Previously in Politics & Prose:
Your Morality, My Values (June 28, 2000)
Values and morality may sound like the same thing, Christopher Caldwell writes, but Democrats have been able to capitalize on one, while Republicans remain stuck on the other.
Who Owns Capitalism? (June 15, 2000)
Has democracy at last caught up with capitalism? Jack Beatty on the balance of power between the corporation and society.
Joe Sixpack's Revenge (May 17, 2000)
If the authors of two new books are right, it's time for Republicans to give class warfare a chance. Christopher Caldwell explains.
Governing Globalism (May 3, 2000)
Jack Beatty on the protests in Washington, Runaway World, and globalization's good and bad sides.
The Uses of Sprawl (April 6, 2000)
Christopher Caldwell on Suburban Nation, New Urbanism, and how Democrats can reap the benefits of the sprawl they helped to create.
Be Afraid (April 6, 2000)
If the digital revolution produces the dystopian nightmare envisioned in the April issue of Wired, humanity's only hope may be the end of capitalism as we know it. Try selling that in an election year, Jack Beatty writes.
More Politics & Prose in Atlantic Unbound.
Discuss this article in the Politics & Society conference of Post & Riposte.
July 12, 2000
What's the difference between the Republican and Democratic parties? Those who say there isn't any should take a look at the records on the most important issue of our times
by Jack Beatty
Ralph Nader says there would be no difference between a Bush and a Gore Administration that would matter to ordinary Americans. (Nader, of course, is the Green Party's candidate for President.) Let's look at the record on labor issues -- the bread and butter issues of daily life -- of the Reagan and Bush Administrations, George W. Bush in Texas, and Clinton-Gore, to see whether Nader is right.
Under Reagan-Bush the minimum wage was not raised once in twelve years.
Reagan-Bush sharply cut funding for Unemployment Insurance, which reduced benefits given to laid-off workers.
President Reagan vetoed a plant-closing bill that would have given workers six-months' notice before layoffs.
President Bush vetoed the Family and Medical Leave Act, which would have mandated that parents could take three months of unpaid leave and return to their jobs afterward. Bush's press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, remarked that parents "should look for other jobs if they can't negotiate an appropriate relationship with their company."
Reagan-Bush reduced funding for worker retraining by 50 percent, and every year of his presidency Bush during budget negotiations pencilled out worker retraining for workers displaced by foreign trade.
Reagan-Bush opposed legislation that would have banned employers from using permanent replacements for striking workers, a practice that erodes the collective-bargaining rights won by labor in the New Deal.
Reagan-Bush made pro-industry appointments to the board of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These appointees opposed the protection of whistleblowers and stronger enforcement of OSHA laws. The last year of the Bush Administration, 1992, saw the highest injury and illness rate in American workplaces since 1979, and the workplace fatality rate remained frozen throughout the twelve years of Reagan-Bush.
George W. Bush
The head of the AFL-CIO in Texas gave Governor George W. Bush a "below-zero rating" on labor issues for 2000.
The minimum wage in Texas for workers employed in agriculture and domestic service is $3.35 per hour. It has not been raised since 1987. Six bills to raise it have died in the Texas legislature under Bush.
Bush says he is for a $1 increase in the federal minimum wage -- but he would allow states not to grant it, effectively making the increase "meaningless," to quote the Associated Press.
In 1999 Bush supported a House GOP bill that would have raised the minimum wage by $1, but at the price of giving $123 billion in tax cuts to the richest one percent of Americans. The one percent would have received $11 for every $1 in higher wages received by the working poor.
Bush's presidential campaign has already picked up $200,000 in contributions from organizations and companies that oppose increasing the minimum wage.
Bush supports so-called "paycheck protection," which would allow individual union members to opt out of contributing a portion of their union dues to causes and candidates favored by the union leadership -- candidates, obviously, with records favorable to unions. "Paycheck protection," the AFL-CIO claims, "would hurt working families" by diluting their voice in politics "while not restricting big-business' political influence." (Business already out-contributes labor by eleven to one.) In one of his debates with Bush, John McCain spoke to the inherent unfairness of paycheck protection, saying he would back it only if the individual stockholders of corporations were allowed to opt out of corporate political donations.
Bush is opposed to granting national collective-bargaining rights to police. When the executive committee of the Fraternal Order of Police met with Bush, he was asked what he had done on collective bargaining for Texas state troopers. "Well," he replied, "we make sure they have a heck of a Christmas party."
Bush has cut $400 million from the Texas Retirement System for teachers, reducing the state contribution to the retirement fund from 7.31 percent to 6 percent. This, despite Bush's pledge, when first campaigning for governor in 1994, that he would "oppose any effort to reduce contributions to the Teacher Retirement System or decrease the state's contribution rate."
Under Bush, Texas has ranked near the bottom of states in the percentage of laid-off workers receiving unemployment benefits. Only 22 percent of Texas workers are eligible for unemployment benefits; the national average is 35 percent.
Under Clinton-Gore the minimum wage was increased from $4.25 to $5.15 per hour, a raise of $1800 per year for a full-time minimum-wage worker.
President Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Clinton-Gore have increased funding for the retraining of laid-off workers by 171 percent since 1993.
Clinton-Gore fought for legislation that has expanded pension coverage and made pensions more secure for 42 million U.S. workers and retirees.
Clinton-Gore made pro-labor appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Clinton-Gore issued an executive order forbidding federal agencies from doing business with companies that permanently replace striking workers, and they supported legislation that would have banned companies from hiring such replacements.
Clinton-Gore opposed "paycheck protection."
Clinton-Gore recently proposed to help fund a new arm of the International Labor Organization that would strengthen the labor rights of workers in poor nations.
Under Clinton-Gore, workplace injury, illness, and fatality rates were the lowest since OSHA was founded -- the latter falling 44 percent. Clinton-Gore protected whistleblowers and strengthened enforcement of OSHA workplace regulations.
Gore for President
If you believe that enabling low-wage workers to claim their share of the American Dream is the issue our era will be measured by, then you can't come to any other conclusion than supporting Gore for President. At the end of his life Martin Luther King Jr., who went to Memphis to support striking sanitation workers, began to talk of "economic justice" for the men and women who take the hard, vital jobs in our economy as the next frontier of the civil-rights revolution. Young people understandably complain that today's politics appear to have nothing like the morally charged issues of the King years. But look beneath the surface. The civil-rights movement continues in the drive of union organizers to increase the opportunities of the people, many of them immigrants and African-Americans, who make the beds and clean the rooms in our hotels, sweep the floors in our offices and schools, pick our fruit and vegetables, serve us in restaurants, care for our children, clean the bedpans and change the sheets in our hospitals, and feed and clean -- and yes, show morale-raising affection to -- our enfeebled parents in nursing homes.
However marginally, and just by virtue of the fact that he is a Democrat, Gore would do more for these workers than Bush. NAFTA, the WTO, China -- there is no difference between Gore and Bush on these issues. There is a profound difference -- as profound as an $1800 raise for a working mother earning $15,000 a year -- on how the working poor would fare under their presidencies. Ralph Nader is wrong.
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More on politics and society in Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.
Jack Beatty is a senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and the author of The World According to Peter Drucker (1997) and The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley (1992).
All material copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.