Let’s Get Real About EFCA

Initially embargoed pending negotiation of publication. More details later.

Let’s Get Real About EFCA

The United States Senate is poised to vote on S. 1041 “The Employee Free Choice Act” sometime in the next few days. Proving its bipartisan popularity, the bill cleared the House of Representatives with a large margin. Minority Whip Roy Blunt, in a pen and pad session with political reporters, warned that it would not be a free vote, and that there would be consequences for any Republican who broke ranks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip are now making similar threats, but the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate. The Republican opposition to this bill is ostensibly about preserving the integrity of elections, but in reality, it’s about continuing to represent the interests of their corporate donors.

To review, the most controversial part of the bill re-introduces a “card-check” procedure. What this would do is make it easier for employees seeking to form a union to get straight to the certification process. If an employee signs a document indicating that he is in favor of a union being formed, it’s counted as a vote for the union. If a majority of the employees sign, then the vote is considered to have occurred, and the union proceeds straight to the National Labor Relations Board for certification. Other provisions of the bill provide for increased penalties for employers who violate labor negotiation laws and for making mediation and arbitration easier to reach for first time contracts.

The Republicans in the House and the Senate have few problems with the latter two provisions, but the first is the one that has them rallying the troops. Card-checks make union organizing much easier. Currently, the law makes it all but impossible for employees to form a union. Employers are able to harass and punish union organizers, prohibit them from any on-site organizing activity, subject workers to incredible amounts of compulsory anti-union propaganda during work hours and fire any employee who seems to remotely think that belonging to a union might possibly be something he’d consider considering. In addition to on-site employer harassment, employees are further disadvantaged by the fact that the only times that they can meet to talk about organizing are after work and off-site. Apparently, a group of people who’ve just worked a twelve hour shift in a slaughterhouse are expected to get together for chai lattes at the local Starbucks and talk about their options and 401(k)’s.

Republicans claim that they prefer the status quo in that it preserves a secret ballot process. After all, one of the hallmarks of a democracy is that no one knows how you voted. This doesn’t quite work, though, for two primary reasons. First of all, a place of work is not identical to a society or government. Short of being tried for treason and expelled, there is no real way for the government to punish someone for politicking. It’s a lot harder to legally find someone a traitor than it is to fire him because you don’t like his thoughts. Secondly, management already works by a card-check system, and Republicans consider that to be a hallmark of corporate efficiency and a strength of the American economic system. The difference is that in the corporate world, they’re called “proxies.” Shareholders are constantly signing over their voting authority to other shareholders to create large coalitions and get things done. What’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander?

Assuming that we grant their argument is in good faith, however, there are other objections that come into play. Not all votes are best left in the dark and protected by secrecy. Perhaps the legislators in question would prefer it this way, but would anyone be happy if the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate were able to conduct their votes anonymously? Would any shareholder in any corporation feel comfortable with letting board members vote anonymously? When it comes to dictating policy for the country and for the company, we demand accountability and transparency from the voters. Why shouldn’t workers be able to demand the same accountability?

In closing, it’s worth investigating a thought experiment. Let us imagine that in the 2004 election, the Democratic party were able to take all the undecided voters in the country and get to them at their place of work. Let us further imagine that all of them were forced to listen to Democratic negative ads on the Muzak and be subjected to daily viewings of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Furthermore, the Democratic Party hired public relations firms and strategic consultants to figure out how to bully those undecideds who hadn’t been brainwashed into voting Democratic. The Republicans would only be able to approach these voters at home, after hours and on their own efforts. Any attempt to talk to them at work would result in firing and excessive hounding. Would any Republican find this fair? It’s time to put the pretense behind us and pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

The Senator From Punjab

Notate bene this was initially embargoed pending negotiation for publication. More on the details later.

The Senator From Punjab

Apparently, the transformational politics of Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) bid for President of The United States of America is changing more than who can make a viable run for the office. Of course, all changes bring other changes, and the most recent one that Obama brought is changing who the evil, all controlling bugaboo minority in American politics is. Thanks to Obama, millions of Jews in America can sleep peacefully, knowing that the new bogeymen are Indians. According to an unsigned document that Obama’s campaign released on Friday, Hillary Clinton is not the senior Democratic Senator from New York. She is, apparently, the sole Democratic Senator from Punjab.

Punjab is a state in northwest India, not a state in the northeast of the United States. The headline on the document reads, “Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab)’s Personal Financial and Political Ties.” It then goes on to list several things pulled from public documents, such as newspaper accounts and financial disclosure forms, each of which shows Bill or Hillary Clinton representing their Indian constituents, accepting campaign contributions from companies that do business in India or investing in Indian companies. The language used to describe these activities, however, would make a tabloid journalist blush. In accepting $60,000 in campaign contributions from Cisco Systems, Clinton is not taking money from a pioneering software firm that has created hundreds of thousands of jobs, created millions, if not billions, of dollars of wealth and has created the software that enables e-commerce. Instead, Senator Clinton is cozying up with a group of robber barons who “laid off American workers to hire Indian techies.”

The rest of the document reads similarly, and takes the next step into conspiracy theory paranoia by creating a nefarious cast of characters, including respected hotelier and Democratic activist Sant Singh Satwal. Satwal is an immigrant who has built an empire of hotels, a living example of the American dream. He is also from Punjab.

Let us review the number of economic and political fallacies in this document. Initially, New York City has the greatest number of Indian immigrant families in the country. Senator Clinton is doing her job by advocating for her constituency. Moreover, trade with India helps bring a valuable ally in the global war on terror closer to the United States. We have been dealing with Islamist terrorists for perhaps twenty years. India has been dealing with them since before a group of Puritans set out on the Mayflower. On the economic level, trade with India helps reduce costs of business, making products cheaper and more available to more people. More Americans are able to consume products that were once playthings of the rich, and more Americans are able to use cheaper costs as a springboard to starting and expanding their own businesses. Global free trade has been the single most empowering force for Americans and their trading partners alike. Economies are not zero-sum: we all do better when we all do better.

However, this has never been about good governance nor has it been about economics. Over the last ten years, as the economy has become more globally integrated and Jews have become more accepted in society, the new bogeyman has become the Indian. Whether it’s people grumbling about telemarketing centers, manufactured goods, skilled artisans and executives coming to America, the Indian is the latest person to occupy the role of “foreigner who threatens American workers and has no loyalty to America.” One could very well expect that the next document will mention the “Hindu Occupied Government” or accusations that Indian-Americans are more loyal to India than they are to America.

The sad thing is that to date, Obama truly has run a transformational campaign. He has reached out to traditional Democratic constituencies, but has done so in a manner not seen since, well, Bill Clinton. He has offered up idea after idea, and has spoken inconvenient truths to both Democratic and Republican groups. Instead of continuing in his twenty-first century campaign, however, Obama has chosen to go back to nineteenth century Know Nothing politics. And just as the Know Nothings were happy to accept the cheap labor of Irish immigrants, so too is Barack Obama happy to accept the money and support of the incredible South Asians for the Obama movement.

Following the public outcry and disgust for his tactic, Senator Obama made what political observers call a “non-apology apology.” He said, “I thought it was stupid and caustic and not only didn’t reflect my view of the complicated issue of outsourcing.” Senator Obama would be well advised to go back and read the document that his campaign is issuing on his behalf. It’s not about trade and economic dynamism. The document stops just short of constructing a hulking, decadent “Beast From The East” coming to The West to steal and corrupt. (Imagine the Persians from 300, only answering telephones and writing computer code.) If it were just about economics, the document wouldn’t have had the desired salacious effect. After all, who gets worked up about policy details and numbers? For someone who’s seemingly running on the politics of unity and hope, Senator Obama’s latest jab against the thousands of Indian-Americans is nothing more than the same, tired old politics of division and fear.

Dheeraj Chand is a political analyst in Washington, D.C. He maintains a website and blog at http://www.dheerajchand.com . He has family ties to Punjab, a state in northwest India.