Solidarity with federal workers

About 1,000 American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) leaders are gathering in Pittsburgh June 25-27 for a “Victory in ’04” conference to mobilize the union’s 600,000 members to defeat George W. Bush in the Nov. 2 election.

After 9/11, President Bush praised “first responders,” who gave their lives in the terrorist attack. Virtually all were members of public employee unions. But a few months later he threatened to veto the Homeland Security Act if it recognized union rights for 170,000 Homeland Security workers, arguing they would be a threat to “national security.”

The union has fought back. Vigorous AFGE mobilization, backed up by the AFL-CIO, would have forced the Department of Defense (DoD) to postpone changes that would strip 200,000 civilian workers of their right in the grievance procedure. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld seeks to substitute “pay for performance” for the long-standing General Service Schedule and Wage Grade system in which DoD workers’ salaries are based on years of service. This would create a new “patronage” system in which pay increases are doled out to cronies. It would eliminate annual cost-of-living increases. AFGE asked Congress for a 3.5-percent increase for federal workers but Bush offered 1.5 percent.

AFGE is also fighting against privatization of 430,000 federal jobs. Halliburton, the firm once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, was recently caught delivering rotten food to U.S. soldiers in Iraq under a no-bid private contract. Once those meals would have been delivered by the Quartermaster Corps.

AFGE is fighting a Bush administration scheme to force veterans to pay $3.7 billion more in out-of-pocket expenses at VA hospitals.

In many ways, these federal workers are on the front lines of the battle against the union-busting, anti-people policies of the Bush administration. They deserve the full solidarity of the labor movement and the American people.

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Women v. Wal-Mart

The largest class action suit in history got the green light June 22. The world’s leading retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is accused of systematically discriminating against 1.6 million current and former women employees by denying them equal pay and promotion opportunities. Six women workers filed the suit in June 2001. The plaintiffs argue Wal-Mart perpetuates a corporate culture of gender stereotypes and unequal pay. Women workers earn 5 to 15 percent less than their male co-workers doing the same job.

Wal-Mart’s profits topped $9 billion last year. The prospect of paying even a modest settlement of $5,000 per worker would come to $8 billion before lawyers’ fees. Not surprisingly, the lawsuit has shaken Wall Street, and the company’s stock has taken a hit.

In the modern-day capitalist economy, Wal-Mart is the Goliath and its workers and the communities it “serves” are the collective David. Wal-Mart negatively affects a broad swath of the population: men and women, Black, Latino, white, Asian, American Indian, immigrant, young and old, rural and urban.

In Inglewood, Calif., and Chicago, among other places, labor and community groups have battled the “Wal-Mart economy.” Paying low wages and driving out small businesses and jobs, Wal-Mart becomes the monopoly retailer, leading a “race to the bottom.”

Wal-Mart has locked its workers in overnight and has used the Department of Homeland Security to raid its stores, intimidating and harassing workers. The company wages war against any employee who dares to exercise his or her right to organize or join a union. Its anti-union stance threatens all workers. “Competition” from Wal-Mart is the excuse other retail giants use to bust unions, driving wages and benefits down.

Through unity and struggle, this retail monster can be stopped. It’s definitely time for an all-out campaign to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, strengthening workers’ right to unionize. That would give a major boost to the worker-community David as it battles this retail Goliath in the courts and on the streets.