AFL-CIO Lays Out Plans For Improving The Country

In addition to their endorsement of Barack Obama's re-election campaign, the AFL-CIO at its recent convention outlined an ambitious platform of solutions to the problems that are undermining the country, the economy and the political system.

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In addition to their endorsement of Barack Obama's re-election campaign, the AFL-CIO at its recent convention outlined an ambitious platform of solutions to the problems that are undermining the country, the economy and the political system. The issues they tackle go beyond just worker's rights and represent one of the more aggressive political statements from labor unions in recent years. They issued a series of statements announcing their positions, including Citizens United:

The AFL-CIO supports the overturning of the Citizens United decision and calls for immediate action to end the dominance of our political system by corporations and the 1%. The AFL-CIO has long advocated for measures to bring about greater fairness, openness and participation in elections—reforms that enfranchise voters and ensure that wealth does not wield disproportionate influence. We support public financing of campaigns, limitations on individual contributions to candidates and parties and public disclosure of political expenditures. We also support measures to enable citizens to vote more easily, and we oppose voter identification and similar measures that are aimed at seizing partisan advantage through disenfranchisement. And, we oppose misleadingly labeled “paycheck protection” measures that would exacerbate inequality by hampering union political activity while leaving corporate and rich individuals’ political spending unimpeded.

The Citizens United ruling has opened the floodgates to massive spending by corporations and even more so by wealthy donors. They are pouring money into our electoral system and threaten to drown out the voices of hard-working Americans. Common-sense restrictions on their spending are needed, along with robust disclosure of their contributions and expenditures—including their contributions to organizations engaged in electoral activity.

The AFL-CIO also supports reforms aimed at restoring business corporations to their proper role as commercial institutions and limiting their influence in the political sphere. Business corporations are not people—they are manmade creatures of law that exist to generate economic activity and create jobs and income in communities. The notion that they should enjoy the same rights and protections as natural persons is absurd and it is destructive to our democracy. At the same time, for more than a century, corporations have enjoyed certain constitutional protections, such as due process protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, which are consistent with basic American values. We support reforms, including changes to our tax laws and corporate laws, that address corporate dominance of our political system and that restore corporations to their proper role in our democracy.

Congress should pass and the Supreme Court should uphold the necessary reforms to protect our democracy from the power of money. As long as Citizens United remains the law of the land, constitutional change may be the only option. Amending the U.S. Constitution should be a rare act, done with the greatest of care. To earn our support, any such amendment must be carefully and narrowly crafted to protect our democracy from the economic power of the 1%, while at the same time protecting the public’s right to organize politically through democratic organizations and movements.

On Social Security:

If America were to craft a solution to the retirement crisis, it would have the same components as Social Security—shared responsibility, pooled resources, portability and security, for example. But instead of increasing Social Security benefits to meet the real needs of real working families, foes of Social Security are attempting to cut it and "have spent enormous amounts of money spreading misinformation about the program."

On contraceptive equality:

With the unprecedented attacks on workers’ rights, women have been disproportionately affected. However, the attacks have now gone beyond the consideration of legislative and policy debates. The denial of contraceptive coverage is seen as discrimination against women and an attack on workers’ right to basic health coverage. The right to quality health care has deteriorated into an attack on the character of women who want nothing more than to have a personal decision in the matter. Contraception is not only important in helping women and men plan their families, it is also used to treat or prevent many health conditions that affect women, including reducing their risk of developing ovarian and endometrial cancers.

On the economy:

First, if we want to be competitive with Germany and China in the 21st century, we will need trillions of dollars in productive public investment over the next 10 years in affordable education and apprenticeship programs for young people, who have suffered greater income loss than any other demographic; infrastructure; energy; manufacturing; transportation; skills training and upgrades; and new technologies; all of which have been starved by successive rounds of tax cuts for the wealthy and inaction on long-term federal investment initiatives. Wall Street and the wealthiest Americans, who have benefitted most from the economic policies of the past 30 years, will have to start paying their fair share. We need to pass a financial speculation tax, let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire, tax capital gains at the same rate as ordinary income and establish a minimum effective tax rate of 30 percent for households earning more than $1 million.

Second, to encourage domestic investment and lay a stronger and more stable foundation for long-term growth, it is essential that we tackle the problems of wage stagnation and economic inequality. This will require reforming our labor laws so that all workers who want to form a union and bargain collectively have a fair opportunity to do so, making full employment the highest priority of our economic policy, increasing and indexing the minimum wage, shrinking the trade deficit and, again, eliminating incentives for offshoring.

Third, we need to start making things in America again. We cannot hope to revive U.S. manufacturing without bringing our trade deficit under control, which means ending the overvaluation of the U.S. dollar and combating currency manipulation by our trading partners. We will also need to enhance Buy America safeguards, aggressively enforce our trade laws and end incentives for offshoring in the tax code and in our trade agreements.

Fourth, we need to shrink our bloated financial sector and make it serve the real economy once again. We can no longer afford a financial sector that squanders scarce resources on unproductive gambling and exposes the entire economy to the intolerable risk of speculative bubbles. This means reregulating Wall Street, eliminating tax advantages for leveraged buyouts and finding other ways to favor strategic investment over short-term speculation.

Fifth, if we expect other countries to stop relying on trade surpluses as their source of growth, we will have to make it easier for them to rely on domestic incomes as their source of growth. This will require a global New Deal that establishes minimum standards for the global economy, prevents a race to the bottom, creates vibrant consumer markets in the global South and in the process creates new markets for advanced U.S. manufacturing.

We also have unfinished business in digging out from the rubble of the crash. America wants to work, and decisive action to close our jobs deficit must not be delayed any further. An immediate multi-year program of public investment in infrastructure and clean energy would draw in business investment and buy time while households dig their way out of debt. To stop the foreclosure epidemic and stabilize housing prices, broad-based reductions in mortgage principal will also be needed. The U.S. economy cannot recover until the housing market—the single largest market in the country—is healthy again, and the banks must be held accountable for their contribution to the crisis.

And, of course, on the rights of working families:

Nothing is more central to our work than mobilizing and organizing on the side of workers seeking to form unions and build power by engaging in collective bargaining. We must trumpet this call as part of our legislative and policy agendas at federal and state legislative bodies. We must work to expand collective bargaining rights and reform labor laws to ensure that all workers who want to form unions and bargain collectively have a fair opportunity to do so.

At the same time, as we execute our ambitious legislative and policy agendas, we cannot overlook the overarching imperative of standing with workers seeking to join our movement now. We must re-dedicate and recommit ourselves to supporting workers’ campaigns, because we cannot wait for politicians to fulfill promises or for favorable legislation to be enacted. Standing still and waiting are not acceptable.

The obstacles workers face in trying to form unions are intolerable. We must tear down those obstacles by showing the same courage, determination and dedication that workers themselves demonstrate. This requires courage, focus, discipline and resources.

As a key part of the fabric of our mission, we all share responsibility for achieving success:

  • Our program must consist of both statutory reform and active support for worker organizing efforts.
  • Each of the federation’s departments has a role to play.
  • We need vibrant local labor movements. Support for worker organizing and collective bargaining campaigns is central to the work of our state federations and central labor councils. Affiliate unions should call upon them for assistance and work in partnership with them on campaigns.
  • Our affiliated unions are united in their commitment both to their own success and to the success of each other.

    The AFL-CIO reaffirms its commitment to supporting the efforts of workers to organize and to bargain collectively.

  • It's good to see the AFL-CIO coming out with strong statements about their values and the action we should take moving forward. Unions are the backbone of the American left and when they are strong, we are all strong.

    About Kenneth Quinnell

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