When Franklin Roosevelt was accused of being a traitor to his privileged class, he jauntily replied: “I welcome their hatred.”
He would feel right at home today, since FDR-haters are on the prowl again, led by right-wing think tanks and talk-show yakkers busy belittling the achievements of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Their real target is Barack Obama’s economic recovery plan, which is partly modeled on the New Deal approach of government spending for roads, schools, parks, conservation and other public works, putting millions of people to work on jobs that need doing.
The official naysayer line was laid down last fall by the far-right-wing Heritage Foundation, which asserts that the New Deal was a failure. Fox News pundit Monica Crowley, blathered that the failure is proven by “all kinds of studies.” Her Fox colleague Gregg Jarrett dutifully echoed her insight by saying, “I think historians pretty much agree on that.”
Uh … no, they don’t. Indeed, they pretty much agree that millions of families were saved by the New Deal’s public works programs, and that many millions more continue to benefit from the work those people produced.
The chief shortcoming of FDR’s public-spending approach is that he didn’t do enough of it. After winning re-election in 1936, largely based on the popularity of his New Deal, Roosevelt gave in to Wall Street interests who demanded cuts in federal spending. The result was a relapse into recession in 1937, a return to double-digit unemployment, and a rejection of Democrats in the 1938 congressional elections.
Now is no time for timid steps. The challenge for Obama is to be even bolder than FDR.
It’s a scream to hear corporate chieftains insist that there’s no more need for unions in America. “In the sophisticated workplace of the 21st century,” said the head of the National Association of Manufacturers, “the need for unions is obviated.”
Oh really, chief? Let’s see, for years workers have dramatically increased their skills and productivity, only to be rewarded with declining wages, elimination of healthcare benefits, canceled pensions, constant downsizing, and the steady offshoring of middle-class jobs. Meanwhile, as CEOs enthusiastically ax workers, they extravagantly jack up their own pay and perks.
Not only are unions needed, there’s a widespread yearning for them. A 2006 poll found that 68 percent of Americans believe labor unions are necessary to protect working families-a percentage that’s undoubtedly climbed as our economy has tanked. Another survey found that 60 million Americans would join a union tomorrow if they could.
So why don’t they?
Because the rules have been rigged during the past 30 years to make union organizing next to impossible. Of those who even try, 20 percent get fired outright. Also, union representatives working organization campaigns are not allowed inside businesses to talk to employees, yet every employee can be forced to attend one-on-one meetings with company bosses, who make clear that supporting the union would be a bad career move. Even if employees vote to form a union, top executives can simply ignore them.
But the rigged jig could be up. The Employee Free Choice Act would make union organizing more fair. Barack Obama supports it, but he and Congress are under intense pressure from corporate chieftains to back off. To learn more, contact www.freechoiceact.org.
For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com. His latest book, with Susan DeMarco, is Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.