It's starting to look like newly minted Democratic Senator Arlen Specter is listening to the voices on his left:
Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) said today the "prospects are pretty good" for a compromise on legislation making it easier for workers to form unions.
Specter had come out against the card-check bill in March, disappointing labor leaders who had hoped he would be the crucial 60th vote needed to overcome an expected GOP filibuster of the Employee Free Choice Act. But Specter has since switched to the Democratic Party, and told the AP today he has been meeting with labor leaders and fellow senators in hopes of coming up with a compromise he could support. Specter would not elaborate on the negotiations, but said he is "hard at work trying to find some way to find an answer."
This news, if it pans out in the form of Specter support for an Employee Free Choice Act acceptable to the labor community, would not necessarily mean that Specter is off the hook with the left. No doubt even with such a move there would remain many progressives skeptical about Specter's intentions, many who would want to see a different Democrat elected in his place (though that Democrat isn't going to be Joe Torsella, who has dropped out of contention for the Democratic Senate nomination in Pennsylvania).
That said, this news does suggest that Specter is aware of reality -- that his position as a Republican-turned-Democrat isn't tenable if he acts like a Republican. In other words, the pressure on Specter from progressives appears to be paying dividends.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the start of a seminal event in US labor history. Beginning on May 9, 1934, 10,000 longshoremen went on strike in America's West coast ports to protest low wages, dangerous working conditions and above all a employee practice known as 'the shapeup' where workers were forced to lineup daily on the Embarcadero and a foreman would then picked the lucky wage earners for that day. The longshoremen's strike would shut down West coast ports and by the end of May over 40,000 workers would walk off the job to support the longshoremen's demands.
Not surprisingly, employers, with support from city officials, would attempt to break the strike through the use of strike-breakers bussed in from other parts of the country and through police repression. On July 5th, the tense situation exploded into violence that left three day outside Steuart Hall, the longshoremen's union hall on Rincon Hill. The day came to be known as 'Bloody Thursday' and events as the 'Battle of Rincon Hill."
Governor Merriam ordered out the National Guard to preserve order and "protect state property" while Mayor Angelo Rossi reacted by backing the Industrial Association, made up of employers and business interests who wished to break the strike, and the power of San Francisco unions and allowing them to hire thugs to beat up on striking workers.
By the middle of July, the situation had grown worse leading to the call for a general strike on July 16, 1934. The main grievance was the "attack of certain employer groups upon labor's rights to organize in their own unions and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing." Seventy-five years we are still fighting for this right. It's time to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and allow American workers the right to organize. It is hard to believe but the major impediment to union formation in the United States remains legal obstacles.
Though President Obama is daily if not hourly accused of being a socialist, to many socialists President Obama is just the latest installment of American corporatism. In what is sure to be a controversial column over at TruthDig, a Web magazine that provides coverage of current affairs as well as provocative content assembled from a progressive point of view, the polemicist Chris Hedges complains that Obama is but a brand "designed to make us feel good about our government while corporate overlords loot the Treasury, our elected officials continue to have their palms greased by armies of corporate lobbyists, our corporate media diverts us with gossip and trivia and our imperial wars expand in the Middle East." That's just the appetizer.
Mr. Hedges goes on to bemoan that the Obama Administration has "spent, lent or guaranteed $12.8 trillion in taxpayer dollars to Wall Street and insolvent banks in a doomed effort to reinflate the bubble economy, a tactic that at best forestalls catastrophe and will leave us broke in a time of profound crisis" while also allocating "nearly $1 trillion in defense-related spending and the continuation of our doomed imperial projects in Iraq, where military planners now estimate that 70,000 troops will remain for the next 15 to 20 years." Still, he's only warming up.
Yesterday in Norfolk, Va., union veterans held the first event of what will be a nationwide campaign for the Employee Free Choice Act, uniting union and nonunion veterans from across the country in support of the freedom to form unions and bargain.
In a dozen states, VoteVets.org, Veterans and Military Families for Progress (VMFP), Veterans' Alliance for Security and Democracy (VETPAC) and the AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council are teaming up to host military veterans, family members and union members for rallies, roundtable discussions and mobilization events. More than 2 million union members--14 percent of all union members--are veterans and, along with national veterans' groups, they're ready to mobilize for a level playing field in the workplace and the freedom to bargain for the economic opportunity they deserve.