The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, August 03, 2012

Corporate campaign cash could destroy collective bargaining, union chief says

By The Building Tradesman

(PAI) – The enormous flood of corporate campaign cash, unleashed by the U.S. Supreme Court two and a half years ago, could elect so many anti-worker politicians that within a decade the right to bargain collectively would be destroyed, a top union leader warns.

For that reason, added Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, this November ’s election is “the most important in 80 years” for organized labor.

Gerard’s forecast came July 14 at the 6th annual Bernie Kleiman Memorial Lecture at the old U.S. Steel Pump House in Homestead, Pa.  The lectures are sponsored by the Battle of Homestead Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to education about the labor history of the historic – but now-demolished – Homestead Works, and especially about the 1892 battle pitting Pinkerton strikebreakers against workers.

Labor faces a key problem in the fall campaign: The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in early 2010 let corporations and trade associations give unlimited funds to so-called SuperPACs.  Unions and wealthy individuals also can do so.  Donors giving through so-called “non-profit groups,” can hide their identities.

The result has been hundreds of millions of corporate dollars flowing into anti-worker SuperPACs to aid their allied candidates, virtually all Right Wing Republicans.  The tide of corporate money can overwhelm everyone else – including unions – and produce a Congress that would repeal workers’ rights, said Gerard.

“In 10 years, without a change in campaign finance…we will lose the right to bargain collectively,” he warned.  Labor’s answer, this fall, must be to mobilize as never before to elect pro-worker candidates, led by Democratic President Barack Obama.

But the mobilization can’t stop with the election, Gerard said.  “We dropped the ball last time.  When he (Obama) wins, we have to make sure the people around him move forward on our issues.”  There were no unionists among top Obama officials.

After Obama was elected in 2008 – with unionists and their families accounting for one-fourth of the electorate, and giving him more than 62% of their votes – he verbally supported the Employee Free Choice Act.  That was labor’s top legislative priority and a measure designed to level the playing field between unions and bosses in organizing and bargaining.

Obama sent Vice President Joseph Biden to try to mediate some initial internal Senate negotiations on how to achieve the 60 votes needed to pass the bill.  But he did not push it.   And business groups launched a multi-million-dollar drive against the measure.  The filibuster threat killed it.  And Gerard warned the war would continue.

“I can’t guarantee that we’ll win every fight,” even if labor achieves its goals this fall, Gerard said.  “But I’ll guarantee that if we don’t fight, we’ll lose.”

House GOP holds double cash advantage on Dems

The money advantage for conservatives in politics is likely permanent – since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decree that “corporations are people,” allowing companies to give unlimited amounts of anonymous campaign cash to friendly candidates.

For Michigan, that decision is hitting home, in the key state House of Representatives elections. According to state election funding reports, as reported by the MIRS News Service last week, the state House Republican Campaign Committee has raised $552,725 – double that earned by House Democrats, who reported raising $213,026 for the Michigan House Democratic Fund.

The House Republican fund reports a 370 percent increase in fundraising at this point in 2012 compared to the same time in the 2010 election cycle.

Over the entire 2012 calendar year, Michigan House Dems reported earnings totaling $623,710 and have $781,748 in the bank. House Republicans have reported $1.43 million in cash on hand, earning just over $1 million in contributions this year.

The GOP money advantage just raises the bar for the state’s working people to win back control of the Michigan House of Representatives. The Democrats’ winning back the House in 2012 is labor’s only chance of stopping the litany of anti-worker, anti-labor legislation that has been adopted since Republicans took full control of state government at the beginning of last year. Much of that legislation has been aimed at reducing union power.