Date: Mon, 27 Oct 97 08:46:18 CST
From: email@example.com (Peoples Weekly World)
Subject: New labor focus on civil rights a welcome step
Organization: Scott Marshall
New labor focus on civil rights a welcome step
By A. Jefferson Melyst, in People's Weekly World
25 October 1997
A resolution defining the right to organize "the civil
rights issue of the next decade" could well be one of the
most significant actions of the September AFL-CIO
convention. Add to that the unanimous vote to delete the
divisive weapon barring Communist Party members from full
union participation and you've set the stage for a
different kind of fight to defend and expand civil rights.
For this writer, an active participant in campaigns for
unions whose strength was crippled or destroyed by
redbaiting, its seriousness is underscored by the fact that
among the delegates were many who made their labor "career"
by redbaiting in the past. Those who victimized so many are
learning that their unions, too, were victims.
The right of workers to organize unions - certainly one of
the most basic civil rights - was won in a struggle led by
Communists, progressives and liberals during the 1930s
Great Depression. It had a brief life of but 12 years
before being gutted by what President Truman called the
The civil right to organize was guaranteed by the National
Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935. For the first time, the
First Amendment right "to peacefully assemble and to
petition the Government for a redress of grievances" was
extended to the workplace.
What followed was the greatest growth of union membership
in history when over a third of workers chose to be
represented by unions. Most importantly, workers in the
mass production industries - the most decisive component of
the working class - were organized.
Corporate America wasted no time when it succeeded in
getting its political lackeys in control of Congress in
1946. The next year the 1947 versions of Trent Lott and
Newt Gingrich rushed to enact the Taft-Hartley Act, gutting
Due mainly to Taft-Hartley (and anti-communism within its
own ranks) union representation in private industry had
shriveled to less than 10 percent 50 years later.
In the years since 1947 - and especially since the Reagan
era - ultra-right Republicans, boosted by their
counterparts in the Democratic Party, have been busy
working - and with some success - to remove all roadblocks
in the path of profit by diminishing the civil rights of
all. Now, with labor putting its own civil right in the
forefront, it gives promise of adding the backbone needed
to defend and restore the civil rights of all.
As Lenin so well put it:, "We are governed [and our state
is 'put in shape'] by bourgeois bureaucrats, by members of
parliament, bourgeois judges - such is the simple and
The attacks on affirmative action were put in sharp focus
by the Texas law professor who asked, "What is it going to
be like teaching Brown vs. Board of Education with no
Blacks in the classroom?"
First Amendment authority Nat Hentoff in New York's Village
Voice writes, "No president in 60 years has done as much
harm to civil rights as Clinton," while John Heinemann
calls the Clinton administration "disastrous," adding, "in
many important areas it can plausibly be argued [Clinton]
is the worst civil rights president since Richard Nixon."
Rev. Jesse Jackson, wondered out loud, "Will the civil
rights era end on Clinton's watch?" He has a right to
wonder when, as former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo told the
American College of Trial Lawyers: "Even so-called liberals
sign on to legislation curtailing the right of immigrants
... even threatening to allow children of the poor to go
hungry if their parent is out of work."
Gus Hall, Communist Party USA chair, minces no words when
he said "Clinton has now decided to follow his natural
inclinations to give in to pressure from the right. And he
is doing that across the board."
"Across the board" includes the attack by House Republican
Whip Tom DeLay (D-Texas) who would, in the words of The New
York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, "intimidate federal
judges - make them fear retribution if they decide on a
case in a way that powerful conservatives may dislike."
The American Civil Liberties Union says the result has been
"to strip our courts of their independence and gut judicial
power to enforce basic rights." That, the ACLU says, "would
be the most fundamental change in this country's legal
structure since the Bill of Rights was ratified." By making
the right to organize "as the civil rights issue of the
next decade," the AFL-CIO has many allies to reach out to -
and lead - in the kind of coalition needed to restore the
civil rights of all and that will, someday, abolish the
rapacious system of capitalism.
Read the Peoples
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