Furloughed federal workers, supporters should take action

Is it surprising at all that the most inept presidential administration in history has caused our country’s longest government shutdown?

Going into the shutdown fight over an idiotic and racist border wall, President Trump was apparently sure Democrats would fold and give him the funding he wanted. Instead, Democrats have dug in their heels, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the proposed border wall “immoral.”

It’s going to be pretty hard to get to a point of compromise from there, but both sides seem to feel they can force the other to completely abandon their demands.

I’m partial to not giving in to tantrums thrown by a president who clearly has no problem with harming our country and national security to build a wall that is useless beyond making his base feel safer from brown people.

However, we can’t forget there are hundreds of thousands of federal workers who’ve been furloughed and are caught in the middle of our Congress and president’s failure to exhibit the bare minimum of competence in governing.

Last week, in an apparent blink in this political game of chicken between the two parties, the Trump administration ordered tens of thousands of federal workers back to work to lessen the hardships caused by the government shutdown.

This speaks to many pundits’ argument that Trump did not even know what functions of government would be affected by the shutdown or how many people would miss them.

Around 50,000 federal workers are being forced back to work on critical tasks like food and drug inspections, flight safety and filing tax returns. Last Tuesday, a federal judge ruled against workers who filed a suit to receive paychecks through the rest of the shutdown.

Over 400,000 federal workers are being forced to work without pay.

The American people are caught up in the dumbest political fight in a generation and are receiving greatly lessened government services from nine of the 15 federal departments, including the IRS, the TSA, the National Parks Service and the Department of Homeland Security. But federal workers and contractors have it even worse.

Their livelihoods are being put on hold.

Over 800,000 federal workers are not receiving paychecks, whether they are being forced to work or not. Many federal contractors are also out of a job, but they can’t even expect backpay because their business with the government is simply gone.

With both sides of Congress unwilling to budge, with more and more workers being forced to work without pay and with the courts stacked against them, federal workers don’t have any more options but to strike.

Unlike the 1981 air traffic controllers’ strike, a government-wide, 400,000-person strike would be undefeatable. There are simply not enough scabs to fill those roles in a fast-enough time-frame. Government services wouldn’t be just gutted, they’d be dead on their feet. If the 800,000 furloughed workers, additional contractors and their supporters took to the streets to voice their demands, the effect would be incredible.

The ongoing California teachers’ strike shows us that when a government service is desired and respected, the people will be on the side of striking workers.

Current polls show that most Americans don’t want a border wall, don’t want Trump to use emergency powers to build one and do want the government reopened while Republicans and Democrats negotiate a border security bill.

This convinces me that federal workers would be supported by a majority of Americans if they did choose to strike.

A strike can be daunting, though. They’re difficult to organize, and people could be risking their jobs or face other retribution. There are ways for us to contribute: mutual aid societies can be established and financed, and programs like California’s “Tacos for Teachers” food assistance program can be emulated to ease the burden on striking workers.

Labor history offers federal workers several other options, though.

“Sick-outs,” where masses of workers call in sick, in this case because they’re not being paid anyway, have already been reported among TSA workers.

These should be expanded to all shutdown federal departments, with a goal of not only giving unpaid workers some reprieve from such an unjust situation, but also to shut down even the bare bones services being provided by their departments.

Every unpaid worker should also be working as slowly as humanly possible. Slowdowns are a tried and true method of labor resistance, especially because if they are done right, they are essentially unprovable. Workers know how much they can slow things down and still have plausibly deniability. Their co-workers can back them up by vouching for their work. Besides, they’re already overloaded with work during the shutdown, how fast can they reasonably be expected to pick up that slack?

Trump remains unwilling to budge, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is sticking with the president by blocking legislation to end the shutdown because he wants to win re-election in 2020.

If we want the government shutdown to end, a mass federal worker strike may be the best way to accomplish it.

Unless, that is, you’re willing to bet Trump is more impatient than he is out-of-touch, racist and prideful.

Opinion from Brian Fox, Vanguard Columnist

Brian Fox

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