Disrespectful and Disgraceful: The Republican Policy Against First Responders by Walter Brasch

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by Walter Brasch
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
Aug 4, 2009

It isn’t unusual that the Republican party is anti-union.

It isn’t even unusual that the Republican National Committee sent to its base a loaded questionnaire with blatantly leading and highly biased questions.

But it is unusual that the party that claims to ally itself with homeland security has not-so-subtly attacked the firefighters and police who responded to 9/11.

The Republicans want their respondents to answer a resounding “NO” to the following question:

“Do you believe that the federal government should allow the unionization of the Department of Homeland Security employees who serve in positions critical to the safety and security of our nation”?

What the Republicans neither say, nor apparently acknowledge, is that every one of the 60 police who died in 9/11, and every one of the 343 firefighters and paramedics who died in 9/11 were members of unions. Their union membership did not interfere with their responsibilities or their abilities. Nor did union membership interfere with the city’s 37,000 police or 15,000 firefighters and paramedics who either were on alert or responded during the two critical weeks after 9/11. In the U.S., police and staff personnel are represented by several labor organizations, with about 100,000 represented by the International Union of Police Associations and 325,000 represented by the Fraternal Order of Police; more than 295,000 are members of the International Association of Fire Fighters. The Security Police Fire Professionals of America represent more than 30,000 officers at several federal venues, including the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and NASA.

Union membership for emergency management dispatchers and thousands of construction workers didn’t affect their response to 9/11. None but the ignorant claim that union membership affects the ability of IRS, ATF, and treasury agents to do their jobs. Nor does anyone but the most uninformed party hacks believe that unionized federal fire fighters, border, customs, and immigration agents don’t perform their duties because they pay union dues.

Of course, President George W. Bush had no aversion to standing among unionized construction workers, police, and firefighters at the site of the former Twin Towers when he wanted innumerable photo-ops. But, less than a year after 9/11, President Bush said he would veto the bill to create the Department of Homeland Security if it allowed the employees to continue their union memberships or if collective bargaining was permitted for any of the 170,000 employees. It wasn’t an idle threat. More than two-thirds of Congress agreed to sustain his veto.

In January 2004, by executive order, President Bush stripped more than 500 Department of Justice paralegals, secretaries, and clerks of union membership, voided previously signed contracts, unilaterally decertified their unions, and forbid all DoJ workers from collective bargaining rights. Bush’s rationale was that because staff “have as a primary function intelligence, counterintelligence, investigative, or national security work,” their continued union membership was not “consistent with national security requirements and considerations.” No president before George W. Bush, and no attorney general before John Ashcroft—not during World War I, World War II, or the Korean and Vietnam wars—had even suggested that union membership was a deterrent to effective homeland security. Although Ashcroft’s successor, Alberto Gonzales, also opposed unions, following an extensive internal review, he acknowledged that “the vast majority of [unionized] immigration judges discharge their duties in a manner of which we can all be proud.”

In March 2007, Bush again threatened to veto a Congressional bill that would allow collective bargaining. The Senate had approved, 51–46, to table an amendment that would have banned collective bargaining for the nation’s 45,000 airport screeners. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R–Utah) said allowing collective bargaining rights would be a “gift to al-Qaeda.” Sen. Jim DeMint (R–S.C.), the amendment’s sponsor, claimed it was “outrageous that some politicians want to protect union bosses more than they want to protect Americans from terrorist attacks.” However, DeMint also was honest in one of his reasons to ban collective bargaining. He said allowing collective bargaining in the Department of Homeland Security could lead to labor unions contributing more than $17 million to Democratic campaigns. Once again, President Bush had enough votes to sustain a veto if necessary. Thirty-six Republican senators and 146 House Republicans wrote to the President, “We believe that providing a select group of federal airport security employees with mandated collective bargaining rights could needlessly put the security of our nation at risk.” They never acknowledged that there were no-strike and no work slowdown clauses already in contracts.

Three months later, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that Bush’s previous executive order that banned collective bargaining in the Department of Homeland Security was not only unconstitutional but parts of it were “simply bizarre [and] defies common sense.” This was no liberal court—nine of the 13 members were nominated by Republican presidents.

It’s been almost eight years since 9/11, and the Republicans still claim that the nation’s security will somehow be threatened by unionized first responders.

Like any political party, the Republicans can have whatever principles it wants. But to attack first responders because they may place union membership above their sworn duty to protect life and property, even at the risk of their own lives, is not only disrespectful, it is disgraceful.

[Walter M. Brasch is a university professor of journalism, social issues columnist, and the author of 17 books. His current book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available from amazon.com, bn.com, and other stores. The book was a winner in the politics/social issues category of USA Book News awards, and a finalist in the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group awards. His weekly column was this year’s winner in contests sponsored by the Pennsylvania Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists; his column received honorable mention in competition sponsored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Forthcoming in September is the third edition of Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media and American Culture. You may contact him at brasch@bloomu.edu or through his website, www.walterbrasch.com]

14 thoughts on “Disrespectful and Disgraceful: The Republican Policy Against First Responders by Walter Brasch

  1. I am going to be a bit radical here and would be interested in a response.
    I am of the opinion that the working class as a so called vanguard for progress is no longer true.
    The dogma of the working class leading our society into a new era is no longer possible because the working class is being drastically reduced in numbers and strength by the introduction into the workplace, a tremendous amount of “LABOR SAVING! DEVICES! This modern technology is replacing the world’s work force. Entire factories have been “automated,” .. reducing the amount of workers at our industrial base to a fraction of what it formerly was, Assembly Lines no longer exists, as they formerly did in america, Not only factory labor has been put out of existence, but also professional workers have been eliminated or reduced in number by technology and robots that can perform more efficiently than humans.
    Capitalists are no longer interested in making merely a profit. To be competitive in todays environment your rate of profit and how fast you make your profit determines the status and wealth of todays capitalists. By replacing workers with machines and robots the high rate of profit can be realized. What will follow will be the need to produce only for those that can afford to pay the high price of what is produced. By limiting production to only those that have purchasing power you will have a tremendous amount of former workers and others that will be locked out of the system. … It will be those that are no longer a part of the capitalist system that will be in the vanguard in overthrowing the capitalist system.

    • My uneducated response…

      It’s been the general trend that production is increasingly automated, going back to the cotton gin. The original locus of labor, agriculture, has replaced with a single combine-thresher what hoards of harvesters once did.

      Food production still requires labor, and without the army of migrant & immigrant labor willing to work for cheap, strawberries would not be picked, peaches would not be packed and meat not murderously scraped from the bones of our animal brethren in ‘Fast Food Nation’-style holocaust camps.

      There are alternatives to food production as we know.

      Manufacturing and mining, the other traditional centers of large labor are also brilliantly, although only partially, mechanized, and largely shipped overseas where other peons are willing to offer their labor for cheap.

      The IT revolution, while empowering individuals, eliminating whole industries like accounting, publishing and chewing a big chink out of sales & marketing, while making all business vastly more efficient than anything the industrial revolution ever did, carries its own labor-force, not just in production, but in customer service and technical support, also largely contracted to some overseas service sector.

      So if you’re referring to American workers, perhaps your correct, the working class has been dismembered in the interest of cost-cutting corporate profits, but there still are workers working in the traditional large numbers comprising a worldwide working class who are still maligned and abused (but not for long! Sweat-shop jobs in China can’t be considered a step up from peasanthood forever).

      Support your local farmers and artisans, they are still out there, and big business is not the only way things are made and services supplied. It’s worth the premium, if you can devise ways to keep the money in the community. Or better yet grow your own.

      But in my view, the matter of the working class in this country no longer being a vanguard for popular liberal struggle is a function of something altogether different, at least for now.

      The people were co-opted by a “What’s the Matter with Kansas” corporate propaganda machine that used televangelists and mega-churches to manufacture consent for a right wing, free-market, war-mongering agenda (no surprise that weapons production remains one of our last surviving, thriving industries).

      This alignment by the people with the deranged dogma of the corporate class seemed to have been affirmed by that last real-estate and credit bubble, where illusory prosperity appeared to ‘trickle down’, reinforcing compliance by the populace with the collusion that corrupted them since the start of all this back in the raygun revolution.

      It could be, if one reads these pages, that we are in for a final fall of this illusory prosperity.

      How the people will respond, the way in which they will retake the prosperity skimmed from the world’s workers first by the corporate barrons of production backed by empire & its militarism, and now vastly more efficiently by the global banking cartels, remains to be seen, and is apparently still a long ways off.

      People on these pages call for a worldwide collapse in capital in order to effect global change, but I offer that the developing world still recovering from colonialism, needs not further fallout from our catastrophic casino capitalism and market and monetary manipulations.

      A collapse in the economy of the USA will suffice… the workers of this nation deserve nothing less then to suffer for their sins in having sponsored wars against the world in pursuit of their misguided american exceptionalist myth.

      May they be humbled, humiliated, and forced by failure to re-calibrate their loyalties and their morals along more humanistic lines.

  2. Dear despicable,

    I too was there during the nail biter of the last election. 7 percentage points in the popular vote does not a landslide make, even Barack said he was humbled by the close call.

    Barack hardly won overwhelmingly, in fact the tide was turning against him up until the market implosion in October.

    We’ve had black men and women in high office before, and it hasn’t exactly worked out well for progress (can you say Condi? Colin?? Clarence Thomas???). Anyone can be a backward anti-progressive corporate warmongering goon. As I said, they are apparently born that way.

    I’m not here to be only a cynic, but to say the democrats are progressive is already a stretch, it was the democrats who rolled over and let the PNAC people kill with impunity and nearly dissolve the Bill of Rights.

    I hope you see ‘green shoots’ of progressivism that I’m missing. But truly there should have indeed been a landslide, a huge outpouring of dissent against Botch and his war-crimes, and there wasn’t, and still isn’t, in fact most apparently simply don’t care, and they still enlist despite all, and Cindy Sheehan still stands alone.

    Perhaps if the people really were progressive, and if joe the skinhead and impalin hadn’t captured the soul of a deranged, overwhelmingly right-wing electorate of red-stated ghoulish christo-zombies, then Obama would not feel he had to be so conciliatory to the religious right and their entrenched corporate sponsors.

    The fact remains, even after the disaster of the iraq invasion and occupation, even after Katrina and 911, even after economic collapse and the GOP-sponsored bank heist of all time, the people remained steadfast, and stupid, and almost elected John McBomb, who would have ramped up america’s beloved wars on all fronts, with Impalin the wolf-killer a heartbeat away from that decrepit old militaristic war-criminal white man.

    This is what america is, an anti-intellectual, anti-intelligent, fast-food-fattened megachurched consumerist army of greed-junkies. This is what we decided to do with our virgin country, create a society of born-again bible-belted bozos with big cars.

    But I do hope, even now, that you’re right and I’m wrong. Keep up the enthusiasm!

  3. The weak minded right-wing haters of everything different and foreign is a dying breed as the world integrates and becomes more complete and worldly due to science and modern technology, The meaning of this post will be foreign and not understood by the simple minded right wing haters that feel left behind by a world that is way beyond their understanding.
    What you are hearing from these right -wing nuts, is nothing intelligent. You are only hearing the “death rattle” of a dying breed.

    • Ironically so many police are right-wingers themselves. People who seek power are bullies by nature, those who wear uniforms often conservatives. Democrats are hardly leftists, and originally espoused some of the worst policies ever invented by the right (jim Crow, etc).

      I think it’s wishful thinking to think right-wingers are a dying breed. Conservatism is now shown to be a brain disorder, a mutation, a cognitive disability. It’s not a choice any more than being gay. You likely can’t fix a right-winger, any more than you can rehabilitate a racist. They are here to stay, and clearly they are better organized and born to dominate discourse.

      The so-called ‘conservative’ right wing have always been the dominant activists, unless the culture decides collectively to teach peace (Buddhists).

      The mouth-frothing, spittle-spewing, hateful hard right are powered by hostility to progress. Only after hard-won progress becomes the norm will they assimilate reluctantly to the status quo, but the effort required to resist the right wing in the name of peace and justice is far greater than the prevailing cultural tide toward nationalism, racism, hostility, militarism, religious fundamentalism, anti-environmentalism, greed, self-righteous arrogance and the generally disturbed, demonic brain disorder of the ever-activist right wing.

      • I did not mean to imply, BTW, that being gay was in any way akin to being right wing or a brain disorder! Anyone, gay or straight, any ethnicity can be born right-wing. Rightism is not a choice nor a cultural style, it’s a cognitive disability, and wields a broad influence on the truly weak-minded, the followers of folly.

        • But back to the point, unions are of course a required defense against industrial capitalism. Without them the agricultural invention of slavery and serfdom, tithe-paying tenants to landowners and monks, peons in factories, cubical-rat wage-slaves would be yet more abused than already have forever been, forever living under the axe is bad enough, but this is the lot employees buy into.

          ‘Collective bargaining’ is a sad story, business, workers, management should all be on the same side. Yet let the ‘gangs of new york’ fire-fighting irish fiefdoms of the Five Points take over public service for a time and soon all sides are corrupt as Boss Tweed.

          Interesting post on Krugman’s blog: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/03/black-states/?apage=3#comment-212179 (what crazed anarcho-syndicalist coulda cooked that one up, eh?).

          A sad state of affairs when public servants risking life and limb also need to band together to defend against abuse by the boss.

          I remember all too well when raygun broke the air-traffic controllers union, as if he had the right to fire them in the first place (talk about big government, or big bully with big schtick).

          But unfortunately unions are an unnatural response to an unnatural situation. They easily descend into corrupt gangs of rough-neck extortionist thugs, like any other group of guys. The answer is for workers to stop being emoployees, and employers to stop being bosses.

          Everyone on the same side in an organization, a collective, a society, and the right-wing abusive class-warfarist greedmongers don’t stand a chance. Let them work alone, refuse to work for pigs.

      • It is my opinion that the Republican party and the right wing base of that party is increasingly becoming no longer relevant to the circumstances, situation and conditions that exist in our 21st century world.
        Many of the traditions of the past that the “right wing republican base” are attempting to pull into the 21st century are no longer popular or useful to our modern, relatively enlightened world. I am referring to the traditions of racism, unfettered capitalism, and imperialist wars of aggression.
        Americans have learned and are continuing to learn from the experience of the past where their best interest is, and who represents that best interest.
        Life is a learning experience and I am convinced that the Republican party being no longer relevant will no longer be seen as a major political party and will be dumped into the trash can of our dead past. The signs are there for those that can see.
        A new left leaning political party will enter into the mainstream and be one of the major parties within a two party system.
        The democrat party will become the new more traditional and relevant conservative party, taking the place of the no longer relevant republican party.
        This new political realignment, is, in my opinion, going to happen pretty damn soon!

        • I wish I could concur with your convictions.

          Liberalism, leftism, progressivism failed categorically in this country, and with it went peace, justice and the rule of law.

          Progressives’ few years in the sun were terribly trumped, permanently dismembered by the Reagan era rise of the religious right and their collaboration with ‘conservatism’ dominated by corporate collusion and the military machine.

          If Iraq raised no hackles among the populace whatsoever, then the populace is permanently placated. The pendulum never swung back, it was apparently derailed by the complicit dems.

          I think we are going to have to face facts that the USA is completely co-opted, a cultural and intellectual disaster promoted by the right wing, or its Disneyland version, a cartoon, Donald duck vs. Scrooge.

          Politics in this nation has become a caricature created for prime-time; too much wonder bread and baloney can turn any cultural brain into americon cheeze.

          Unfortunatey for the rest of the world, the USA remains the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet, a path to which the populace remains patriotically committed, zealously devoted and economically invested.

          The only way to rebuild the cultural and intellectual and political integrity in this drive-thru dream of american exceptionalism, fuddy-duddy fundamentalism and corporate corn-syrup celebrity, is to strip it of its prosperity as it so deserves, and start over.

          Not a likely scenario.

        • I hope that you noticed that the democrats pushed by their progressive base won overwhelmingly the presidential election, …and they did it with a black presidential candidate!
          This to my mind signifies an important leap forward by the american people. Changes from the past on many fronts are taking place. Changes that are driving crazy the stuck in the past right wing ideologues. They see their world collapsing around them and they are going crazy and acting crazy. They are becoming a very big joke in the eyes of our current generation.
          Don’t take the ‘reactionary right wingers’ loud screaming as a sign as being strong. It is a sign of being desperate.
          Rome wasn’t built in a day. A system that is thoroughly corrupt is cracking and the people within that corrupt system is beginning to crack it’s foundation, because it is the only thing left to do.

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