STRIPPING UNION rights from tens of thousands of federal workers. Outsourcing 850,000 government jobs. Holding a gun to the heads of West Coast dockworkers by invoking the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act. Thatâ€™s the record of George W. Bushâ€™s war on organized labor–in just the last five weeks.
Although Bush has cultivated relationships with a few conservative labor leaders like Teamsters President James Hoffa, heâ€™s systematically attacked our unions. He came into office promising to ban any and all strikes at airlines–and promptly barred a walkout of mechanics at Northwest to make the point. He cancelled new ergonomics standards designed to prevent workplace injuries.
And while hailing the workers of the September 11 rescue effort as heroes, Bushâ€™s airline bailout loan guarantee program concocted after September 11 requires unions to surrender billions in givebacks.
Bushâ€™s latest outrage–putting as many as 850,000 federal jobs up for bid by private companies–will be carried out by an executive order. The move was announced as Congress considered legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security.
There was a last-minute dispute over several provisions, but no one doubts that the final version will allow supervisors to strip union protections against arbitrary terminations and other management abuses in the new department. The message is clear: If Bush gets his way, there will be far fewer unionized federal workers–and those who remain will be weaker.
Some leading Democrats denounced Bush. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) declared, “Now we see the real White House agenda–itâ€™s not homeland security, itâ€™s union-busting.” True enough. But it was Democrat Al Gore, as vice president, who paved the way for Bushâ€™s agenda with his “reinventing government” project that eliminated more than 377,000 federal jobs.
And just a day before Bushâ€™s privatization plan was announced, Senate Democrats joined Republicans in a 95-0 vote to pass the Maritime Transportation Security Act, which will give the government the power to militarize the nationâ€™s ports and require invasive background checks of dockworkers and other waterfront workers. Workers with recent felony convictions or prison time will be barred from work–as will any immigrant whose legal status in question.
And in an echo of the anticommunist witch-hunts of the 1950s, the law would allow the government to deny a “transportation security card”–that is, employment on the waterfront–to anyone who “poses a poses a terrorism security risk to the United States.”
This wording is so vague that it could be used against dockworkers who oppose Bushâ€™s wars–such as the members of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 who addressed antiwar rallies in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
The law also allows the Feds to deny a security card to any worker who causes a “severe transportation security incident.” No doubt management will use this against anyone who walks a waterfront picket line.
Whatâ€™s more, the legislation gives the U.S. attorney general the right to oversee the background checks. In other words, John Ashcroft could extend his assault on civil liberties to workersâ€™ rights on the docks.
“Under the guise of national security, the government is attempting to undermine the key gains our union won in the 1934 strike, especially in terms of the hiring hall,” Jack Heyman, a business agent at ILWU Local 10, told Socialist Worker. “Whatâ€™s really worrisome is that both Republicans and Democrats are voting for these anti-union measures out of the bandwagon effect.” In fact, the Senate sponsors of the Maritime Transportation Security Act were Democrats–Sens. Bob Graham of Florida and Ernest Hollings of South Carolina.
The passage of the Port Security Act, along with Bushâ€™s latest union-busting efforts, will put West Coast dockworkers in the ILWU under even more pressure. Under terms of an 80-day federal court injunction under the Taft-Hartley law, the Justice Department can take the ILWU to court to try to impose fines to end any slowdown or work stoppage–and jail union leaders if they donâ€™t comply.
Months earlier, the Bush administration had threatened to use troops to break a dock strike–and the incoming Republican Congress could intervene if no contract is reached before the injunction expires December 26.
The aim is to force ILWU members to choose between a job-destroying contract offer that will gravely weaken their union–and the threat of an even worse one being imposed if they reject managementâ€™s deal.
No union can withstand such attacks on its own. Itâ€™s time to mobilize the entire labor movement to use its collective power and solidarity to fight Washingtonâ€™s anti-worker assault.