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Working Life
Countering the war on workers
(Published November 28, 2005)

By JOSLYN N. WILLIAMS

Here we are, in the fourth year of an economic "recovery," yet poverty and job loss continue to rise, paychecks and pensions are getting hacked and soaring health care costs are eating away at what little sense of security working families have left.

Why? One of the big reasons is that too many of America's workers have lost any real say on the job -- a say they used to have through strong unions.

Millions of good union jobs have fallen victim to the unconscionable shipping of manufacturing jobs to other countries. But the big, dirty secret under working people's precarious pensions and shrinking paychecks is that corporate America has effectively robbed workers of the freedom to improve their lives through unions. Things have gotten so bad that Human Rights Watch -- the internationally acclaimed human rights group -- has red-flagged workers' loss of the right to form unions as a top human rights issue.

It's not that Americans don't want unions. More than half of working Americans who don't already have a union say they'd join one tomorrow if given the chance. They know that unions mean good jobs, and good jobs mean strong communities.

The sad truth is that every 23 minutes in this country, a worker is illegally fired for exercising his or her human and constitutional right to form a union. Nearly all employers aggressively fight their workers' efforts to form unions and 75 percent of them hire professional anti-worker firms to help them suppress workers' will - using both legal and illegal tactics, according to research by Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University. When workers try to organize unions, a quarter of employers illegally fire workers. Even when workers do manage to win a union, they never win a union contract in a third of cases because employers drag their feet.

We don't have to look far to see evidence of the employer war on workers when they try to form unions. Here in the metro area, Comcast and other local employers have fired workers when they tried to organize their fellow employees for a stronger voice at work.
Like workers all across the nation, local workers are tired of having their most basic rights and needs ignored by employers as well as their government. That's why this International Human Rights Week, we're calling for an end to "business as usual."

In the largest workers' rights mobilization ever, hundreds of thousand of workers all across the country are coming together to shine a light on the secret war against America's middle-class -- starting with the rampant assault on our most basic, democratic rights as workers. Workers here in Washington - including thousands of federal workers under attack by the Bush administration -- will gather at the AFL-CIO on Dec. 8 at noon and march to the White House to let President George W. Bush know they strongly oppose new federal personnel rules that strip workers of their collective bargaining rights. The new National Security Personnel System would allow U.S. Department of Defense officials to override provisions in collective bargaining contracts for 650,000 civilian Defense employees.

Throughout the week of Dec. 5-10, workers around the globe will hold rallies, town hall meetings, candlelight vigils and teach-ins to expose the obstacles workers face when seeking to join a union at work and showcase strategies for overcoming those barriers. The events are part of a massive global mobilization to mark Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the 1948 ratification of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes workers' freedom to form unions.

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Williams is president of the Metro Washington Council, AFL-CIO. For the latest on the local labor movement, subscribe to the free UNION CITY e-zine at streetheat@dclabor.org.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator