I have not been a member of a union, so I can’t call myself a brother or a sister, but I have worked on virtually every issue that unions have cared about: equal pay, health care, worker protections. I cheered when Bob Haynes, another friend, says that unions are there for those who can least protect themselves. And I grieve when I listen to the electricians and carpenters and others who talk about the astronomically high unemployment rates in their ranks.
But here is how they have chosen to do handle the problem: they have – not for the first time in labor history – been bamboozled by the wealthy. They have bought the false numbers and false arguments that have been advanced by industry consultants and lobbyists who are using them. They have ignored the bankruptcies around the country and the huge amount of evidence that has been piled up by economists from outside the state. I won’t go through it here – much of it is available at the website of [United to Stop Slots in Massachusetts – http:www.uss-mass.org] Please read up, then sign up.
One point, proven over and over again, but conveniently forgotten: every slot machine kills one permanent job in an economy. Why? Very simple. A slot machine requires no labor. It is simply a reverse ATM that sucks money from your account into the casino or racetracks account – money that you could have spent somewhere else.
Labor, sadly, has denied, blocked, or avoided any serious discussion with gambling opponents. The political committee meeting was a love fest with casino owners. Their “Jobs With Justice” dinner committee refused to run an ad from a long-time member, Tom Larkin, paid for with his own money, simply asking for a serious debate. They have held “informational meetings” at Suffolks Downs. They have used long discredited numbers produced by casino-company reports with flawed or deceptive methodologies.
And every time I have mentioned this to Bobby Haynes, he says, “I know, I don’t like slot machines, but we need the jobs.” The jobs are fake Bobby. It’s not worth selling the birthright of the labor movement for this mess of pottage.
And it is not just the construction trades. The SEIU, which should be trembling at the thought of tens of thousands more gambling addicts sweeping down on our overburdened system, has been silent. The people concerned about domestic violence or co-addiction or criminal justice have taken a little stroll. The nurses are on break. The Mass Teacher’s Association, to their lasting discredit, has endorsed a system of “job creation” created by a predatory industry that is targeting our video-game loving children for the next wave of gambling traps.
The social service advocates and good government advocates are also embarrassingly silent. Common Cause, of which my grandmother was a founding board member, has decided that they care about corruption, but only at a limited scale – the wholesale distortion of the an entire process in the legislature by gambling interests – not only here but around the country – is something they wish to ignore. Please, Pam. do a little more reading about what is happening around the country.
I could list a large number of groups that have intensified the pressure on the governor and on Beacon Hill not to pursue cuts, but who seem so out of touch with politics that they don’t realize that this sets up the perfect hole-in-the-pocket shot by Big Gambling. ,
And then there are the churches. The Mass Council of Churches has been an opponentbut the individual denominations and congregations are too busy worrying about problems in other countries or other decades to pay any real attention to what it is about to happen in their midst. The evangelical communities like Park Street Church and Gordon Conwell seminary – proud heirs to many social movements – have wandered off into the wilderness on this. The Greater Boston Interfaith Organization – an organization I love and of which my church is a member – is proud of the 400 of their financial literacy program that has moved people out of debt. How many people will people will be cast into debt through thousands and thousands of neurologically addictive slot machines. Even though their leaders know – in their bones – that we will reap the whirlwind, they do not speak out. Rev. Hamilton, you are my hero in many ways, please speak the truth here as powerfully as you have throughout your life.
And what about my friends in politics? Some have stood up to fight this – such as those who passed a resolution at the Democratic Issues Convention making it the policy of the party to oppose predatory gambling. There have been powerful leaders against predatory gambling such as Susan Tucker in the Senate, and Dan Bosley in the House – they will eventually be proven to have been not only courageous but right.
The U.S. Senate candidates have, with one exception, been an embarrassment. Michael Capuano, someone I have known for 20 years in Somerville, usually deserves his reputation as a straight-up shooter, who will tell you what he thinks. But he is ducking the question, saying that gambling is not a national issue.
Tell that the people in Michigan, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Iowa,and other places who have been fleeced by national and international companies working their way state by state across the country like locusts. Tell that to Congress, which passed the perverse Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which has allowed international cartels and billionaires to use Indian tribes as fronts for their investments. Or to the Supreme Court which squashed “reservation shopping” for casino lands, something that can only be reversed by an act of Congress. At the very least, it is a regional issue, where a strong social justice Senator could bring together all the parties to slow, stop, and reverse the race to the bottom. Come on, Mike, step up to the plate.
Martha Coakley said that as chief law enforcement official she is working with the legislature to craft the laws that casinos will be necessary if legislation is passed. Martha, if you are elected you will no longer be in this job – in a few weeks. What will you do as a Senator? You used to be opposed to gambling – is your current silence due to your union support and to Senate President Teresa Murray’s enthusiasm for your candidacy? Martha, we want to see some spark, some fire in the belly for what’s right, not a recitation of your current job description.
Steve Pagliuca says that he hasn’t really been able to evaluate whether would be good or bad. That’s amazing. The man has spent his career assessing companies, but suddenly his skills disappear when he hits controversy. Steve, step up to a real challenge, something a little more robust than telling Democrats you are for health care reform.
Only Alan Khazei has said – today – that he believes casinos and slot machines are predatory. He deserves praise for his courage. When something is predatory, it means that a practice takes advantage of people who aren’t aware of the dangers, which are deliberately concealed. Democrats have opposed predatory pricing, predatory marketing, predatory lending, and now they should oppose predatory gambling. Again, that is the official position of the State Democratic Party.
But do the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, or the Governor of the Commonwealth care? Apparently not. What about the House and Senate? We will see.
And why is this? In part because our legislators are desperate for revenue. But the darker side is that many former campaign managers, ope
ratives, field organizers, pollsters, and even former candidates and public officials themselves – have gone on the lobbying payroll of different casino or slot companies. I won’t embarrass them further by listing them here, but I think that Blue Mass Group should publish a list of every consultant and every lawyer whose firm is now working on the inside, spending some of the $1 million of lobbying funds that have already been spent to our legislature.
All these forces are going to come to a head in the next few months. The House and Senate are holding joint hearings on gambling this Thursday that will be packed with union members who have been bussed into to support something that won’t help them and will harm their communities and their families. The churches will twiddle their thumbs, holding meetings on other topics in other places. The social service groups advocates will demand more money – we don’t care how you get it. The lobbyists will smile and adjust the cuffs of their expensive suits and admire the shine of their expensive shoes. The governor will forget that people elected him not for his managerial skills alone but also for his moral courage.
The decision is still in the hand of legislators, many of whom have staked their entire careers on their progressive records. They don’t realize that they may be about to cast the vote for which they will most be remembered, wiping out the good work they did through years – even decades – in the legislature.
None of us can escape the simple truth that how we raise money to pay for public services says as much about our values as how we spend it.
If a vote comes in the new year to bring in a set of destructive forces because ALL OF US refused to raise our heads for a few minutes from the distractions offered to us by those who are in this for private gain, unless we look with wisdom and compassion to the hills of the future, then we will have sacrificed the principles of the progressive movement, the Democratic party, and the Commonwealth at one stroke.
This is what will happen. Unless there are enough of my friends – and others inside and outside the legislature – who have the courage to stand up and say: