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Bush's Anti-Union Record
by Joel Wendland
June 11, 2004

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A recently released AFL-CIO report on the Bush administration’s record titled "Bush Watch" shows the White House occupant to be a dismal failure as well as decidedly anti-working-class. Not a big surprise, right? Let’s look at the record.

First and most systemic was the nearly $2 trillion in tax cuts Bush called for and pushed through. The effect was the elimination of the existing budget surplus and the creation of very large deficits. While the richest people benefited at an average of about $123,000, the rest of us raked in just about $647 in crumbs. (This tax cut for the average household is less than the amount the Census Bureau says the median wage fell in 2002. Compared to Bush’s personal "tax relief" of $42,000, this $647 doesn’t seem like much does it?)

While the rest of us are wondering what happened to all of that money, the breakdown of who gets what is startling. The AFL-CIO report shows that "the group with annual incomes of more than $1 million – about 226,000 tax filers in 2003 – would receive roughly as much as the 120 million tax filers with annual incomes less than $100,000."

The inequality by wealth embedded in the Bush tax policy is clear, but not so clear are the repercussions we face on a social level. With huge tax cuts came demands for cuts in spending – not in spending on military equipment – but for things like healthcare, schools, roads, transportation, environmental protection, safety and other social spending millions of Americans have up to this point taken for granted. As a result state budgets have been gutted by as much as $29 billion in 2004 and public employees in 21 states have been forced out of work.

Tax cuts for the rich are the main feature of the administration’s economic policy, but related policies have been directed against working people with equal or greater force. Most notorious is the attempt to cut out overtime pay for millions of workers. Last April, the Bush administration announced rules changes to the Fair Labor and Standards Act regarding overtime pay that may affect up to 80 million people "who are paid on a salary basis and who do nonmanual work."

The Bush administration has consistently fought efforts to extend unemployment insurance for jobless workers. In the first 3 months of 2004 over 1.4 million workers ran out of unemployment insurance benefits because of the length of the time they have been out of work. The Republican-controlled Congress and the Bush administration have blocked efforts to extend those benefits.

Cuts in job training and relocation for unemployed workers amounted to $259 million in 2004 alone. The administration has tried to stop annual reports on unemployment and layoffs and even altered the definition of manufacturing work to include fast food in order to make it appear as though the hemorrhage of manufacturing jobs isn’t as severe as it is.

While Bush’s economic policies have targeted the wages and security of working people, his union-busting efforts have tried to undermine the one tool we have available to protect ourselves – our unions.

Since taking office, the AFL-CIO reports, "Bush has waged a war against workers’ freedom to form unions and have a voice on the job, often using the justification that collective bargaining is incompatible with national security." Simply put, Bush used rhetoric of "national security" to pursue the anti-union agenda he supported prior to the events of September 11th. In fact, Bush claimed that workers who wanted to preserve their collective bargaining right were opposed to national security and might be supporting terrorist efforts.

With this inflammatory rhetoric on his lips, Bush pressured Congress to dismantle collective bargaining rights for 170,000 federal workers in the process of creating the Department of Homeland Security. Bush, in his supposed concern for security, threatened to veto the law creating the department if his anti-union agenda wasn’t adopted. It is evident that Bush was willing to subordinate safety – at least the tools he claimed were necessary for safety – to his far-right, ideological agenda.

Related to this hypocritical measure was the administration’s continuing opposition to the right of airport security workers to organize. While it is obvious that security workers cannot provide adequate protection while being subjected to long hours and bad management practices, as is currently the norm without union protections, the administration continues to prevent the right to bargain.

On the issue of health and safety, one of the first acts as president Bush undertook was to repeal the Clinton administration’s ergonomics standard. This ergonomics policy affects the health and safety of nearly 2 million workers injured on the job by carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries. While Clinton’s policy sought to provide new workplace standards to protect workers, the Bush administration sided with big business against these standards. For them, worker safety and health is just too expensive. Meanwhile corporate profits continue to rise and executives’ salaries with them.

If that wasn’t enough, Bush created a panel on ergonomics to study the effects of repetitive stress injuries. To the panel he appointed seven business representatives who have publicly expressed their opposition to the ergonomics standards and only two pro-union representatives. The real purpose of the panel isn’t to understand this growing health and safety problem, but to use its mandate to "find" that ergonomics standards aren’t needed.

Bush’s anti-union policies haven’t been restricted to government action. The administration fought to allow the use of taxpayer dollars to fight unionization. When the former governor of California signed a bill that outlawed the use of tax money to fight unions, the Bush administration’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) voted to intervene on behalf of a lawsuit brought against this bill by the Chamber of Commerce. Bush agreed that grants and subsidies made to businesses by states could be diverted from their stated purposes and be used to fight the right of workers to organize.

In moves that recall Reagan’s dictatorial dissolution of the air traffic controller’s union, Bush revoked union representation for Justice Department and other agency workers citing concerns for national security.

Bush sided with shipping companies in the 2002 contract negotiations with West Coast dockworkers. He ordered labor department officials to threaten union leaders with retaliation if they struck. Following these threats, shipping companies elevated their bad-faith bargaining and insisted on more concessions from workers. Ultimately, the dockworkers won a major victory, but the Bush administration’s intervention signals anti-union practices that will only become more intense – a National Right to Work Law may be in the works – if unencumbered by the need to be reelected.

Joel Wendland is a member of UAW Local 1981 (National Writers Union), the managing editor of Political Affairs (,  and writes ClassWarNotes.

Other Articles by Joel Wendland

* Mary’s Paranoia and Other Symptoms of a Dying System
* Ghosts of Abu Ghraib
* Bush and Armageddon
* The UN, Iraq and the Bush Administration