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Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Change

The American people want change!

They’re entitled to it. It’s written into their Constitution.

The two presumptive candidates for president, in the upcoming 2008 election, both believe in change.

John McCain, the Republican, believes in climate change. He’s said so many times. Barack Obama, the Democrat, believes in change we can believe in.

Polls show that the #1 issue weighing on the minds of Americans today is the collapsing economy. How do you stop the free fall we’re experiencing now? If it lands it could make a hole in the ground that will make 1932 look like an apple sale on the street?

George W. Bush must have been chuckling to himself when he signed Congress’ economic stimulus package, sending out $300 to $1200 rebate checks. Maybe he thinks that’s the way to keep the flow of wealth upwards.

Americans need purchasing power worth a damn! They need jobs like those they had when there was a strong labor movement in this country and good, high paying wages in manufacturing won through blood and guts and strikes.

The Reagan revolution ended all that.

Reagan mercilessly broke the air traffic controllers when they went out on strike. That kicked off the onslaught.

The corporate oligarchy took their shot. They undercut the unions by off-shoring factories and out-sourcing jobs.

As Ross Perot described it when he was running for president in 1992, you could hear the “sucking sound” as jobs and plants went flying off to countries that paid the lowest wages. It was a race to the bottom and the beginning of what we now call “globalization.” They hollowed out the country for profits. They exported their plants and brought back their products as imports. That gave a strong manufacturing base to our foreign competitors and piddling wages at service jobs to American workers. “Yeah, I work at McDonalds, but I can buy cheap at Walmart’s”.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership, nationwide, was down to 12 percent in 2007. There was a time when things were different. In the mid 1950’s more than 35 percent of all employees on private payrolls were union members.

We had some great labor leaders in our time. There was the great Eugene Debs who organized the American Railway Union in 1893. He wanted to see change in the country, too. He ran for President of the United States four times on the Socialist Party ticket, the last time from prison in 1920 and received nearly one million votes.

And then there was the great John L. Lewis, head of the mine workers, who organized the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and created great change. He brought industrial unionism to this country for the first time.

In 1936, Lewis joined the Reuther brothers, Walter and Victor, in organizing the United Auto Workers’ sit-in strikes against General Motors at their Flint, Michigan plants.

For 44 bitterly cold winter days the auto workers in Flint held out, eventually inspiring more than two-thirds of General Motors 145 thousand other production workers to strike.

Change came to Flint and the auto industry with a bang. The strikers seized, shut down and occupied one, then two, and then three of the key GM plants. Suddenly, workers everywhere were sitting-down. There were 477 sit-down strikes by the end of 1937, involving more than half a million workers. What hath change wrought!

Mighty GM had vowed publicly that it would never allow the UAW to represent its employees. But the General Motors Corporation ended up granting that crucial right—and more—to the union. It was a stunning victory for the United Auto Workers.

The two major union organizations united. The AFL-CIO was formed. Solidarity! It led the way—and swiftly—to the unionization of workers throughout heavy industry and, ultimately, to unionization in all fields. It brought higher wages, pensions and health care benefits to union members. It certainly was the high water mark of labor power in America. Finally, labor had a seat at the table!

Where has it all gone?

With growing corporate power, class conflict reached new heights. The assault on labor became overwhelming, continuous, inhuman and destructive.. No wonder unions are dysfunctional and chaotic. So are most of their leaders. If they’re not coerced, co-opted or corrupted, they’re framed, jailed or neutralized in some way.

Only when capitalism is in the throes of crisis, deep depression and near collapse can strong labor leaders emerge. Must we relive the 1930’s?

Maybe our two presidential candidates, believers in change, will come up with something better than Bush’s economic stimulus package to save our collapsing economy—like repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, the epitome of anti-labor legislation. Or enforcement of the Wagner Act (which is still on the books) that guarantees workers the right of collective bargaining, a product of Roosevelt’s New Deal that raised the standard of living of the middle and working classes.

Where do the candidates stand on these issues? I haven’t heard any meaningful discussion of how to save our economy. McCain seems to be set in concrete, but Obama seems to be changing the change we can believe in since he assumed his presumptive nomination in the Democratic Party. He seems to have adopted the Bill Clinton strategy of triangulation. Go after those shaky votes on the right! It worked for Bill; maybe it will work for him. There’s been a sea change, lately, in Barack’s change we can believe in.

Can you imagine Obama supporting Bush’s intelligence surveillance law?

Well, he says he will when the compromise FISA bill comes to the Senate, granting immunity to the telecommunications corporations for their participation in warrantless wiretapping programs. So far, there are 40 lawsuits against them alleging privacy invasion.

The latest Obama glitch—his adoption of the Bush faith-based initiatives. Is he going for the evangelical vote? One of the essential principles of this democracy, I always thought, was separation of church and state. Religious charities are well and good, but isn’t it the responsibility of the state to look after the welfare of its people?

End the war in Iraq? Obama says he is against the war. Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son, Casey, in the war, was hoping Barack would say “Troops out now!”

But we haven’t heard anything like that from him. Each year, since 2005, we’ve heard a different plan. Now, he says he “will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within sixteen months…” and, of course, some will have to remain to protect our embassy and diplomats and – er – man our “impermanent bases” in the country that we will occupy permanently.

We won’t go into Obama’s other flip-flops. It’s too painful. They are amply covered, even in the mainstream media.

So who are you going to vote for?

There are other candidates, you know, although you would never suspect it from reading or listening to the mainstream media.

There’s Cynthia McKinney, Congresswoman from Georgia’s 11th District, candidate for President on the Green Party ticket.

There’s Bob Barr, also from Georgia, a former Congressman from the 7th District, the Libertarian Party nominee for President.

There’s Chuck Baldwin, pastor and radio talk show host, nominated by the Constitution Party.

And, of course, there’s Ralph Nader, who chose to run, this year, as an Independent.

If you vote for any one of these, people will say you’re throwing away your vote.

Let them say it. They will be giving their votes to the corporate oligarchy.

Vote your conscience. Vote your hopes, not your fears.

You don’t want to walk out of that voting booth with a grimace on your face, after holding your nose and once again voting for the lesser of two evils.

You want to walk out of there feeling good about yourself, holding your head high knowing that you exercised your first amendment rights—freedom of speech, and of the press and your right to freely assemble.

Good luck and God Bless America!

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

STEPHEN FLEISCHMAN, writer-producer-director of documentaries, spent thirty years in Network News at CBS and ABC. His memoir is now in print. See www.amahchewahwah.com, e-mail stevefl@ca.rr.com

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