It was one of those classic strange-bedfellow alliances. When the New Unity Partnership (NUP), a consortium of five international unions, formed in summer 2003 (as first reported by The American Prospect in September 2003), it brought together three of labor's most progressive unions -- the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), UNITE (the clothing and textile workers union), and HERE (the hotel employees union) -- with two unions from the more conservative side of labor's spectrum: the Laborers and the Carpenters. Indeed, the Carpenters, having hosted several Labor Day events with President George W. Bush, was the only significant American union that boasted of its ties to Bush's decidedly anti-union administration.
For a life-and-death debate about the future of the labor movement, the current conﬂict over the structure and role of America's unions got off to a singularly inauspicious start. A week and a day after John Kerry's -- and the unions' -- defeat at the hands of George W. Bush, the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO convened in Washington for a postmortem. The day had been ﬁlled with staff reports -- federation operatives brieﬁng the assembled union presidents on the details of the election-day program, by far the most extensive in labor's history. (“You'd have thought we won,” one union president commented when the meeting was done.)
Some presidents make the history books by managing crises. Lincoln had Fort Sumter, Roosevelt had the Depression and Pearl Harbor, and Kennedy had the missiles in Cuba. George W. Bush, of course, had September 11, and for a while thereafter -- through the overthrow of the Taliban -- he earned his page in history, too.
But when historians look back at the Bush presidency, they're more likely to note that what sets Bush apart is not the crises he managed but the crises he fabricated. The fabricated crisis is the hallmark of the Bush presidency. To attain goals that he had set for himself before he took office -- the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the privatization of Social Security -- he concocted crises where there were none.
Once upon a time, in a land that stretched from one great sea to another, half the elderly were poor. When their work life was done, they retreated into their rented room or their trailer, or their room at their children's home, or even the county poorhouse. Their rulers looked at their plight and concluded that, "at least one-half of the aged -- approximately eight million people -- cannot afford today decent housing, proper nutrition, adequate medical care . . . or necessary recreation."
And the name of this nation, and the unimaginably distant time when half the elderly lived this way? The United States of America in the year 1960.