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Date: Mon, 27 Oct 97 08:46:18 CST
From: scott@rednet.org (Peoples Weekly World)
Subject: New labor focus on civil rights a welcome step
Organization: Scott Marshall
Article: 20721

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 "Eighty-Worst Congress".

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 the NLRA.

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 indisputable truth."

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.

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