Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Employee Free Choice And American Democracy-- A Guest Post By Dennis Shulman

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One of the most remarkable people I met during the 2008 campaign cycle, Dennis Schulman, didn't win his race against entrenched reactionary Wayne Garrett. Dennis just got back from a lecture tour to Ethiopian medical schools a few days ago. I asked him if he was aware of how the battle over the Employee Free Choice Act had heated up while he was in Africa. Was he ever! And it lead to a guest post:
In my recent run for Congress, among many other issues that sharply distinguished myself from the far right-wing incumbent Scott Garrett were issues involving labor. Garrett was truly an enemy of the working man and woman. He voted against prevailing wage. He blamed the UAW for all that went wrong in Detroit. He blamed the teachers’ unions for all that went wrong in the public schools. And of course he voted against the Employee Free Choice Act.

My support for EFCA, in a way, was more than forty years in the making. When I was fifteen years old, going blind, and working to help support my family, I worked for minimum wage after school and during the summers in a factory that hired disabled workers. As a high school student, 85 cents an hour was not bad in 1966. But, as I assembled the toy parts hour after hour, I was surrounded by men and women in their thirties and forties and fifties, some of them veterans, some of them with families, also making 85 cents an hour.

Every attempt to unionize the factory resulted in lay offs. The summer of 1968 was particularly maddening -- 15 of my coworkers fired after trying yet again to unionize, and the owner of the factory just appointed to the President’s Committee for the Employment of the Handicapped.

Over the years, that experience in that factory in Worcester, Mass., never left me. Especially in these times of economic crisis, if we are going to have a nation in which the middle class family is to be strong, then we have to have a nation that gives organized labor a level playing field. If we are going to have working families that have the buying power to keep our economy growing, then we have to support labor. If we are going to have a nation which honors hard work, then we are going to have to give labor the opportunity to freely choose organization.

A disturbing footnote: As anyone who has ever run for Congress knows too well, much too much of one’s life as a candidate involves raising money. Yes. I understand that this is a 21st century reality of running for congress. But this reality is not neutral and not without great cost for the political and legislative process, not without great cost to the soul of the candidate and the candidacy.

Too many times during the last year, at campaign fund raisers, people who had large interests in manufacturing would approach me to “discuss” my position on the Employee Free Choice Act. Although my factory experience from the 1960’s outweighed the pressure exerted in 2008 every time, the campaign system favors manufacturers with money to contribute to the candidate. Let us hope as EFCA is being discussed and voted on in Congress this week that our representatives vote for what is right and fair and in the best interest of our nation, and not for what is personally lucrative.

Dennis is far too polite to ever say so, much I suggest you watch for shady characters within the Democratic congressional caucuses who are very much tied to the employer class interests he referred to-- senators like Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor and House members, even beyond incorrigibles like Dan Boren and Gene Taylor, but also sticky finger members like Bobby Bright (AL), Parker Griffith (AL), Travis Childers (MS), and a whole bevy of untrustworthy Blue Dogs.

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