Family tale weaves union activism across generations

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Mike Matejka
Grand Prairie Union News

Book review

Where does the inspiration come to devote one’s life and energy to improving the human condition? What makes a person willing to sacrifice their own safety and well-being to organize a union?

A compelling look across three generations is featured in A Great Vision: a Militant Family’s Journey through the 20th Century by Richard March.

Traveling from an Adriatic Sea island and Lithuanian Jewish ghettos to urban America, this book comes full circle across three generations.

The book’s central characters are Herbert and Jane Marsh, two young people radicalized by the 1930s Depression. Many jobless and angry youth gravitated to the Communist Party; the two met at a Young Communist League meeting in Chicago in 1932 and were soon married.

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Organizing industrial workers was the 1930s’ epic tale, including the meat packing industry. Herbert and Jane were central figures in organizing Chicago’s stockyards into the United Packinghouse Workers. In previous years, the packers had played white against African-American workers.

Through their commitment to human rights, the March family won the confidence of the workers, with Herb speaking on street corners to rally strikes and short-term walk-outs to prove worker power. More than once, assassination attempts almost took Herb’s life.

After World War II, anti-communism enveloped the U.S. The 1947 Taft-Hartley Act required union officers to swear non-allegiance to communist groups. Herb March refused and lost his union job.

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The family moved to Los Angeles, where Herb joined the Sheet Metal Workers’ apprenticeship school and eventually went to night school to complete a law degree, finishing his career as a labor lawyer.

Jane became active in the early 1960s anti-nuclear weapon “Ban the Bomb” movement. This led the author, Richard March, to involvement in Civil Rights, anti-war and United Farm Worker support efforts.

Richard eventually returned to his roots; having learned Croatian from his immigrant mother and grand-mother, he became an anthropologist with a specialty in eastern European languages and culture.

Most touching in this book is the way the generations connect. Jane’s mother, Maria Grbac, grew up on the Adriatic island of Losinj, as Mussolini’s Italy and Croatans contested for control.

The Grbac’s refused to speak Italian and their home became a resistance center. Jane’s brothers fatally went to the Soviet Union in the 1930s to join the “workers’ paradise” and disappeared in Stalin’s 1930s purges.

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Herb’s Jewish family immigrated to New York City, where they were immersed in garment strikes and radical politics.

This book echoes with the commitment needed to build a union and sadly reflects how the labor movement sometimes turned on its own most ardent supporters. Urban life in New York and Chicago neighborhoods echoes through tenements and flats, through to the 1960s promised land in California.

It’s an engaging read because it is a real-life story of families coping with economic and political dislocation, not only surviving, but passing on values of caring and solidarity.

The hobo’s journey through American literature

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Mike Matejka
Grand Prairie Union News
Book review
Jan. 5, 2017

Boxcar Politics: The Hobo in U.S. Culture and Literature, 1869-1956
By John Lennon
ISBN 978-1-62534-120-4

Imagine the word “hobo.” What comes to mind? Red Skelton playing “Freddie the Freeloader?” Maybe a tattered figure, a red kerchief tied to a stick, wandering down the rails?

Some like to say a “hobo traveled to work, a tramp traveled to dream and a bum traveled to drink.” In reality, from the Civil War to World War II, there was an itinerant work force available for construction, railroading, mining and agricultural jobs.

These usually short-term job opportunities meant ‘boes were welcome when labor scarce, shunned when the job ended.

The hobo was well-known in American life during the railroad’s peak. In a sense, they were a creation of the railroad, particularly in the early construction years when large crews were needed.

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John Lennon in Boxcar Politics examines the hobo in popular culture, particularly in literature and film. He divides the rail riders into adventure seekers, traveling workers and political symbols of a economically and racially-divided nation.

In the adventure category, two figures are analyzed, both who used their traveling experience to craft a story. Jack London, famed western novelist, not only wrote Call of the Wild, but also The Road (1907). London took to the rails not searching work, but rather to prove his own skills in an outcast world. The shadow world of the boxcar appealed to London, creating his own law, at least until the jail cell door slammed shut.

Sixty years later, another young American, Jack Kerouac, went On the Road (1957), this time not seeking adventure, but a pre-automotive lost America. Like London, Lennon sees Kerouac as an individualist, viewing hoboes as a free nation’s hero.

For most freight train riders, it wasn’t wanderlust, but hunger and dead-end jobs that led them to the train yard. Jim Tully’s Beggars for Life (1924), told his own tale, an abandoned Ohio boy who hoped for a better life, only to find misery and hard-traveling. Eventually, Tully wrote five books about the underside of American life.

The political hobo is the recurring figure in John Dos Passos’ trilogy U.S.A. (1930-36). Fainy “Mac” McCreary hits the road in the 1890s from necessity, and is radicalized by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a direct action union, which organized lumber jacks, agricultural workers and immigrants. As American radical politics crashes after World War I, “Mac” eventually travels south to support the Mexican Revolution, opens a bookstore and politically pontificates from a bar stool.

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A different political traveler were the Scottsboro defendants, impoverished African-Americans charged with raping two white women in Alabama in 1931. They became a cause celebrate for the Communist Party, transforming their image and saving them from a lynching.

The hobo also appeared in film. In the Depression 1930s, thousands took to the rails, particularly unemployed youth. In its prime era of gangster films, Warner Brothers produced Wild Boys on the Road (1933), in which an inter-racial, male and female traveling crew bond through their misery, creating their own law when a rail worker rapes a female fellow traveler, meting out their own justice to the offender.

Lennon is deep into literary theory, but the writer makes it accessible.

Hoboes lived on the society’s margin, in and out of the law and traditional home-bound life. They were a constant reminder of capitalism’s precarious nature, where one could have a job and then be unemployed the next week.

Real life stories of itinerant workers and dreamers surfaced in magazine articles, books and film, sometimes as stereotypes, occasionally with sympathy. Lennon’s book reminds us how pervasive these figures were in American life, surfacing not only to beg at the backdoor or work the fruit harvest, but also in the latest literary journal.

Troubled workers’ comp system shows need for single-payer health care

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Illinois Single Payer Coalition

By Johanna Ryan with Anne Scheetz, MD
Johanna Ryan is a workers’ comp paralegal and a member of the Illinois Single-Payer Coalition.
Anne Scheetz, MD, a member of Physicians for a National Health Program and a founding member of the Illinois Single-Payer Coalition, cared for many patients with work-related health problems before her retirement from clinical practice.
Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016

Please sign up as a supporter, persuade your union to do the same, and make sure to get involved. References:
– Number of Illinois workers’ comp claims
– Gov. Bruce Rauner’s turn-around agenda
– Illinois occupational illness and injury statistics

In Illinois and around the nation, big business has labeled workers’ compensation a system in crisis. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has depicted it as a millstone around the necks of Illinois employers, who he claims are shelling out too much money to treat injuries that might not even be work-related. Rauner and other Republican governors have made “reforming” workers’ compensation a key part of their pro-business agenda.

However, any worker who has had to use the system lately knows the real “workers’ comp crisis” is too little health care, not too much. In Illinois, as in most states, your employer is required to carry standard workers’ comp insurance. But it’s private companies like Liberty Mutual, Travelers and AIG/Chartis that provide the coverage — and they would much rather pay lawyers to fight your claim than pay doctors to help you get well.

Under the system they’ve created, a worker hurt on the job is actually at higher risk of being denied medical care (or having their treatment cut short) than a worker who falls getting out of the bathtub at home.

We believe the best way to fight the growing attacks on workers’ compensation is to take private insurance companies out of the picture. A public, single-payer health care system, financed by taxes rather than insurance premiums, would accomplish these goals:

– Eliminate delays and outright denial of care and the resulting long-term adverse effects on workers’ health;
– Take medical decisions out of the hands of insurance companies and place them where they belong: in the hands of patients and their doctors; and
– Make prevention the preferred approach to work-related health problems by strengthening our public health infrastructure.

This is the type of health care system workers in almost every other wealthy industrialized nation take for granted. Here in the USA, it has been endorsed by the United Mine Workers, National Nurses United, the Machinists’ Union, Amalgamated Transit Union and many others. Single-payer health care is a pro-active, rather than a reactive, approach to workers’ health. It is an ambitious program, but workers deserve no less.

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To get medical care in a workers’ comp case, it’s not enough to show it’s necessary. You must also prove it’s related to a workplace injury. This can be especially hard for “wear-and-tear” injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, but it can also affect the worker who falls off a ladder or is struck by a forklift.

Private insurers love to litigate these cases – they know it has a chilling effect on the next worker who thinks about filing a claim. So they’re happy to spend several thousand dollars to have you examined by an employer-friendly medical specialist who will declare your work injury was just a “minor strain,” and your current symptoms are due to chronic arthritis, an old football injury or some other cause. No PT for you, pal, and definitely no surgery.

Rauner wants to make the standard for causation even higher, by requiring that an accident at work must be more than 50 percent responsible for an injury compared to all other causes. He also wants the records made by the treating physician — the one who actually knows the patient and who assessed the problem at the time of its occurrence — to count for less, and the opinions of those employer-friendly “independent medical examiners” to count for more.

Such changes taken together would gut workers’ compensation. Employers who are reckless with workers’ health will be even more confident they can get away with it. Workers’ risk of injury will increase, and their access to care and compensation will decrease.

In theory, workers’ comp expenses should give employers an incentive to make the workplace safer. It would be nice if that were the case. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find anyone in the field who believes it. Workers’ comp costs are much like the legal fines and penalties paid by drug companies — just a cost of doing business, which is never big enough to make them change their ways.

Employers are fond of moaning about the high cost of workers’ comp, and make a public scandal out of any individual case of cheating, real or alleged. But the real root of rising costs is litigation, not featherbedding or fraud. Private workers’ comp carriers have made Illinois a happy hunting ground for insurance defense lawyers, even as the number of workers’ comp claims in the past decade has shrunk by more than a third. The changes Rauner proposes would make this much worse.

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Take the example of one injured worker we know: A woman who’s been waiting a year and a half for repair of her torn rotator cuff, precisely because of this type of dispute. She now has neck and back problems too, thanks to months of trying to use her trapezius muscles to compensate for her damaged shoulder. Ask any doctor: when she finally gets her surgery, the results will be worse than average on account of all that delay.

A single-payer health care system would cover the care she needed, with no questions asked. Her lawyers could concentrate on fighting to get her disability payments and an eventual cash settlement; we wouldn’t have to to fight over medical care. Our client could at least get her surgery and physical therapy, even if the workers’ comp carrier denied her weekly benefit checks. She could recover and be working a new job while she waited for her shoulder claim to settle.

Relying on workers’ comp claims filed by individuals (or their next of kin) to enforce respect for workplace safety just doesn’t make sense. Would we depend on lawsuits alone to keep poisoned or spoiled foods off the market? Workplace safety, just like food safety, is a public health issue. We need public enforcement bodies, with real power, and with real penalties for violations.

According to an AFL-CIO report, in 2015, Illinois only had enough Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors to inspect all job sites only once every 143 years. The average penalty for a fatality investigation, of which there were 56, was $8,553. This clearly falls short of what’s needed to enforce workplace safety standards and protect workers’ lives. (A few states, such as Washington, have public workers’ compensation insurance funds with some limited powers over workplace safety. Unions in Washington strongly support this system. When Liberty Mutual and other private insurers tried to enter the market a few years ago, labor fought the measure through a statewide referendum and won.)

Wouldn’t we all be better off under a single-payer system that guaranteed treatment for any illness or injury, without a legal battle over the cause? Such a system would not only be cheaper, but it would provide better care. There was a time when most specialists welcomed workers’ comp patients. However, given endless payment delays and litigation hassles, those days are fast becoming history.

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Instead of seeing the best doctors, too many injured workers have to put up with pro-employer “occupational health” clinics, or third-rate providers who pad their bills with useless charges to compensate for long payment delays.

Imagine if everyone, from janitors to CEO’s, carried the same health insurance card! You would choose your own doctors and other care providers. No specialist would turn you away because of the type of insurance you had. You and your doctor – not your employer’s workers’ comp carrier, or any other insurance company, would make decisions about tests, surgery, physical therapy, medical equipment, and other care.

All care would be paid for by progressive taxes, and free at the point of service. Hospitals would not shut down in low-income neighborhoods if the residents had the same high-quality insurance as everyone else. No one would lose their health insurance through leaving a job, going on strike, or for any other reason.

Also, injured workers could get immediate care without having to prove to anyone exactly where, when or how they got hurt.

Workers’ comp lawyers (and we’d still need them) could concentrate on fighting for compensation – and we wouldn’t see clients dropping their claims or settling for pennies because they were desperate for medical care.

A strong public health system, the foundation on which primary care and specialty care must rest in order to be effective, would make protection of workers’ health a high priority.

That’s what a single payer system could offer all of us, union or nonunion. It sounds like a better way to us.

Budget impasse may cripple IMSA students

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Sen. Linda Holmes

Senator Linda Holmes
Personal view
Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015

The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy is facing financial difficulties. It draws funding from the state’s higher ed appropriations, and Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed that spending. IMSA has informed parents it faces major financial hurdles starting in December as a result. Fair labor laws and access to quality education ensure a thriving middle class, and right now it seems both are in peril.

I am frustrated at the continued impasse in Springfield that now threatens to derail the education of some of our state’s brightest students.

The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora draws some of the highest performing students from across Illinois to focus on science, technology, engineering and math. These are the fields which are critical to the continued success of our country’s role as a lead innovator. As Gov. Bruce Rauner refuses to work with the Democratic majorities in the General Assembly to craft a compromise budget, one of the unfunded portions is higher education. IMSA relies on part of that budget to fund its operations.

I helped approve a budget for higher education in Illinois. Gov. Rauner vetoed it, eliminating all funding.

Now, IMSA has informed parents that, absent state support for higher education, it does not know how it will continue operations come December.

At this point, I don’t know what will move Gov. Rauner off his anti-union agenda that everything, including the state budget and IMSA funding, is tied to. His inaction already closed the doors of a 60-year-old child care facility in Aurora and sent the message to physically and financially vulnerable Illinoisans that their state does not care about them.

This intractable situation is poised to affect children whose achievements could shape the future of the state in areas vital to our economic success. I want to urge your readers to call for an end to the budget stalemate, on behalf of schools like IMSA and the public universities that are also imperiled by this failure. I helped approve a spending plan that went to the governor.

He could have worked with us to make changes to what he didn’t like. Instead, he shut almost everything down. It is up to him to act like a statesman.

Troubled multi-employer plans show need for single-payer

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thursday, June 25, 2015

This is a 2-part series that examines the role of multi-employer health care plans versus single-payer health insurance.

Anne Scheetz, MD, is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program and a founding member of the Illinois Single-Payer Coalition. Hale Landes is a member of IBEW Local 134 and the Illinois Single-Payer Coalition.

Multi-employer or Taft-Hartley plans — a “made-in-America” source of health coverage and other benefits for more than 20 million U.S. workers, retirees, and their families — are under serious threat.

The threat has two sources: the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the fragmented, for-profit nature of the U.S. health care system, which the ACA re-enforced, rather than corrected.

Some union leaders held up the multi-employer plans as a good model for health system reform. In contrast to private for-profit health insurance companies, the plans, by law, serve their members, not passive investors.

They are more efficient than the insurance companies, devoting less than 10 percent of their outlay to administrative expenses (and more than 90 percent to health care), as opposed to the insurance companies’ 15 to 20 percent.

They tend to have high actuarial value, covering on average 87 percent of enrolles’ health care expenses, as compared to 90 percent for the platinum plans (which most people cannot afford) offered on the insurance exchanges, and 60 percent for the bronze plans.

Needless to say, this recommendation was not adopted. On the contrary, the ACA not only left the for-profit insurance companies in charge of health care, but created new disadvantages for multi-employer plans.

Perhaps most importantly, the ACA does not allow low-income workers who are enrolled in multi-employer plans to qualify for the government subsidies that are available to low-income people who buy insurance from for-profit insurance companies on the insurance exchanges.

Multi-employer plans are nonetheless taxed to pay for the subsidies, just like the insurance companies whose customers can benefit from them.

The ACA presents numerous other challenges to multi-employer plans as well, such as the unfunded mandate to cover children up to age 26; and administrative burdens whose costs will shift money away from health care.

Still other challenges apply to all workers. Penalties for companies that don’t offer health insurance are much less than the cost of insurance, do not apply to those that employ less than 50 workers, and do not apply to part-time workers. Employers are responding by cutting the number of employees, cutting hours, and sending employees to the insurance exchanges, among other practices that harm workers and their families.

The so-called Cadillac tax, which penalizes plans with high premiums, or, in the case of the multi-employer plans, high benefit payments, will also hurt the plans, and will most hurt those plans with a large number of older and sicker enrollees.

The National Coordinating Committee for Multi-employer Plans and many unions have responded to the problems posed by the ACA by lobbying for various amendments, and a few have called for its repeal.

Yet, the plans face serious challenges — even without the ACA.

Costs throughout the health care system are escalating. The consolidation of hospitals and physician practices allows providers to drive up prices. Prices for specialty drugs are rising almost 20 times as fast as prices for conventional drugs, and the prices of even some old and standard drugs are increasing faster than the rate of inflation. Administrative costs are increasing — for the whole system, they now total at least $350 billion per year.

The question of who will pay these increasing costs — employers or workers — has become a frequent cause of contract disputes. At best, workers have sacrificed wage increases to pay for health care, and this trend will continue.

The increasing costs are a significant challenge to worker solidarity. Some workers are denied equal benefits based on hours of work or length of employment, weakening union strength just as it is most needed. As is happening throughout the health care system, the funds are shifting more costs to their enrollees through co-pays for some services, a policy that penalizes the sick and burdens most those earning the lowest pay.

Amending the ACA — a very difficult task, given its complexity, will not solve these problems. Even a health reform modeled on the multi-employer plans would not solve these problems.

The solution is a single-payer health care system, also called expanded and improved Medicare for all. This reform proposal is the only proposal to address all of the problems faced by the multi-employer plans and all workers.

Under a single-payer program, everyone is covered for all medical care with the single payer being the government. Its administrative simplicity is the principal source of cost containment (traditional Medicare’s administrative overhead is only 2 percent). Insurance company marketing, underwriting, profits, and outrageous executive compensation would be eliminated. Furthermore, since everyone would be in the same system, the single payer would also be the single buyer of drugs, medical equipment, and services, thus able to enforce reasonable prices.

Financing would be by a progressive tax. Those who have the most would pay the most, while everyone would receive the care they need when they need it.

In contrast to the current situation, which workers are pitted against each other, under a single-payer system, we will all have an interest in making that system better. A single-payer system promotes rather than undermines, social solidarity.

Other benefits include free choice of providers, instead of the narrow networks that are now commonplace; no interruptions in coverage due to job changes, illness, or retirement; and a much more just workers’ compensation system.

A single-payer health care system is the only way to take health benefits off the bargaining table, leaving unions free to bargain over wages and working conditions.

Union support for a single-payer health care system is strong, although not yet universal. The website of Unions for Single Payer Health Care lists more than 600 labor groups that have endorsed the national single-payer bill, HR 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Ac,t whose chief sponsor is John Conyers of Michigan. The groups include more than 150 central labor councils from around the country; and 25 groups, including three labor councils, from Illinois.

Fifteen major unions and other labor groups support the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer, which works more on the state level. These include National Nurses United (NNU) for whom a single-payer health care system is an essential aspect of nurses’ professional obligation to advocate for their patients; Young Workers; the National Education Association (NEA); United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE); and the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), among others.

At the 2014 AFL-CIO Convention, delegates affirmed their support for a single-payer system; and activists with the Labor Campaign challenged organized labor to “finish the job” of health care reform by making health care a human right.

On July 30 of this year, NNU will lead the celebration of Medicare’s 50th anniversary with the message: “Medicare – as American as apple PIE: Protect, Improve, Expand.”

Illinois’s single-payer bill, the Illinois Universal Health Care Act, currently HB 108, has been introduced in each General Assembly since 2007 by chief sponsor Mary Flowers of Chicago. Although it will not pass in the near future, it articulates the vision of the single-payer movement for the people of Illinois and the U.S., and serves as an educational and organizing tool. The Illinois Single-Payer Coalition and its Labor Outreach Committee work with local labor groups, as well as the national organizations toward a future guarantee for all people of access to all necessary health care, and of financial protection in the case of illness or injury.

Labor is surely the sector that can best lead the way to the solidarity expressed in the single-payer movement’s slogans: “Everybody in, nobody out,” and “One nation, one health plan.”

The trembling, rumbling ride

By Dan Richardson
Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015
Email Dan Richardson at danrichardson@foxvalleylabornews.com

“Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling (Psalm 2:11).”

When I was 10, my uncle Roy offered me a ride on his motorcycle. It was an awesome invitation. Imagining the wind blowing in my face was exciting. Uncle Roy would not let me down. I trusted him. Heartily accepting, I hopped on and away we went. Our ride began at a casual pace through a residential zone. The power of the engine made its power known.

We approached the freeway — a speed limit of 55 MPH. “Hold on!” uncle Roy said, as he veered the turn in confidence. The bike straightened and he accelerated. Yikes! The engine was triumphantly loud. Glancing to each side, I watched scenery pass by quickly. The resistance of air against my arms and legs warned me of the potential danger of falling. I would not let go. The faster we went, the tighter I held on. It was thrilling!

In many ways, following Jesus is like that ride. More awesome than any speed here on Earth, He is mighty in stature and power. The sounds of mountains shaking (recalled in Scripture) speak of His great undergirding strength. He upholds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3).

While days seem to drag, a look back tells us how quickly they go by. Life is full of “dangers, toils and snares.” The brevity and hazards cause us to moan. Everything can be gone in one moment. These thoughts are sobering.

At the same time, a child of God doesn’t fear the next life. He is trusting in Jesus and nothing will separate him from God’s love. Fellowship with God is exciting. Rejoicing in delight, God’s child doesn’t think twice of letting go of his Savior.

Trembling happens because God is great and powerful; yet it is mingled in rejoicing because of His great love in Christ. Trembling is done in confidence, not in fear.

Don’t be afraid. Trust in Jesus and don’t let go. Lose the world and gain your soul.

Godly Heritage Quote of the Week
“Hold fast to the Bible as the sheet-anchor of your liberties; write its precepts in your hearts and practice them in your lives. To the influence of this book we are indebted for all the progress made in true civilization, and to this we must look as our guide in the future. Righteousness exalts a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people.”
—Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States, Commanding General of the Union Army

Being a Labor Democrat

Tom Suhrbur

Tom Suhrbur
Illinois Education
Association (retired)
Special to the Fox
Valley Labor News
Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015

In this final installment of a 4-part series, retired IEA member Tom Suhrbur examines the labor movement and how its successes improved individual and family prosperity.

To make matters worse, Republicans also want to raise the eligibility for Medicare and Medicaid, in effect, reducing benefits. In 2012, House Republicans passed the Ryan Budget. It included a voucher system for workers aged 55 and younger that would end the Medicare guarantee. The vouchers could be used to shop for medical coverage. It also included a block grant system for Medicaid. Eventually, Medicaid funding would be cut under the Ryan plan.

These are many other important reasons for voting Democratic. Republicans are horrible on environmental issues. They (and some Democrats mainly in coal and oil producing states) recklessly support the fossil fuel industry with little regard for the environment. Climate change is not a “hoax” perpetuated by scientists.

On gun control, it makes no sense to oppose universal background checks and to allow the purchase of military assault weapons yet the Republicans are beholden to the gun lobby. In fact, the Party is totally committed “getting government off our backs.” They defend the interests of the ruling class and transnational corporations that the elites manage without any regard for the social and environmental consequences now or future.

Democrats are not blameless. Like Republicans, Democrats are often under the sway of wealthy corporate interests. Some Democrats have supported Republican-sponsored neo-conservative policies. Here are just a few examples: Clinton signed NAFTA. George H. Bush introduced the legislation to Congress. Clinton promised labor and environmental protections in NAFTA, but signed it without any such provisions. NAFTA and other free trade agreements have resulted in job losses and downward pressure on American wages. Clinton also signed legislation sponsored by Senator Phil Graham (R-Texas) that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, removing federal regulation of banking and investment contributing greatly to the 2008 financial collapse.

Except for a few, congressional Democrats blindly supported the Bush Administration’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as American militarism in general. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) — aka Obamacare — was essentially the approach advocated by the conservative Heritage Foundation in the 1980s. In 1993, Sen. Bob Dole and several other Republicans introduced a health care bill similar to the ACA in response to Hillary Clinton’s proposals. Later, Gov. Romney supported the passage of a health care bill in Massachusetts that served as a model for the ACA. Hoping to win Republican congressional support, President Obama proposed a “compromise” (cuts) on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in 2011. Republicans rejected the plan because it also included tax increases mainly on high-income earners. Much to the chagrin of progressive Democrats, he also supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (free trade agreement).

Despite its numerous shortcomings, there are many voices in the Democratic Party that supports workers’ rights, fair trade rather than free trade, corporate and financial regulation, environmental protection and other progressive policies that benefit the vast majority of Americans. The Republican Party leadership serves the interests of the wealthy elites and the transnational corporations that they control. The Party and its conservative right Federal Court appointees are out to destroy the unionism. So I actively support labor Democrats.

Book review: Pioneer teacher, activist overcomes social barriers

By Mike Matejka Special to the Fox Valley Labor News

By Mike Matejka
Special to the Fox Valley Labor News
Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015

Barbara Egger Lennon by Tina Stewart Brakebill, Westview Press ISBN 978-0-8133-4797-4

Famous activist and union members get remembered, but what about the everyday people who strive to make life better in their own community?

Tina Stewart Brakebill, an Illinois State University history instructor, has done that for Barbara (Barbe) Lennon (1881-1983), a Bloomington, Illinois teacher, activist and mother who strove to represent her profession and improve local conditions.

This is not only an activist’s biography, but an in-depth study of what women could and could not do in early 20th century Bloomington, Illinois.

Barbe came to Odell, Ill., as child, an emigrant from Switzerland, where her family farmed. As a young woman she came to Bloomington to attend high school, a rare opportunity in 1896, aspiring to a teaching career.

After her apartment burnt in the 1900 downtown Bloomington fire, the teenager was taken in by John and Juna Lennon. Lennon was a national labor figure, AFL Treasurer and head of the Tailors’ Union. Barbe joined the household, becoming like a daughter and after high school graduation, became a Bloomington school teacher.

Barbara Egger Lennon by Tina Stewart Brakebill

Barbara Egger Lennon by Tina Stewart Brakebill

When Juna Lennon died in 1919, Barbe married 71-year-old John in 1920 and together they had one son, before his 1923 death. A widow with a young child, Barbe supported herself as a school teacher. Yet she was always more. She organized the Bloomington Federation of Teachers and was there when the Illinois Federation of Teachers began. She was active in local elections, the Bloomington & Normal Trades & Labor Assembly, the Democratic Party and statewide women’s and women’s labor organization.

The impressive job Brakebill does with her deep research is documenting the daily life triumphs and woes of a woman who cut a path through social expectations. Barbara Egger Lennon’s meager teacher’s pay always kept just a bare step ahead of poverty, yet she still strove to improve conditions for Illinois teachers, further her education and stand up for workers. This well-written local history is a snapshot of women’s lives in the early 20th century and deserves a place on your shelf.

Being a Labor Democrat

Tom Suhrbur

Tom Suhrbur
Illinois Education
Association (retired)
Special to the Fox
Valley Labor News
Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015

In this third of a 4-part series, retired IEA member Tom Suhrbur examines the labor movement and how its successes improved individual and family prosperity.

Republican tax policies have provided the rationale to cut the federal safety net. They have slashed federal taxes for the top income earners. When Reagan took office, the top income tax bracket was cut from 70 percent to 39.6 percent. In 2001, Bush tax cuts temporarily dropped the rate to 35 percent In addition, Bush reduced the top capital gains tax from 28 percent to 15 percent, enriching hedge fund managers and other financial manipulators. The Estate Tax (aka Paris Hilton tax break) was temporarily phased out*. Along with the numerous tax loopholes, these reductions helped create a new class of billionaires in the financial services industry. The inequality of income and wealth today rivals that of the early 1900s Gilded Age. Bush tax cuts, coupled with trillion dollar wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, have greatly increased the federal deficit feeding into long standing Republican calls for cutting social programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Republicans have tried to convince the public that Social Security is not sustainable and that its benefits need to be reduced. To address the issue, they want to reduce Social Security benefits by changing the cost of living calculation, raising the retirement age and other so-called “reforms.” Many Republicans even want to privatize Social Security turning it into a 401(k)-type program. If my father had to work until 70, he would not have lived as long. After 26 years working in a factory, his body was spent. Working until 70 would have taken years off his life. Raising the retirement age for Social Security is a simple solution; you work longer, pay more taxes into the system, die sooner and collect less benefits.

Social Security could be made solvent simply by lifting the Social Security salary tax cap; currently all income above $117,000 is not taxed. A person making $60 million pays the same amount of Social Security tax as someone making $117,500. Such an approach would be a tax increase for higher income earners. Republicans totally oppose this solution.

*During the Obama Administration, the top income rate was restored to 39.6 percent the top capital gains set at 20 percent and a modest Estate Tax was enacted.

Rauner takes unfair potshot at public employees

Fox Valley Labor News
staff reports
Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015

SPRINGFIELD — New Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s Jan. 12 inaugural address identified big challenges facing state government. With the expiration of previous temporary personal and corporate income tax rates threatening to drain more than $3 billion from the state budget this year alone — and with that budget already significantly short-funded in key agencies that need supplemental appropriations — there’s no question those challenges are real. And no one has more at stake in helping solve them than AFSCME members who work on the front lines of state government.

Unfortunately, though, Gov. Rauner used the occasion of the speech to dis public employees, alleging that, “We have a state government that too few have faith in” because Illinoisans “see government union bosses negotiating sweetheart deals across the table from governors they’ve spent tens of millions to help elect.”

AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said the governor’s claim has absolutely no basis in reality and that the truth is her union has always negotiated in good faith with governors of both parties, those AFSCME Council 31 endorsed and those it didn’t.

“In every case, negotiations were tough but fair and based on mutual respect. While the suggestion of so-called ‘sweetheart deals’ implies unfairness or overpayment of some kind, the fact is that state employee pay increases have been in line with others in comparable jobs, as have the significant amounts employees contribute toward their health insurance and retirement benefits.

“AFSCME members in state government keep prisons safe, care for veterans and people with disabilities, protect kids from abuse and do much more,” Lynch said.

She went on to add that these hard-working men and women don’t have millions of dollars to pour into political campaigns, but they do have a deep commitment to serving the people of Illinois and every right to participate in the democratic process through their union.

In a newspaper story, Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan said organized labor “will work with [Rauner] whenever we can, and if we need to, we’ll also work against his legislation.”

The article went on to quote two state senators: “Illinois’ middle class was built by unions. They ensure working men and women receive honest pay for an honest day’s work,” said state Sen. Gary Forby, a Benton Democrat and chairman of the Illinois Senate Labor and Commerce Committee. “I don’t understand why some politicians push so hard to take that away.”

State Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat added that the midwest was once the hub of the labor movement, but many neighboring states have spent the past few decades enacting policies that lead to slashed employee benefits, decreased wages and outsourced jobs.

“These shortsighted policies cripple working class families, which ultimately places a greater burden on our middle class,” Manar explained.

Gov. Rauner’s speech was vague about possible solutions to the state’s budget problems. As he seeks to tackle those problems, it is critical he include the input of frontline employees who know what’s working, what’s not and how state government can deliver vital public services more effectively.

—AFSCME Council 31