President's Report: More on State-Level Fights

Seafarers Log, May 2011

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Michael Sacco, PresidentMuch has been written and said about the state-level attacks on workers’ rights that started earlier this year in Wisconsin and then spread like a fungus to Indiana, Ohio and elsewhere.


But, as hundreds of thousands of union members rallied all across the country, it didn’t take long to expose the supposed deficit hawks behind those attacks as hypocrites. Their tactics boil down to nothing more than attempts to cripple public-sector unions. We know these schemes well. Many of the same pundits promoting these new attacks were the same ones calling to eliminate the Jones Act last year, after the Deepwater Horizon explosion.


Wisconsin is an appallingly representative example. As more than one commentator pointed out, that state’s governor proposed to fix financial problems that were not caused by workers or their unions, by harshly cutting public employees’ pay and killing their collecting bargaining rights. If that particular legislative approach initially didn’t seem to make sense, things became clearer after the unions agreed to accept pay cuts if they could retain their collective bargaining rights – but the governor was unmoved.


As one political writer put it, the way to break the impasse was to “drop the pretense that this was about the budget. They stripped out all the actual fiscal items from the law and hastily passed a bill that simply went after the unions. This was just the final step in removing any doubt about the true nature of this fight.”


That point was backed up – unintentionally, I assume – by the Wisconsin State Senate president, who basically said this was an effort to defund unions and their political and lobbying operations.


Yep, it’s all about balancing the budget.


Where the actual financial shortfalls exist, union workers throughout modern history repeatedly have demonstrated a strong willingness to pitch in, to bear some of the burden even though they weren’t necessarily to blame in the first place. Along those lines, nowadays we often hear that “everything must be on the table” and “everyone has to sacrifice” if we are to bring down the deficit. But not everything is on the table and not everyone is being asked to sacrifice. Workers’ rights, their unions, and time-tested social safety nets are front-and-center in the crosshairs.


At the same time, we get a steady diet of commentary claiming that tax cuts for the rich would be the best way to stimulate job growth. Never mind the fact that there is no credible evidence whatsoever that such cuts lead to job creation. Elected representatives carry on touting this approach as if it would be a nationwide cure-all. Yet the New York Times wrote last month in a front-page article that major American companies – in particular General Electric – reported billions in profits, but didn’t pay anything – not even a cent – in 2009 income taxes.


The American public has caught on to the latest anti-worker charades, but these fights are far from finished. I commend the Seafarers who’ve participated in demonstrations all over the country and I urge you to continue answering the call to help stand up for our union brothers and sisters, including our own CIVMARS from the Government Services Division.


I’d also remind everyone that there are still plenty of politicians who understand the true nature and value of organized labor. As Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said in a recent letter to state employees there, “Unions are good – and they can be part of the solution. Our public-sector unions have demonstrated over and over again their and your willingness to work with us to build a stronger Commonwealth. From pension reform to transportation and education reform to wage concessions to help us close the budget gap, you and your union leadership have been our partners….”


Those comments hit the mark for unions as a whole. They also underscore the value of electing people who – quite accurately – see us that way.

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