Monday, March 24, 2008

Acuff: Lack of worker rights is a ‘values crisis’ and economic crisis

WASHINGTON (PAI) -- The lack of worker rights in the U.S. is “a values crisis” as well as an economic crisis, AFL-CIO Organizing Director Stewart Acuff says,.

Speaking to a session on worker rights at the Take Back America conference in Washington in March 18, Acuff explained that lack of worker rights also endangers democracy. “When workers are denied the freedom to associate, sooner or later economic inequality trumps and overwhelms political democracy,” he warned the crowd.

But Acuff was preaching to the choir -- and there weren’t many of them. The sparse crowd in the meeting room were mostly unionists or staffers for unions. And conference delegates from other progressive interest groups were notably absent.

Nevertheless, Acuff, one of four speakers at the seminar, said workers need the help of the other progressive groups to restore workers’ rights, particularly by passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

The bill, which passed the Democratic-run House last year but which was halted by a GOP Senate filibuster, would help level the playing field between workers and bosses in organizing and bargaining. It would outlaw boss-run “captive audience” meetings that force workers to sit through anti-union diatribes or face discipline.

The bill would also impose triple damages and other fines for labor law-breaking, write card-check recognition of unions into law, and would make it easier to get court orders against labor law-breakers. And it would also mandate arbitration between employers and unions if the two sides can’t agree on a first contract.

Acuff said progressive support for passing EFCA next year is particularly necessary because big business and its Radical Right allies will spend millions of dollars to defeat it with misinformation, lobbying and campaign contributions.

“We have had this fight before, and we have won it before” when the original National Labor Relations Act passed in 1935, Acuff said. “But we can’t win it without a fight…and we can’t do it by ourselves,” he added, urging conference participants and their organizations to be part of labor’s million-person mobilization for the bill.

But Acuff repeatedly returned to the key role unions play in making the U.S. a livable country for millions, not just for the rich. Passage of EFCA, its signature by a pro-worker president next year, would help lead to “universal health care and a just economy,” he said. And he reminded listeners of the debt they owe unions: “The labor movement has always been the engine for a progressive movement.”

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