Award-winning Investigative Journalist Robert Parry (1949-2018)

Award-winning investigative journalist and founder/editor of, Robert Parry has passed away. His ground-breaking work uncovering Reagan-era dirty wars in Central America and many other illegal and immoral policies conducted by successive administrations and U.S. intelligence agencies, stands as an inspiration to all in journalists working in the public interest.

Robert had been a regular guest on our Between The Lines and Counterpoint radio shows -- and many other progressive outlets across the U.S. over four decades.

His penetrating analysis of U.S. foreign policy and international conflicts will be sorely missed, and not easily replaced. His son Nat Parry writes a tribute to his father: Robert Parry’s Legacy and the Future of Consortiumnews.

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Coordinated Campaign Targets Public Employees Unions Across the U.S.

Posted Feb. 2, 2011

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Interview with Mark Brenner, director of Labor Notes magazine, conducted by Scott Harris

labor With cities and states across the U.S. struggling with the bad economy, decreased tax revenue and budget shortfalls, some governors and legislators are campaigning hard to reduce the compensation and power of public employees unions. Governors in many states are demanding layoffs, cuts in state employee benefits and wage freezes. But along with the predictable calls for austerity caused by severe budget crises, some conservative politicians and activists are seeking to cripple the power of labor by blocking the mandatory collection of union dues, and denying state workers the right to organize unions and negotiate contracts.

The campaign to turn public opinion against organized labor has included the charge that union members are overpaid and make more on average than private sector workers. However, a study recently conducted by the Economic Policy Institute found that state and local public employees earn about 11 percent less than their private sector counterparts.

Behind the scenes, the American Legislative Exchange Council, comprised of corporate executives and Republican party legislators is promoting and disseminating templates for anti-union laws to state legislatures across the U.S. Many union activists charge that the drive targeting labor is motivated by partisan politics, with the goal of undermining unions' ability to contribute to mostly Democratic party candidate in future elections. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Mark Brenner, director of Labor Notes magazine, who assesses the current campaign against public employees' unions and the labor movement's response.

MARK BRENNER: You know we have to take stock of where we were two years and some change ago, when the entire country, hell, the entire world, recognized that it was bankers, and CEOs -- who, for over three decades have been absolutely running roughshod over the rest of us and definitely operating without any effective oversight or regulation. You know, greed was "good" -- that was the mantra - "the market will solve all problems." Everybody recognized two-and-a-half years ago that that strategy, that whole constellation of policies and sort of approach to economic policy-making drove the U.S. economy and practically the whole world economy off a cliff.

And now, a short two years later, we're in a situation where it's not the CEOs and the bankers who are responsible for this global economic meltdown, it's public schoolteachers and librarians. It's really an Alice in Wonderland kind of world we're living in when you're blaming homecare workers and ambulance drivers for these economic problems.

And in my mind, it's a two-fold bait-and-switch. On the one hand, it's definitely the rich and the people who've been raking it in for 30 years trying to get out of the limelight and really change the subject. You know, turn the spotlight off of them and onto other people and pit worker against worker.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Mark, perhaps you could tell us a bit about the efforts underway state to state, some Republican governors who are supported by newly-elected Republican legislatures are attempting to roll back unions' rights to organize, to strike, to have any kind of effective leverage at the bargaining table. Maybe you could specify some of what's going on out there.

MARK BRENNER: I think that there's a couple of different flavors that we're talking about. For public sector workers, you're seeing things like in Ohio where John Kasich, the new governor is moving to limit the right to strike for teachers. In other states, they're trying to expand right-to-work laws -- seven states now, have some plan underway to implement right-to-work, which essentially bans private-sector unions from entering into contracts that would require people that work at the company where the union represents the workers to either have to join the union or to pay some portion of union dues for the services they receive under the union contract --which is a major blow to union strength. It's led to nothing but lower wages and higher incidences of poverty in the south, which is where right-to-work really is firmly entrenched.

Another thing that's happening that I think is a really big blow is in areas where unionization has finally arrived in the public sector -- people who are homecare workers, childcare workers, who really take care of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Their right to be in a union is being called into question. A lot of these folks were allowed to unionize by executive order and now Republicans are coming in certain states, they're trying to undo those orders. And even in states where we've got Democratic governors in California and New York, there's definitely the old-fashioned attack on unions, which is just through layoffs and essentially a political battle. So, I think from the private sector to the public sector -- particularly in the public sector right now -- Republicans and some Democrats have it absolutely in their sights that they're coming after the labor movement.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Mark Brenner, what about public opinion here. It seems that conservative and corporate interests that are working to undermine unions can really only get away with the full extent of what they're trying to do to weaken unions if public opinion is somewhat on their side. Tell us a little bit about where you think public opinion is right now and what the unions can do to fight back.

MARK BRENNER: Well, I think that there's no question there's a 24-hour spin machine at work here, trying to paint a picture of public employees as overpaid, as in cush jobs, raking in outside pensions, as essentially getting fat while the rest of America is suffering. Of course, left out of this story is a) the truth: most public employees are hard-working, they make fairly modest salaries, they're paid about 11 percent less than their counterparts in the private sector, and unfortunately, in my mind the labor movement has been far too afraid of taking our case to the public and actually defending loudly and proudly what public sector workers do. You know, we're the watchdog on corruption. We're actually the people defending the most vulnerable people in society. And so, what I think labor's job is really to try to get out there and do a lot more this sort of agitation around what government could and should be. And frankly, to find people who are willing to go out and run for office and try to put that into practice. It's not just that average citizens have a lower expectation of what government could do, frankly, most politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike have really little to no imagination, little to no creativity and really low expectations about what government could and should do.

Read Mark Brenner's recent article, "Public Sector, Public Good," online at

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