GOP ramping up to dismantle the labor movement

By Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO president

In a few days, the Republican Party will be in control of both houses of Congress and the presidency for the second time in 70 years. The agenda of Republican leadership of the Senate and House is not secret: Repeal Obamacare, leaving 30 million of the most vulnerable without health care. Make no mistake about it, Republican leaders are not just coming for Obamacare, they are coming after all our health care, and Social Security, too. We expect them to tee up, through the budget process later this spring, massive cuts to Medicaid, the privatizations of Medicare, and cuts to Social Security benefits. Any attacks on Medicare or Social Security will be major points of vulnerability for Republicans, and especially for Trump, since he made repeated, explicit promises not to cut either program.  How many Americans who voted for Trump want to work until they are 68?

What is occurring in Washington, D.C., is a ramp up to dismantle the American union movement. Federal employees will experience wage freezes, privatization, and the downsizing of their workforce through attrition. The Building Trades face either an attempt to eliminate Davis Bacon (prevailing wage) or the development of strategies to circumvent prevailing wage. Trump’s promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan may be funded by tax credits, allowing corporate America to sidestep prevailing wage laws. Public-sector unions will be watching who will be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, knowing that a bad decision on a Friedrichs-like case would implement “right-to-work” for public workers nationwide. There are still rumors that “right-to-work” and “paycheck deception,” which limits how union workers can make their voices heard in the political process, are targets for federal legislation.

The Koch brothers have wasted little time in implementing a state strategy to undermine workers’ rights. Kentucky Republicans, who gained control of all three branches of their government in November, slammed through “right-to-work,” paycheck deception, and repealed prevailing wage in a bogus emergency legislative session of two weeks’ age. All three bills went into immediate effect.

All three branches of government are under Republican control in Missouri and New Hampshire. Both states face legislation drafted to implement “right-to-work,” paycheck deception, and repeal prevailing wage.

At this juncture in our history, our first priority is to work and fight together.  When we are divided, we will surely fail.  When “right-to-work” was passed in Michigan, first responders were exempted.  Just last week, the Michigan Legislature passed “right-to-work” for first responders. This is the time to stand together as a labor movement — and with our community partners. Understanding the power we have collectively, we will educate and activate Oregonians.

Our fight will be statewide: Klamath Falls, Bend, Medford, Salem, Eugene, and Portland. I believe, by and large, our Congressional delegation will stand with all Oregonians. But for those who support an anti-worker agenda, we will hold you accountable.

We are living in an historical moment. Every one of us has an obligation to fight as hard as we can, to get off the couch and activate and agitate. Fighting together, we can stop attacks on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We stopped the Trans-Pacific Partnership dead in its tracks. Fighting together, we have defeated scores of ballot measures that would have undermined workers’ rights and the quality of life in Oregon.

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