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Date: 2024-05-21 Page is: DBtxt003.php txt00023330
1. THE ECONOMY: For the Many, not the Few

UNIONS & ENERGY: written by Thom Hartmann

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Peter Burgess COMMENTARY

Peter Burgess

Thom Hartmann

I strongly argue that we need to be promoting unions as democracy in the workplace, and both the key to reaching the middle class and the tool that built the American middle class. All but probably the youngest people are able to remember a time—or at least know of a time—in America where dad or grandpa was able to get a good union job with a high school diploma and lift himself and his family into the middle class. But somewhere along the line, in the 1980s, when Reagan declared war on the unions and on the American working people, the focus of the GOP became the “Corrupt Union Bosses.” And, of course, Jimmy Hoffa didn’t help that—we actually had some corrupt union bosses, but they’re long gone. Nor did they ever dominate the union movement the way that the Republicans tried to spin it.

It’s time to renew the union movement in the United States.

If you believe in democracy, you should believe in democracy in the workplace. In 1947, the Republicans rolled out this phrase: the so-called “right to work” with the Taft-Hartley Act, which was passed over the veto of Harry Truman. For years now, I’ve referred to it as the “right to work for less.” And now, after a couple of radio panels with a bunch of union leaders in Chicago over the years, I’ve got many of them now saying “right to work for less.” That’s the winning phrase.

A lot of anti-union sentiment has to do with what lives on the Internet. If you Google “unions,” there is just a massive amount of anti-union information about “forced unionization” and “forced dues paying,” including corruption around these issues on Wikipedia. Here’s the right approach: “No, unions are a democracy within the workplace that represents you. And you have a right to work for a reasonable wage. And what the Republicans are promoting has led to wages stagnating. We’ve seen good jobs vanish. We need to bring strong unions back.”

So number one, there is a strong case for unions and unionization.

You can also tie these issues into energy—since we want American energy manufactured in America. Now, that is another catch phrase that the Republicans and the fossil fuel industry have been using: “All-American energy. Oil and gas.” Well, aside from volcanic activity and the heat and energy from the core of the earth, literally all energy on this planet came from the sun. Plants captured that energy. Those plants died and rotted and over millions of years became peat and then got crushed under the earth and became oil and natural gas—but that was all sunlight that was captured by plants.

I realize that’s not a bumper sticker that’s going to win any elections. But I think it’s an important point: why are we going through this inefficient process of trying to dig 200-million-year-old sunlight out of the ground and burn it and poison our atmosphere, when we can simply catch the sunlight that’s falling on the Earth right now? There’s a massive amount of sunlight falling on this planet. And the Chinese are way ahead of us on this, as are most other highly-developed countries.

Let’s go to the source and start getting our energy from sunlight. This then disconnects us from the control of people like “Mohammed bin Bonesaw” and Vladimir Putin. Fossil fuels are the essential infrastructure that are supporting these autocrats. America has absolutely no energy shortage because such a massive amount of sunlight falls on the United States, as well as in most of the country there’s fairly reliable wind. Hence, we are seeing shifts to renewables now: Utah’s over 20 percent renewable-source energy, and it’s nearly that in Texas. This is energy that we can collect without having to beg Saudi Arabia for anything, without having to be afraid of Putin or other despots.

I would portray the fossil fuel industry as a threat to our future and our economy. They have been lying to us since the 1970s about how they know that these fossil fuels are going to destroy our environment, and in the process also destroy our economy, our country, and the future of our children. I think that that is a very powerful selling point. You’ve got Republicans all across the United States who are going into school boards and going on the media talking about “The Children”—“We’ve got to protect The Children against feeling uncomfortable that we’re going to talk about race, or having to wear a mask” for God’s sake. Yet this is real and the future of our children and our grandchildren.

When you do opinion polling, you find that among people under thirty in the United States, which includes children, the number one political issue in America today is climate. Because it’s their future that’s being disrupted. They’re very cognizant of what’s going on, and how terribly it is going to hit them. So if we combine this message of “we need to protect our vulnerable young people and provide them with the kind of future that we old farts had: a stable climate,” that’s a minimal obligation of citizenship, of parenthood, of being a human being.

So number one: talking about young people and their future is gonna get you a lot of attention from young people and it’s gonna get you concurrence from older people. I think that there’s also a message that “this will save money for the average American.” Republicans are constantly BS-ing us, telling us that gasoline is the most efficient form of fuel. No! I saw a report a couple of days ago suggesting that to recharge a car with a 200-mile range in many parts of the United States costs as little as $6. I drive an electric car, and my guess would be that it’s probably closer to $8 or $10, but still— 200 miles! That’s pretty damn good.

It’s appealing to talk about how this would save us money, save our planet. This will preserve the future of our young people’s health and—if we manufacture wind turbines and solar panels in the United States —will also provide us with millions of good jobs.

This message needs to be boiled down to a very simple and very straightforward statement: We need good union jobs in the United States to recreate the middle class. In the U.S., 55 to 60 percent were in the middle class when Reagan entered the White House. In 2015, NPR reported that we dropped below 50 percent and some estimates today suggest it’s around 45 percent. So we need to bring back unions and provide ourselves with the energy for a twenty-first-century society and economy. And that energy can come at a low cost if we get it from that free nuclear fusion reactor 93 million miles away—the Sun.

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