It’s hard to deny that the past six years have been rough for the American worker.
The greatest economic catastrophe since the 1930s struck out of nowhere in 2008, compounding the negative effects of nearly four decades of economic decline and wage stagnation. Millions were tossed out of their homes and onto the streets as Washington moved to bailout the banksters that caused this mess in the first place.
At the same time, millions turned to an incoming administration to fix the mess that had been wrought. Young people, minorities, women, and all those who had felt the brunt of the right-wing turn in American politics since the 1970s, rallied at the polls in big numbers to reject the kind of big business politics that had brought the nation to the brink.
And yet six years into the crisis, we are faced today with many of the same problems that faced us back in 2008. The financial sector today is more concentrated than it was at the time of the crash in 2008.
Millions are still without homes, without jobs, and without hope. In response, young people have mobilized, as have other groups that have continued to get the short end of the stick in an era defined by bankster bailouts, austerity, and unending war.
The Occupy movement, reflecting the revolutionary currents in the Middle East and Northern Africa, hit American streets in September 2011. From Zuccotti Park to a cramped room at Murray State University, where I was a student, young people made their voices heard.
They denounced the control of government and the economy by the banksters -- the one percent -- and called upon government to make policy in the interest of the workers, the 99 percent. Young people have subsequently acted as the leading force in the protests against police brutality stemming from the tragic slaying of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
I don’t pretend to speak for everybody in my generation, but I’d like to think that these outbursts of activity on our part stem from the realization that something is fundamentally and undeniably wrong with the society in which we live. A college diploma is too often worth less than the paper it’s printed on these days. Millions of us toil for long hours at more than one job to make ends meet. Unpaid internships are the rule, rather than the exception. With all that in mind, what else can we do but strike out at everything allayed against us?
There are, however, others waiting in the wings who wish to take advantage of this mass discontent among young people and workers in the United States. These demagogues blame the victims of the Great Recession for that catastrophe, rather than placing the blame upon the one percent that so rightfully deserves it.
One of these demagogues is the scion of the Paul family, the junior senator from Kentucky, Republican Rand Paul. Like his father before him, Paul talks a good talk on a lot of issues, but these belie his actual agenda.
Many young people were attracted to Rand Paul’s father, former GOP Texas Congressman Ron Paul, in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential election campaigns. Paul the Elder gained something of a reputation as a maverick, antiwar Republican during the Bush years, giving him a base that he might not otherwise have had had his record been more closely examined.
The elder Paul was intimately connected with far-right, proto-fascist hate groups for a good bit of his career, and never shied away from playing on the racism of his support base to raise funds from neo-Nazi websites like Stormfront.org.
His son, by contrast, has attempted to chart a more ‘moderate’ (as far as Republicans go) course. Unlike his father, the younger Paul is not a committed non-interventionist. He’s also been a quite vocal advocate of using the federal government to enact his chosen policies, which the “states’ rights” oriented Ron Paul shied away from during his Congressional career.
For example, Sen. Paul has time and time again attempted to introduce a national version of a so-called “right-to-work” law during his time in the United States Senate, although thankfully these attempts have, for the time being, been beaten back.
The younger Paul seems poised to take up his father’s mantle and seek the Republican nomination next year. Should he obtain it, his candidacy will focus on smoothing out his differences with the Republican leadership while also attempting to make the youth vote competitive, focusing on those issues with which young voters may readily identify: opposition to the ongoing war in Syria, opposition to the War on Drugs, or opposition to mass surveillance programs operated in the name of counter-terrorism.
However, this is just part of the continued Trojan Horse campaign by the Pauls to push their actual agenda: more power and wealth for the one percent.
What would a President Rand Paul, acting in concert with a Republican-controlled Congress, do? He may yet end federal enforcement of the War on Drugs, and devolve that issue to state governments. Further, he may yet cut off funding for anti-ISIS operations in Syria and withdraw troops from the region. But these will be small potatoes compared to what else we can expect from a President Paul.
Those of us who remember the 2010 Senate election in the Bluegrass State will well remember Paul’s flip-flopping on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. First he claimed that the Civil Rights Act interfered with the right of private individuals to conduct their businesses as they saw fit (which, in this case, means the right of bigots to treat minorities as second-class citizens), and after strong public pushback on that antediluvian position, eventually came out in favor of federal government intervention in the civil rights arena.
Still, it makes one wonder how a President Paul would enforce that law and other laws like the Voting Rights Act, which is currently under a multi-faceted assault by Republicans intent on kicking black and brown voters off the voting rolls.
Paul likewise voted against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would have barred discrimination against LGBT Americans in employment. A 2011 poll conducted by the Center for American Progress found that 73 percent of Americans (including 66 percent of Republicans!) favored barring discrimination against LGBT Americans in employment, putting Paul far out of touch with public opinion on that issue.
Paul opposes universal health insurance, favors the militarization of the border with Mexico and opposes birthright citizenship for immigrants. He is an open, vociferous enemy of organized labor, and will likely do everything in his power, should he be elected president two years from now, to undermine the position of American workers and their unions.
Young people should thus not be fooled by Sen. Rand Paul. Low wages, bigotry, and union-busting will not put a single one of us in a better position. We have to instead fight to break down those barriers created by the one percent which divide us as workers, be they racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other -ism or -phobia which benefit those at the top first and foremost.
And we have to do so in the context of re-building a labor movement that can not only fight for higher wages, shorter hours, or better working conditions, but that can also act as a battering ram for the 99 percent in its ongoing and unceasing conflict against the one percent. That is change that we can believe in, and that is change that we, and only we, can bring.
Editors note: Devin Griggs, who grew up in Marshall County, Ky., is a Murray State University graduate who lives in the Chicago area where he belongs to UFCW Local 1548. The son of Cliff Griggs, a member of the United Steelworkers, Devin received the 2011 Kentucky State AFL-CIO Youth Award.
Rand Paul says his hat is in the ring for 2016 – for another senate term. But Kentucky’s junior senator didn’t rule out a presidential bid.
Team Rand still hopes their guy can run for the senate and for president at the same time. Yet still on the books – and likely to stay there – is that Kentucky law that says he can’t do that.
Oh, the Republicans figured they’d be able to change the law when the General Assembly meets again in January.
All they had to do was flip the Democratic-majority House of Representatives. They talked like they had the election in the bag.
Meanwhile, the GOP-majority state Senate voted to change the law when the legislature got together last January. The measure failed in the Democratic-majority House.
Despite Sen. Mitch McConnell’s romp on Nov. 4, the Democrats held their 54-46 state House edge.So it looks like Team Rand is back to square one.
To be sure, candidates can – and have -- run for two offices at the same time in other states. The latest double-dipper was Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. In 2012, he won reelection to the House but lost his bid for vice president.
Having been thwarted by the Democrats hold in the House, Team Rand is claiming the Kentucky double-dipping ban is unconstitutional. They’ve considered challenging it in court, an interesting prospect considering that Paul professes to be a “states’ rights” guy.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, doubts that changing the law to benefit Paul would pass constitutional muster. Such a switch could be considered special legislation, which the state charter forbids, Stumbo has pointed out.
The Speaker has more than a nodding acquaintance with the Kentucky constitution. He was the state attorney general in 2003-2007.
Anyway, the Paul camp has also mulled over skirting the law by calling for Kentucky to change its presidential primary for a caucus system.
That, too, would require the legislature’s approval. The Senate might go for it. But hogs will fly before the House of Stumbo would.
Caucus or no, if Paul became the GOP’s presidential standard bearer, his name still would be on the ballot twice when it counted – on November 8, 2016.
“Sen. Paul needs to make up his mind where he wants to serve,” suggested State Rep. Gerald Watkins of Paducah. “If he has his heart set on running for president he should go for it and not try to run for the U.S. Senate at the same time.”
Watkins is a Democrat. But he hastened to add that what he said about Paul goes for Democrats, too. “Running for two offices at the same time is not fair to the state a politician represents.”
In any event, Paul hasn’t formally said he’s a presidential candidate, but, you know, if it walks like duck. The tea party-tilting, greed-is-a-virtue Ayn Rand fan has been going out of his way to diss Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
While Paul’s political future remains uncertain, his record on labor issues could hardly be clearer: he despises unions.
Don’t take my word for it. Check out the AFL-CIO’s Legislative Scorecard. It’s online at http://www.aflcio.org/Legislation-and-Politics/Legislative-Voting-Records. In 2013, Paul voted the union position on bills zero percent of the time. His lifetime score is 4 percent. Soon to be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s score was 17 percent in 2013 and 12 percent lifetime.
Paul and McConnell teamed up to sponsor legislation to create a national right to work law.
So for those of us who pack union cards, a Sen. Paul or a President Paul is a lose-lose proposition either way.
Ira Grupper (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a veteran labor and civil rights activist in Louisville, Ky., where he serves on the board of directors of the Kentucky Labor Institute. He authors Labor Paeans, a column that appears monthly in FORsooth, a publication of the Louisville Fellowship of Reconciliation. This is his December column.
By IRA GRUPPER
Open Hillel—a ray of hope amid world and personal conflict
If history is a continuum, then it must also have a worldwide panorama. The Jim Crow system was opposed by the Civil Rights Movement, led by African Americans and supported by others (more about this shortly). The fight for justice in Israel and Palestine—likewise.
Listen up, y’all. Psalm 89:3: “For I have said: ‘Forever is mercy built; in the very heavens Thou dost establish Thy faithfulness.’” Well, Christians can find it in Matthew 25. And for Muslims: When some non-Muslims mocked Bilal, the black slave--Quran 49:13: O mankind, we have…appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another.”
Over the last two-plus decades I have visited Israel six times, once living there six months. I travelled from the north near Lebanon to the south near Egypt, and from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. I spent a good bit of time in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and time as well in the Gaza Strip and Amman, Jordan.
I am of two minds, and am conflicted. On the one hand, I am proud of my Jewish heritage, and our surviving the murderous Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust--and now, more than an addendum, facing an anti-Semitic wave along with the anti-immigrant wave sweeping Europe.
My people included Hillel, Einstein, Emma Lazarus, Howard Fast. We sang Zog Nit Keyn Mol, the Partisan Song of Jewish resistance against the Nazis: Never say that you are on your final road.
But I said that I was of two minds. Lord, am I of two minds. The second scenario concerns the occupation and humiliation of my Palestinian cousins. In my name, in the name of the Jewish people, Israel visits upon the Palestinian people a brutal occupation of their land.
Israel bestows upon the Palestinians collective punishment, deprivation of water, and so much more.
Moving right along. Hillels are Jewish university organizations, similar to Newman Clubs for Catholics. Many Jewish students claim that Hillels will not permit views critical of Israel and the Jewish “mainstream” to be expressed in open discussion.
Comes now a beam of light, a way for Jews of conscience to distance ourselves and challenge the oppression being visited in our name.
This ray of hope is called Open Hillel. Hillel was a scholar and teacher of the first century: "What is hateful to yourself do not do unto others. This is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary.”
Three hundred participants, from the U.S., Israel and elsewhere, convened at Harvard University in October. Their message: open Hillel to diverse opinions, as Hillel would want, and not as Netanyahu would want. They succeeded in opening Hillels on three campuses thus far.
I felt so privileged to have been invited to be part of a plenary session: “From Mississippi to Jerusalem: a Discussion with Jewish Civil Rights (Movement) Veterans”. How honored I was to share the podium with two veterans of that vanguard group of the Movement, SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee: Dottie Zellner and Larry Rubin.
The following day I was on another panel: “How Israel-Palestine Affects Left-Wing Coalition Building in America”. Co-panelists: Yasmeen Silva, Palestinian American student at Vassar College, activist with Students for Justice in Palestine. And Alice Rothschild, a Boston-based physician, author, filmmaker, and activist in the Jewish community.
On a personal note. There was a Friends of SNCC group at Vassar College, in the 1960’s, that “adopted” me, sending me my salary/stipend of $15/week. I feel a kinship with Vassar!
The conference was not a monolith. One speaker was from J Street, a liberal group that wants a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. And yet the head of J Street supported the Israeli invasion of Gaza. But most conferees opposed the slaughter.
There was the wonderful Jewish Voice for Peace. JVP focuses on ending the Israeli occupation.
I am hopeful Open Hillel will make a difference. But I am mindful of the mass murder of Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces, the devastation to the infrastructure of Gaza, perhaps the most densely populated place on earth.
Where in the Midrash does it sanction these crimes against humanity? Did the Bible get it wrong when the scribes wrote: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil? Must we also add Mother Jones’ prophetic words: Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living?
But I am still conflicted. How do I keep my balance when the forces of evil supporting my guywire of hope are swinging wildly and threatening my soul? Is this tensioned cable really adding stability, or is it a perpetuator of the evil of occupation?
I appreciate the contributions Jews have made throughout history: Hillel, Maimonides, Emma Lazarus, Howard Fast. But I equally appreciate Palestinian poets: Mahmoud Darwish, Sami Muhanna, Maya Abu al-Hayyat. Listen to, do not merely read, the words of Zuhair abu Shayeb:
“From what source of light/ does the day occur?/ Does the earth propitiate itself/ and the seas catch fire?/ By what light do we shell roads until daybreak?/ And the sound is bearable/ and the morning, like bullets, is bearable…”.
“Some black political leaders think Democratic candidates who distanced themselves from President Barack Obama sapped enthusiasm among African-Americans in states where they anchor the party's base,” writes Bill Barrow of the Associated Press.
He cited Sen. Kay Hagan’s narrow defeat in North Carolina, Michelle Nunn’s near-landslide loss in Georgia, and the plight of Mary Landrieu, who faces a tough runoff election in Louisiana next month.
In Kentucky, Democratic hopeful Alison Lundergan Grimes also fled from the president. Sen. Mitch McConnell handily defeated her.
Barrow added that a larger turnout among African Americans by itself wouldn’t have added up to Democratic triumphs in Georgia or Louisiana because 3 out of 4 white Georgians voted against Nunn and more than 4 out of 5 Louisiana whites voted against Landrieu.
Grimes likely would have come up short, too. But I’ve heard some Kentucky Democrats wonder if Grimes depressed the African America turnout to some extent by keeping the president at arm’s length and especially by refusing to say if she voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
In any event, Linda Wilkins-Daniels, an officer in the North Carolina Democratic Party's Black Caucus, told Barrow that Democratic candidates missed an opportunity to use the president to tell a success story and to make political hay off differences with Republicans on issues like the minimum wage, financial regulation, student loans and health care.
I’m a 64-year-old, union card-carrying Chevy man, so I cheered and clapped in front of my TV when Kevin Harvick won the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship in his red-and-white number 4 Budweiser Impala SS.
It was a twofer for me. Chevy also snagged the manufacturer’s championship for the 12th time in a row and the 38th time overall.
Chevy, Ford and Toyota compete in NASCAR races. The UAW represents hourly workers at Chevy and Ford factories. Toyota’s American plants are nonunion.
So in my book, any union member rooting for a Toyota (or owning one) would be like a chicken cheering for Col. Sanders or running a KFC franchise.
Toyota won just two races this year. Chevy drivers took 20 checkered flags and Ford drivers 14.
Anyway, while Toyota’s Japanese factories are union, the company’s stateside plants aren’t. The bosses at Toyota USA, which has a factory at Georgetown here in Kentucky, are notorious union-busters.
Oh, workers at Toyota and other nonunion, foreign-owned car plants in the U.S. are compensated reasonably well. Thus, management is forever telling workers they don’t need a union.
Of course, mum’s the word from Toyota bigwigs about the fact that it’s UAW-won wages at union plants that keep worker wages up at nonunion plants. If foreign-owned plants provided their workers lousy wages and benefits, their workers might—you guessed it—join the UAW.
Plus, if the UAW went away, the wages and benefits of every auto or truck plant worker would sink like the Titanic.
Anyway, this Chevy fan—whose all-time favorite race car is Junior Johnson’s ‘63 “Mystery Motor” Impala SS —is always glad to see Bow Tie drivers win.
It’s also always great to see Toyotas finish behind Chevys and Fords.
By the way, Chevys, Fords and Toyotas roll on Goodyear Tires built in Akron, Ohio, by members of United Steelworkers Local 2L.
Through the years, I’ve owned three Chevys, two Fords, a Plymouth, a Pontiac and a Cadillac – all of them UAW-built. All of them have been great cars.
It behooves everybody who packs a union card to not just buy American but to buy union and American. It may be trite but it’s true for sure: the job you save might be your own.
I asked Dorothy Barkley what she’d say if Sen. Mitch McConnell showed up at her door in Paducah. “I’d tell him, ‘Granddaddy was a yellow dog Democrat, and I can see right through what you are doing by using his name,’” the feisty septuagenarian replied.
Her granddaddy was Alben W. Barkley of Paducah, Harry Truman’s vice president and the only Kentuckian to serve as senate majority leader. But McConnell, who often praises Barkley for his leadership, is almost certain to become the second one when the new GOP-majority senate convenes in a few weeks.
McConnell handily won another term, but not with Barkley's vote. She cast her ballot for “that nice young woman,” Alison Lundergan Grimes, Team Mitch's Democratic challenger.
Dubbed “The Veep,” Alben Barkley had been majority leader in the 1930s and 1940s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and The Man from Missouri, who became president when FDR died in 1945.
Truman tapped Barkley as his running mate in 1948. Barkley was reelected to the senate in 1954 but died in office in 1956. He was 78.
McConnell likes being compared to Barkley, who was a congressman before he was a senator.
No matter, a stint as majority leader would be the only thing McConnell would have in common with Barkley, according to The Veep's granddaughter. “I remember my granddaddy well. I was 13 when he died.”
Last summer, Barkley, 71, got so perturbed about McConnell gushing over her grandparent that she dashed off a letter to the editor of the Paducah Sun, her hometown newspaper. The Sun endorsed McConnell.
Barkley wrote that she appreciated “Sen. Mitch McConnell’s pleasant words about my grandfather.” But she cautioned that “Alben Barkley was a ‘yellow dog’ Democrat.”
“I don’t know how many people know what that means anymore,” she wondered. For the uninitiated, it translates as a Democrat so devout he would vote for a “yellow dog” if the pooch were on the Democratic ticket.
Anyway, Barkley said the Veep “would have seen right through” McConnell’s “kind words.” She urged Sun readers, “Let’s get a new face in Washington, D.C., a Democrat.”
Barkley’s record backs up what his descendant says about him.
McConnell is a conservative whose bane is “big government.” Barkley didn’t duck the liberal label. He ardently supported FDR’s Depression-fighting New Deal program of massive federal action to put people back to work and to boost the economy. Too, Barkley was on board with Truman's "Fair Deal," which the president hoped would continue New Deal liberalism.
McConnell is partial to filibusters but not to unions. Barkley disdained the former and championed the latter.
While their political perspectives are as different as chalk and cheese, so are their political styles.
McConnell is prone to bare-knucks politics. “His glower has usually been enough to dissuade those who consider crossing him,” Jason Zingerle wrote in Politico.
Barkley preferred winning hearts and minds through humor and charm. While McConnell routinely demonizes Democrats, Barkley didn't talk like Republicans were hell-bound heathens.
In addition, Barkley practiced the politics of give-and-take. He didn't think "compromise" was a dirty word.
“I have been a loyal, regular Democrat all during my career,” he wrote in That Reminds Me, his folksy 1954 autobiography. “….However, that has never precluded me from recognizing a lot of good things emanating from the opposition. In the period when I was in Congress and the Democrats were in the minority I supported measures I thought were beneficial for the people, regardless of which side of the aisle they came from.”
Also, McConnell is less than Barkley-like on the stump. The Veep was a master at homespun campaign oratory. His story bag was bottomless.
Though Barkley became a politician in Paducah, where “Angles,” his brick antebellum home, still stands, Dorothy Barkley credits her ancestor’s celebrated wit and bonhomie (probably not a word the down-to-earth Barkley frequently used) to his rural Graves County origins.
The Veep was born in 1877 in a long-since disappeared two-story log cabin in the long-gone farming community of Wheel, about 20 miles from Paducah. “Graves County is where he got his sense of humor and his savviness,” Barkley said.
“Oh it ain't what you do it's the way that you do it,” Ella Fitzgerald famously crooned.
So it goes with lots of things, including public opinion polls: “It ain’t what you question it’s the way that you question it.”
In their failed right to work push, the GOP may have been heartened by a Survey USA Bluegrass Poll that had 55 percent of respondents answering “yes” to the question, “Should laws be changed to allow people to work in businesses that have unions without joining the union or paying union dues?”
The responses and the election results didn’t square. Republican state House candidates campaigned hard on right to work. They promised to make Kentucky a right to work state if they flipped the Democratic-majority House.
After the votes were counted, the Democrats maintained their 54-46 edge.
Anyway, the right to work question was misleading, I suspect unintentionally. A lot of people get right to work wrong.
To be sure, I’m not for a minute questioning the integrity of the poll or of its sponsors: the Louisville Courier-Journal, Louisville WAVE-TV, the Lexington Herald-Leader and Lexington WKYT-TV.
But the fact is, thousands of people work at unionized companies in Kentucky and elsewhere and don't belong to the union. They are salaried employees.
I imagine the percentage of “yes” responders to the poll question would have been considerably lower had the query been posed, “Should laws be changed to allow hourly workers in businesses with hourly worker unions to receive union-won wages and benefits without joining the union or paying union dues?"
A right to work law enables such freeloading.
Admittedly, many people, including some rank-and-file union members, misunderstand what right to work laws really do. The term “right to work” is a deliberate deception devised by supporters of such measures, the real purpose of which is to weaken large unions, wipe out small unions and discourage workers from joining a union.
In any event, the Republican House hopefuls can’t claim their right to work message wasn’t transmitted loud and clear to John and Jane Q. Citizen. On the stump and in their TV and print ads, they harped on right to work.
The election proved yet again the trite but true statement that “the only poll that counts is the one on election day.”
You have to look pretty hard to find something for unions to celebrate after the election.
But take a gander at the Bluegrass State beyond its much-publicized and hotly contested U.S. Senate race, and you’ll see where anti-union Republicans failed, big time.
The Kentucky GOP very publicly promised to put the Bluegrass State in the right to work column if they flipped the Democratic-majority state House of Representatives. The Republicans came up short.
While Mitch McConnell beat labor-endorsed Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in the Senate battle, the House is still Democratic and by 54-46, the pre-election margin.
Of course, McConnell v. Grimes grabbed the lion's share of media attention nationally and statewide. Even so, the House results are good news for unions in an otherwise generally dismal election.
With the Democrats holding onto the House, Kentucky will remain the only non-right to work state in the South.
"The outcome of the House races was huge for us," said Jeff Wiggins, president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council. "All that stands between us and a right to work law is that Democratic House."
The state Senate has a right to work Republican majority. Gov. Steve Beshear, a union-backed Democrat, would almost certainly veto a right to work bill. But in Kentucky, a simple majority of both houses of the legislature overrides a governor’s veto.
The House Republican candidates united to make right to work one of their top issues. Rep. Jeff Hoover, the House minority leader, stumped the state for right to work, posing for TV and newspaper cameras with local Republican candidates in tow.
A slew of GOP radio, TV and print ads touted a right to work law. The Republicans maintained such a measure would lead to dozens of companies and thousands of good jobs coming to Kentucky.
Paducah Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 184 challenged the Republicans on some of their turf, the GOP-friendly, anti-union Paducah Sun. The newspaper endorsed McConnell.
Even so, Local 184 took out a full page in the paper debunking Republican claims about right to work.
State Rep. Gerald Watkins of Paducah was one of the victorious labor-endorsed Democrats. "The ad was great and strong union support really helped me," said Watkins, one of the pro-union incumbents the GOP targeted for defeat.
Wiggins, who is also president of United Steelworkers Local 9447, said a Republican majority legislature wouldn’t have stopped with a right to work law.
“They would have repealed our prevailing wage law, too. We’d have ended up working for less money, and our workplaces would have become less safe. The Republicans would have turned back the clock to the time of no unions and the company store.”