexico, Central and South America to benefit employers unwilling to pay a living wage."
Many of the immigrant workers "are driven to the United States by the ‘free trade’ policies implemented by Democrats and Republicans" – policies "aimed at privatizing the economies of the immigrants’ countries of origin in the interest of multinational corporations."
Sheehan would repeal the "free trade" agreements reached by the U.S. government because they "are designed to depress wages and oppress workers ." Sheehan argues for "fair trade that respects the rights of workers and enforces those rights through unions and binding collective bargaining agreements – along with sustainable environmental protections."
Wages and working conditions should be the same in all countries signing any trade agreements – "equalized to the highest standards, not the lowest common denominator."
Sheehan, whose activism stems from the death of her son Casey in Iraq four years ago, wants the military budget slashed and the "trillions of dollars being poured into the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan" shifted to a public works program aimed at rebuilding the country’s crumbling infrastructure. It would be operated in partnership with unions to provide jobs for many now unemployed Americans, much as WPA programs did during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In the meantime, the unemployment insurance and food stamp programs would be expanded. Some of Sheehan’s other platform proposals call for:
* Government-supported apprenticeship programs and "state and federal job training for those who want to learn a skill that doesn’t involve putting on a U.S. military uniform and learning how to kill other people."
*Revoking the licenses of broadcasters who have a record of "illegally firing and discriminating against workers for union activities."
*Prohibiting the privatization of federal jobs and requiring that "all funds disbursed by the federal government go only to government agencies – not to private contractors."
Although it’s obvious that Cindy Sheehan won’t win in November, it’s also obvious that America’s working people need much of what she wants for them. If we’re fortunate, November’s winners will show a similar interest in improving the lives of those who do the nation’s work.
Dick Meister is a former labor editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. He has covered labor and political issues for a half-century. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com.