AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka gave a rousing speech this week about the need for a mobile, global labor movement to counter-act the attacks on workers around the globe. He pointed out that in a declining economy, politics become vicious and the viscous attack. And most importantly, he noted that the CEO backed Republicans attacked unions and collective bargaining because the unions are weak right now. The Republicans thought it would be an easy kill.
They were wrong.
But instead of just fighting to hang on, we need to fight for the rights of all workers, we need to fight to grow union labor and grow workers rights if we are to save the middle class. We need to grow an army of people dedicated to workers rights who can and will protest peacefully and memorably as they did in Madison at the drop of a hat. We need to take the Madison spirit, the Egyptian spirit, and the Tunisian spirit – and plant it, feed it, nurture it.
We need to be educating our fellow citizens and teaching our children about the importance of unions. We need solidarity to extend permanently, not just during a crisis. We need to come together for the battle of a lifetime. We need to unite all unions and middle class labor under the umbrella of human rights and we need to hold our elected officials from both parties accountable to labor. Fight for the people, represent the people, or get out. But we also need to go on the attack. We will not advance the cause of the middle class by mere defense of battle lines.
Instead of being on the defense, we need to be on the offense. Republicans present the notion that unions are to blame for the budget crisis while urging the parishioners of huge tax exempt mega churches to vote Republican. Mega churches have become political action committees for all intents and purposes, and as such, are on par with how Republicans see unions. If taking away collective bargaining rights is necessary under the guise of a fiscal emergency, what other rights are up for grabs? Perhaps the next right to be targeted should be a Republican PAC such as mega churches.
The Republicans’ attack on workers can be compared to the tactics of an abusive spouse attacking the less powerful member of the household, using physical and/or financial power to threaten and control the other. One of the tactics inherent in this power structure is the abuser kicks the victim and then demands more concessions in order to stop kicking them. The stunned victim will often give in, seeking to end the abuse. Our minds assume that if someone is attacking us they must have a reason; and so when we hear Scott Walkers of the world saying we have a fiscal emergency and that is why you must give up your rights, many of us assume there must be an emergency and it must be the fault of labor or why would Walker be seeking to end their power?
Of course, as we have learned, Governor Walker did not have a legitimate reason for pushing to kill collective bargaining. It gained him nothing fiscally. He merely wanted the power to kill the unions. Think of him as the abuser who wanted the power to hold the purse strings so he could abuse his powerless victim even more. A victim who can’t leave because they have no financial power is much easier to kick the next time.
And his victim isn’t just the unions – his victim is in fact all of the middle class.
The thing to do in this situation isn’t to merely fight the stated issue, but change the terms, create an atmosphere of instability for the abuser. The victim needs to redefine the playing field. While the unions are busy seeking to grow solidarity and membership and educating the public about the benefits to society, the rest of us need to be fighting the corporate power in other ways. We need to demand that our representatives stand for the people and not for corporations. We need to not only fight to maintain the power we still have, but we need to go after the institutions supporting and advocating for the attack on the middle class in new and unique ways.
An example of being on the offense would be a mass movement to take away the tax-free status of mega churches that are violating the electioneering rules — a coordinated effort across the country to go after these folks for taxes since they have been actively involved in politics and crossing state lines to do so for way too long.
Churches are tax exempt under the principle that there is no surer way to destroy the free exercise of religion than to tax it; but tax exemption is a privilege, not a right and by accepting the tax exemption, the entity agrees to some oversight. The 1954 federal Johnson Amendment prohibits a pastor from talking about candidates from the pulpit. Furthermore, under the Internal Revenue Code, all IRC section 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches and religious organizations, are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made by or on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise tax.
Tax exemption is a voluntary agreement and presumes no electioneering from the pulpit, and yet we have seen wide-spread electioneering from the pulpit, in both national elections and state legislation (Prop 8 for example). In part, tax exemption for non-profits was also based on the notion that these entities were providing private support for public good (food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, etc). The First Amendment does not specifically guarantee the tax exemption right either, though lawyers for churches have made the argument that it is implied or intended.
Tax exemption for churches is not specifically mandated in the Constitution; it was an agreement by governmental bodies in an attempt to protect free speech. Like any agreement, it was supposed to work two ways but in the last 40 years, we’ve seen egregious violations of the pulpit electioneering rules. Gee, we have a budget crises and everyone has to share the sacrifice and here we see the burgeoning wealth of these mega churches that are violating their agreements with the government. God is clearly telling us that they can not only afford to pay a bit into the system so that a teacher in Michigan can afford to feed their children, but that they want to pay into the system. They violated the agreement their tax exemption was based upon; now they can participate in shared sacrifices.
While labor defends the front lines, we need to be seeking to disempower the corporate beast from behind and the side – anywhere there is vulnerability. Much as Republicans planned and coordinated this mass attack on labor, women’s rights and seniors, we need to coordinate with all of the various constituencies that represent the people and fight the beast of the corporate take over of America.
We have dire financial issues facing us, but the answer to these crises is not to cheapen labor and the middle class, especially not when there is plenty of money to be found in taxing mega churches that violate their tax exemption agreements and in taxing corporations their fair share.
We need to stop the subsidies and welfare to corporations and political animals masquerading as churches. Let them pony up their shared sacrifices before we feed the people to the angry and relentlessly greedy GOP corporate beast. If they want the assistance they are getting from the federal government currently, they have to play by the rules like everyone else does. After all, what is the difference between a lazy welfare bum who isn’t really looking for work and a mega church that isn’t really avoiding violating the electioneering rules? Both are taking federal assistance based on an agreement. It could be argued that the only difference is a matter of perspective.
Image: Irregular Times