Thursday, January 10, 2008

A “Special Interest” Group

I was up on Capital Hill testifying before a select Committee on Energy just before the Christmas holidays. One staffer identified me as representing a “special interest group.” This is not the first time I have had this experience when presenting labor’s views or testifying on behalf of American workers. Isn’t it a shame when the average American worker—the men and women who support themselves and their families by turning wrenches, bending their backs and applying their knowledge and experience to turn out the products and services that make America work—is considered a “special interest” by our elected representatives in Congress? Isn’t it a shame that the folks who play by the rules, pay their taxes, support our defense, serve in the military, volunteer for charitable causes, coach youth sports, act as the backbone to our churches and civic organizations are considered a “special interest” just because they speak out against stagnating wages, compromised job safety or demand the right to decent health care and the right to organize into unions?

These same politicians don’t attach the “special interest group” label to the lobbyists for the Insurance Industry, the Medical Corporations, the Banking/Credit Card Industry, Oil and Gas Industry, Airline Industry, Drug Companies, Defense Contracting Industry and the Transportation Industry… and they all seem to get special treatment with head-of-the-line privileges. Is it because they are contributing big bucks to political campaigns? I think American workers are “special” because we make America work. But, when the politicians use that “special interest” label on labor reps, the connotation is that in pursuing our interests we are somehow cheating the rest of the nation or “gaming” the system.

Big money has corrupted our political system and has stolen our democracy. Every so often you hear some huff and puff from politicians that we need to curb the influence of money in elections…yeah, and I’m Santa Claus, too…that rhetoric is nothing more than smearing a little lipstick on this pig. Every so-called “campaign finance reform” that Congress has passed has been matched with an equal number of loopholes that allow “exceptions” and neutralize real reform. And, still the corruption in government continues—the vote buying, graft, bribery, misconduct and a general attitude of “I am above the law” by some elected leaders rubs our noses in the inequities of this corrupt system. No matter how many Americans want our government to change to make their lives better, no real change takes place. No matter how many polls show we want no more American jobs sent overseas, Congress and the President continue to negotiate and sign unfair trade treaties that mortgage our children’s future.

It is against this back drop that the results of the Iowa Presidential caucus shout “Americans want a change.” Surprise, surprise…the political pundits stand out in the freezing cold with cherry red faces, clouds from their steaming breath reporting live from New Hampshire and act as if this was front page news. Duh! After eight years of seeing the standard of living for the average American plummet; as home values drop; as our savings remain at an all-time low; as the U.S. dollar turns into devalued “monopoly money” like some third world country; as we relive the vivid images of Hurricane Katrina survivors dying for lack of water while waiting for days in sweltering 100 degree temperatures on bridges, rooftops and the Super Dome…and as the price of gasoline becomes unaffordable for the tens of millions of American minimum wage workers…Yeah, America wants a new deal. A “New Deal” like Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered when America’s workers were in the darkest hours of the Great Depression?
Eight years ago George W. Bush promised “change” as an outsider to the “inside the beltway” Washington establishment? His administration and the majority Republican Congress delivered a terrible change in government!

This game is crooked and the rules are unfair. We can’t win and our government is the problem; not the solution. When the U.S. Department of Labor website gives employers tips on how to avoid paying their workers overtime pay for working more than 40 hours in a work week, our system of government is broken. Government is supposed to provide essential goods and services for citizens. When government has been prostituted to serve the interests of industry and commerce at the expense of the citizens, it is delivering oppression and exploitation, not service. We don’t need just a “change.” We’ve already had the Bush “change” and it hurts! We need an entirely new deal.

I am disappointed that no one has yet put forth a comprehensive plan to bring back the American middle class and redistribute the unfair distribution of wealth in America. Wages have been stagnating in the U.S. for almost forty years. The wealthy have gotten an unfair and disproportionate share of America’s resources. They are not going to share that wealth without a fight. And they won’t fight fair. They buy their way in by corrupting honest, but weak people with obscene amounts of money.

If America’s workers sticks together, go to the polls and vote, money won’t distort elections. That is a big “IF” and it hasn’t been the case for many years….Big money has found that it’s easy to divide and conquer working people…the hired political guns separate workers by race, religion, by ethnicity, geographic region, by “hot” emotional “value” issues like “gay marriage”, “gun control” or “abortion.” And, big money interests stay in power and manipulate our government for their own benefit. We all know these “divide and conquer” false political issues are not ever going to be addressed or fixed, but we still get caught in the trap.

I’m an optimist…But I also believe that we’ll only get genuine change and a valid new deal when all of us every day Americans; the so-called “special interest group,” stand up and demand it.
In Solidarity,
Ron Ault
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