Why don't McCain and Obama Talk about the Working Classlink to mp3excerpt of transcript:
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about another part of the working class, the other part of the working class that’s gotten no attention: immigrants, the undocumented immigrants in the country. It seems that there’s been almost an unwritten agreement among both candidates and the media not to ask Obama or McCain about their immigration policies since the primaries. Once the primaries were over, the debate is over, in terms of the national debate. Your sense?
MICHAEL ZWEIG: It’s really quite interesting that that’s true. I didn’t expect that. I thought that the immigration question would be really a much larger one. Of course, McCain has a fairly liberal view towards immigration in the sense that he doesn’t want to just expel everybody and lock them all up.
AMY GOODMAN: So much so that Lou Dobbs of Fox, they were calling him “Juan McCain.”
MICHAEL ZWEIG: Is that right? Well, you know, you have a situation there where maybe there’s not that big of a difference, and these candidates have decided and their campaigns have decided that that’s just too much of a third rail, and it’s too emotional, and it’s too crazy, and they’re just not going to get into it.
JUAN GONZALEZ: For both campaigns.
MICHAEL ZWEIG: Yeah. They don’t need to get into it. And each has enough in them in their backgrounds and in their programs that Lou Dobbs and that whole militant anti-immigrant crowd is going to be dissatisfied with both of them, so why get into it?
JUAN GONZALEZ: But there is the issue of, will they continue to build a wall? Will they continue to prosecute, to have the raids that they’re—the massive raids that are going on?
MICHAEL ZWEIG: Yeah, but you can’t get into those questions with them without opening the whole question of immigration. I think what they’ve done is they’ve decided they’re just not going to talk about the whole question of immigration, and then we can only be left to guess what will they actually do.
You know, I will say that in the immigration situation, whatever happens, we want to make sure that there isn’t a two-tier labor force that we have in this country, where the immigrants, in whatever form they’re here, as guest workers or in whatever guise we sort of allow them to come into America, that they are some second-class labor citizen. That, I think we really have to be very careful about.
And I will say, about the Employee Free Choice Act that Steve Early was talking about before, it’s a very, very important thing. On the other hand, I’m concerned that a Democratic administration in Congress is going to give the labor movement an Employee Free Choice Act—
AMY GOODMAN: Which means…?
MICHAEL ZWEIG: Which means that the principal legislative agenda item for the labor movement, to make it easier to organize unions, will be enacted, probably quite early. And then, the labor movement is going to be told, “You go organize your workers, and don’t bother us anymore with any other questions, because now we have serious business to attend to and all the rest of the agenda of the government.” And labor is going to be cut out in issues of the war in Iraq or in Afghanistan, in issues of the reconstruction of the banking regulations, in issues of housing and all the other items that are so very important to working people in this country. The labor movement is going to get its piece in the Employee Free Choice Act, and in much the same way that the Clinton administration gave labor the employee Family Leave Act—unpaid, but still a Family Leave Act in 1993. It was a very important thing. But that was pretty much the end of labor’s agenda in the Clinton years. And the rest of it was devoted to deregulating the financial industry and ending welfare as we know it. And so, I’m a little concerned that we are going to be in a situation where we put so much weight on the Employee Free Choice Act that we are going to be left aside in the other deliberations.
STEVEN GREENHOUSE: I see something—
AMY GOODMAN: Steve Greenhouse?
STEVEN GREENHOUSE: —things somewhat differently from Mike. I think the unions are playing their hand pretty well this election. They are going all out to help Obama, and clearly, you know, if Obama is elected, they’re going to expect him to implement some of the things they’re pushing for. And they’re pushing for three things at once. One is this Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to unionize. Second, they’re pushing very, very, very hard for economic stimulus, which dovetails with what a lot of liberal Democrats want anyway. And third, they’re pushing very, very hard for universal health coverage, and that’s something Obama has promised. So I think they’ll feel very, very angry if Obama says, “We gave you Employee Free Choice Act, and we’re going to ignore you on other things.” The other things they’re pushing for are the very things that many, many Democrats are pushing for.
AMY GOODMAN: Last word. You have thirty seconds, Steve Early.
STEVE EARLY: I think it’s overly optimistic to assume that the Employee Free Choice Act, expanding the right to organize in this country, is going to sail through the new Congress. You look back at the history of labor law reform efforts over the last thirty years, under Clinton and Carter, a lot of disappointment and a record of failure. It’s going to take a tremendous grassroots movement, now and then, by organized workers to keep the pressure on Obama and the Democrats to make this long overdue change so that workers can organize more freely without management interference. It’s not a done deal. And I think Obama would prefer to avoid a knockdown, drag-out fight with corporate America over this issue right out of the box.
AMY GOODMAN: Steve Early, I want to thank you for being with us. Steve Early, Boston-based labor journalist. Steven Greenhouse with the New York Times, his book, The Big Squeeze. And Michael Zweig, joining us from State University of New York, Stony Brook, he is the head of the Center for the Study of Working Class Life at SUNY, Stony Brook, his book, What’s Class Got to Do with It?