Stateside

“Bush the leftie?” redux

Oliver Kamm has replied in some detail to my critique of his assertion that George W. Bush embodies “the finest ideals of the liberal Left.” (Scroll down to Bush the liberal.) And I appreciate that response, even if I find it puzzling and utterly unconvincing.

I’ll try to respond more fully later, but I want to address Oliver’s insistence that the US labor federation, the AFL-CIO, “is not a progressive organisation,” but rather “a reactionary one, which compensates for its declining membership by campaigning on extraneous political issues that damage civil society…”

The only example Oliver cites for this astounding thesis is that the AFL-CIO wants the U.S. government to include enforceable workers’ rights and environmental protections in trade and investment agreements. He then says trade unions in India do not support the AFL-CIO’s position. There is more than one labor federation in India, and I’d be surprised if they all saw eye-to-eye on this issue. Anyway wouldn’t their positions depend on what these environmental and labor protections were? Would any Indian union oppose a provision requiring the government to protect the right of workers to organize freely and bargain collectively? In the wake of the Bhopal disaster, would Indian unions oppose even a minimal provision for environmental protection?

The AFL-CIO’s position on this issue does not make it reactionary, and it certainly does not make those on the opposite side progressive.

Organized labor in the US currently is fighting a Bush administration proposal that would deprive up to 8 million wokrers of the right to time-and-a-half pay for overtime work. The Washington Post reports that workers have been flooding the Labor Department with letters opposing the plan:

“Shame on you, President Bush,” Patrick L. Crane, 47, a prison guard from Highland, Ill., wrote to the department in early June. “. . . I would not appreciate being mandated to work extra hours in a prison and become injured or killed for working exhausted.”

Crane said he has used his time-and-a-half pay to replace his car’s broken transmission; help care for his mother, who has dementia; and pay medical bills for his brain cancer treatments…

“Please do not take away our overtime pay,” wrote Megan Musser, 22, of Severn, Md., who said her husband, David, worked 30 hours of overtime a week so that Megan could be a stay-at-home mother to their daughter, Bailey, for the first 2 1/2 years of her life instead of working nights as a waitress. In her letter, she called the Labor Department plan “deplorable”…

“The 40-hour week was enshrined in American labor law during the Great Depression,” wrote Ron A. Nerad, a computer systems integrator in St. Louis. “It’s still a good idea. Workers who labor longer deserve premium pay. Why? Because it creates an incentive for the employer to treat the employee’s time with respect!”

Meanwhile business groups are supporting the Bush proposal and asking for even more exemptions.

Now I suppose it’s possible that labor’s position on on this issue is in fact a reactionary effort to defend the status quo, while business leaders seeking to cut costs by cutting overtime pay are the real progressives. But I hope you’ll indulge an old-fashioned coot like me if I choose to believe otherwise.

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