Thursday, December 22, 2011

The End of Unions to Come by January 1?

This is a very striking piece about how corporations and the GOP are fighting the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), over requiring businesses to put up a poster informing workers on what their rights are (to collectively bargain, join a union, etc.) and what actions employers are prohibited from taking against their employees.  In this economy, I believe that most employees are scared shitless and wouldn't dare to do many of these things, poster or no poster.  But for the top 1% to not even want their employees to know what their rights are...  As a coworker of mine would say, "tragic". 

Anyway, a potentially larger story is nearly hidden in the closing paragraphs.  Several articles linked to in the story report on the fact that the NLRB has been under assault for decades by mainly Republicans, in an attempt to undermine their abilities to enforce labor law and to protect unionization.  In the latest development, the Supreme Court ruled last year that the NLRB needed at least 3 members on its board in order to be operational.  Due to Republican filibusters in the Senate to prevent voting on new members to the board, Obama has had to make emergency appointments in order to keep the board active.  After one member's term is up on December 31, there will not be enough members on the board for its rulings to be valid.  The potential of this is huge.  As the New York Times points out in an op-ed,

Workers illegally fired for union organizing won’t be reinstated with back pay. Employers will be able to get away with interfering with union elections. Perhaps most important, employers won’t have to recognize unions despite a majority vote by workers. Without the board to enforce labor law, most companies will not voluntarily deal with unions. 

Do not take this to mean that I am strictly pro-union.  I have my own issues with them, probably the biggest being that their missions to raise wages and benefits for its members, noble as they undoubtedly are, are going to be unrealistic in the new world that we are slowly waking up to.  Peak Everything will affect everyone, and a rising standard of living for union members will no longer be possible, like it was in the mid to late 20th century.  But they are a bulwark for workers, sometimes a shitty bulwark, but a bulwark nonetheless.  I have read and seen countless corporate propaganda over the years, stating that employees don't need unions, that the businesses have an "open-door" policy, that they look out for their workers.  And I can tell you that it's bullshit.  The only goal for business is to make money.  They couldn't give two shits about their employees.  Okay, I'm getting off my soapbox now.  Anyway, I think the best objective for unions, rather than aiming for a higher standard of living for its members, is to protect them from arbitrary actions by their employers, and to ensure that the upper echelons of management aren't being rewarded with wheelbarrows of cash and company cars while the rank-and-file get nothing.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

RIP Christopher Hitchens

I came home yesterday morning to the news that the brilliant essayist Christopher Hitchens had passed from complications from throat cancer, at 62.  I have spent the entire morning reading tributes and obits to him; there's a helpful Yahoo! article here that contains links to these, as well as a fine tribute all in itself. 

I have not really read a lot of Hitch in recent years, but at the dawn of my political awakening (I have long since fallen back into a proud slumber, hopefully never to re-awaken), I was pretty blown away by a couple of books he had written in the late 90's--early 2000s, dealing with the ethical and moral failings of (then) President Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger.  He had an explosive way with words and was never afraid to offend either right or left.  That is what I'll take away from him, rather than his proud atheism, which is heavily emphasized in the obits.  It's a true gift to possess, when you can write something that polarizes everybody, and can alienate a lot of people, while those same people are still nonetheless impressed by what you are writing and find it worthwhile to read.  I felt that way when he presented himself as an ardent supporter of the invasion of Iraq.  While I did not agree with his position, I still looked forward to reading his views on the matter; I now remember even reading a very small book that was published, that consisted of his essays on the Iraq invasion (entitled A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq).  That would usually be unthinkable, like a staunch leftist reading a tome by Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter, or a dyed-in-the-wool rightwinger reading something by Michael Moore, but again, Hitchens had that gift.  He was such a gifted, informed writer that you needed to hear his thoughts on a particular topic, even if you came away red in the face and mumbling curses after reading it.  

I'm hoping to eventually read more of his works, especially God is Not Great and Hitch-22, his autobiography. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Indefinite Detention of U.S. Citizens Now Legal

The National Defense Authorization Act is a federal law that has been enacted for the past 48 years to specify the budget of the U.S. Department of Defense.  In this year's budget, which is voted on by Congress, comes a nasty provision that allows indefinite detention of U.S. citizens without due process.  This budget was just passed by the U.S. Senate.  As shown by this list, an overwhelming majority voted "yea" on the bill, including the 2 senators who supposedly represent me as a New York resident, Gillibrand and Schumer.  This has received truly bipartisan support, so for those of you who still think that there's a significant difference between the two parties, this evidence should be enough to prove otherwise. 

We have officially reached the nadir as a country, now on par with the worst proclivities of totalitarian states.   Like in some of these countries, which many of our luminaries still trash regularly for their repression of their own citizens, we too now live in a place where it is possible to be imprisoned indefinitely for little more than your neighbor pointing your finger at you and labeling you as a "terrorist" to the proper authorities.  And this is under a President that has a "D" label following his name.  Bush/Cheney clamored for years to have something of this nature passed, but it took a Democratic president to make it into law.

I think a key factor behind this being able to get passed now, rather than in the Bush years, is the economy is grinding down to such an extent that there is now noticeable public outcry that can no longer be ignored.  I am speaking, of course, of the OWS movement.  Under this bill, an OWSer can be swept up in a police sweep and can be sent to some kind of federal facility (or even Gitmo) under the filmsy pretense of having the potential to inflict violence at some point in the future.