from Democracy Now! 4/1/2011
JUAN GONZALEZ: Congressman Kucinich, I want to ask you about the latest news from your state of Ohio. Last night, Republican Governor John Kasich signed a bill that strips collective bargaining rights for state employees and bars them from striking. And Democrats have announced plans to collect more than 230,000 signatures to block immediate implementation of the bill and place it on the November ballot. Your reaction to this action in your own state and also to this growing trend among Republican legislatures around the country to begin stripping and limiting the bargaining rights of public employees?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, there’s two things that are happening here, at least. One is the attack on public employees. But the attack on public employees really presages an attack on the entire public sphere. So what’s happening here is it’s a destructive undermining of the principle of government of the people and that people have a right to have schools they can call their own, energy systems they can call their own, public services they can call their own. The attack on public servants opens the door to a broad-scale theft of the public domain. And so, this is about privatization, writ large. It’s about attempting to create circumstances where the physical assets of the state, that were purchased through people’s tax dollars over many generations, are about to be auctioned off, you know, often to a lower bidder, in order for the private sector to profit.
And the attack on workers here is fundamentally anti-American. In a democratic society, workers have to have a right to organize, a right to collective bargaining, a right to strike, a right to decent wages and benefits, a right to a secure retirement, a right to safe workplace. These are all things that should be guaranteed in a democratic society. And Governor Kasich has unfortunately joined the ranks of other Republican governors who are involved in this broad attack on workers’ rights, which is profoundly anti-democratic.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, what about this movement for putting it on the ballot, that would require hundreds of thousands of signatures? I mean, about quarter of a million, but they’d need much more, because they’d all have to be valid. And then the issue of Ohio, such an essential state when it comes to the presidential elections in 2012, 360,000 public workers affected. The Wisconsin protests were massive, but Ohio is so significant when it comes to the union movement. It has the nation’s sixth-largest number of public sector union members, which is twice as many as Wisconsin. How are you organizing around this?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I’ve been working with labor unions across the state. I’ve met with leaders of state labor. I’ve been with the workers outside the Statehouse. I’ve been rallying with them across Ohio. I understand that this is—that we are at the threshold of a whole new world here, where workers are either going to be restored to a position of dignity in our society, or they’re going to be reduced to a second-class citizenship.
Of course, I support the attempt to create a—to repeal this bill. I believe that the unions and their supporters will gain the necessary signatures to get this on the ballot. But we have to understand the thinking that’s behind this, this Senate Bill 5. And the thinking is that there is no such thing as government of the people. This idea of government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations has actually taken hold. It’s taken hold in the Citizens United case. It’s taken hold in Buckley v. Valeo. And now it’s taken hold with Senate Bill 5.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, one of the interesting aspects—there’s quite a few in the bill that was passed—would be that union members would be—or the governments, local governments, would be prohibited from collecting the voluntary political donations of workers to the political funds of their unions. This seems to be a direct attempt to prevent unions from being able to develop a political war chest before the upcoming elections, obviously, before the upcoming presidential elections. Your response to that?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I—yeah, I would think that, you know, it’s unconstitutional. I mean, it’s actually trying to intervene in the right of association, and there are free speech implications here. But, you know, when you’re talking about corporate interests running a state, what’s a constitution among friends? You have to look at the attempt here to destroy unions. That’s exactly what it is. And at this point, unions are one of the last lines of defense against a corporate plutocracy.
And so, we really have to support the workers in Ohio, in Wisconsin, in Michigan, and everywhere across this country they’re under attack. And I believe, most strongly, that this is one of the fundamental issues of our time with respect to economic justice. This is the new civil rights movement in America: the right to restore the dignity of workers, the right to protect their social and economic—the obligation to protect their social and economic rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel you’re getting the support from the Obama administration, that the unions are getting the support that President Obama promised when he was a senator, saying if any collective bargaining rights were threatened, he’d have his shoes on marching with them in the streets?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, he hasn’t found those shoes yet, but I’m sure he’ll find them. I think that we have a right to expect a president who was elected with the help of working men and women not to say, "I stand behind you," but to stand at the forefront to defend workers’ rights.
One of the things that I’m concerned about with respect to this particular White House is what seems to be the extraordinary influence that Wall Street has. We could not have 15 million, 14-15 million people out of work, unless there are those who are helping to manage the engines of this economy who feel that, well, to have that level of unemployment is somehow conducive to a functioning of the economy in order to keep the cost of labor low.
We really have to demand that our president—and he is our president—step forward here and defend workers, and not just, you know, give us platitudes, but be forward with defending them, using the Justice Department, using his bully pulpit, to step forward, to join workers at state capitols, to rally people on this issue, to stand with them and support Senate Bill—the repeal of Senate Bill 5, to stand with the workers in Wisconsin and Michigan, to take a stand against this attempt to privatize wholesale the assets of state and local governments.
In some cases, you have an attempt, as in Michigan, to write laws that would even lead to the abolition of local governments and taken over by an unelected board. I mean, this is a moment where we have to decide if we have a democracy and if we have a president who’s going to defend it.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Dennis Kucinich, we thank you very much for being with us, Democratic Congress member from Ohio, from Cleveland.