By TIM ROWDEN
Missouri, with its ongoing fight against right-to-work legislation and a crucial election coming up Nov. 4, “is critical to the future of the American labor movement,” Thomas Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers told delegates at the Missouri AFL-CIO’s 27th Biennial Convention in St. Louis.
“I don’t know if any of us can really absorb the importance of it,” Buffenbarger said.
The Missouri legislature is dominated by the Republican Party, with Republicans making up 110 members in the House to Democrats’ 52. In the Senate, there are 23 Republican senators to nine Democrats.
Defeating right-to-work (RTW), paycheck deception and anti-prevailing wage measures this session required a concerted bipartisan lobbying effort, that almost certainly will be tested again next year when the legislature comes back in session.
Twenty-four states currently have RTW legislation on the books, Buffenbarger said. The fight for fairness for working families and union members has reached the tipping point.
“All it takes, brothers and sisters, is one more state to fall to RTW and we will have a national RTW law!” Buffenbarger said.
“The Heritage Foundation (the conservative anti-union think tank based in Washington) has already drafted the legislation,” he said. And “it will pass, because it is already the law in the states.
“We are one state away from a catastrophe.”
GO ON OFFENSE
The only hope, Buffenbarger said, is to fight by voting for worker-friendly candidates who can return balance to the state legislature in Missouri and throughout the country.
It will requiring defeating Wisconsin’s RTW Gov. Scott Walker and making Michigan a union shop state once again.
“We have to make sure no state falls. We’ve got to start taking them away from RTW,” Buffenbarger said. “We have to go on the offensive. We’ve been on the defensive since 1959.”
That’s when the United Steelworkers went on strike against the major U.S. steel companies over management’s insistence that the union give up a contract clause to change the number of workers assigned to a task and introduce new work rules. The strike prompted President Eisenhower to invoke the back-to-work provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act. The union sued to have the Act declared unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court upheld the law.
“It’s a big fight, a tough fight,” Buffenbarger said, trying to hold back RTW, protect pension plans, provide health care coverage and craft trade agreements that actually protect American workers instead of selling them out.
But it’s a fight we have to take on at the ballot box.
‘GET PISSED OFF’
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) made pension plans more stable, Buffenbarger said, but “Congress, in its wisdom, started to chip away at laws that ensure this stability” and “deregulated pensions laws to the benefit of big banks and Wall St. and to the detriment of us!
“You’re at the mercy of politicians when you’re on a pension plan,” Buffenbarger said. “Start to worry, get pissed off, and do something about it!”
Health care is also under assault, he said.
“Obamacare is a step in the right direction, but not far enough. We should have a single payer health system like they have in the rest of the industrialized world.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed regional free-trade agreement to enhance trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region.
But like NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), it threatens to make it easier for companies to offshore their work – and our jobs – to low-wage workers in other countries in order to increase the companies’ profits.
NAFTA sent manufacturing work south of the border, Buffenbarger said.
CONGRESS HURT WORKERS
Since 1994, when NAFTA was implemented, 700,000 jobs have been shifted south of the border
General Electric, just one of the companies that benefited, laid off 2,304 workers to shift jobs to Mexico.
“We hurt Americans,” Buffenbarger said. “Our Congress did that.
“There’s something fundamentally wrong in the mindset of people who guide business in this country, and the politicians who follow them, that we would hurt American workers so somebody on Wall St. can get a bigger paycheck.”
Meanwhile, Buffenbarger said, Republicans want to kill the Export-Import Bank, which guarantees loans to foreign customers who buy products made in the U.S.
“Elections have consequences,” Buffenbarger said. “In this state, a consequence of an election could be a RTW law and worsening conditions for public sector workers.”
Buffenbarger warned against being a single-issue voter.
“I’m a hunter and a shooter,” he said. “But the most important thing in my life is a job. Without a job, you can’t afford ammunition for your gun, fuel for your boat or anything else.
“You think you live in the land of the free and the brave,” Buffenbarger said. “I know you’re brave, but I want you to have all the freedom you have a right to, and that will be governed by politics.”