The labor fight is dead. Long live the labor fight.
There are not so many things as misaligned in American culture as the worker’s union. I’ve worked in several offices, shops, and warehouses in which unions were denigrated not just by management but by the workers as well. This always seemed absurd to me. Any mention of a union activity always met opposition from the very people it would have helped. I never understood why until this past year. In the past year unions across the country took in donations and gave them to politicians, but the unions never did much else. The politicians, usually Democrats, sort of support the union, but not emphatically. When my erstwhile coworkers used to tell me “Unions are almost as bad as the bosses,” or “Unions take our money and what do they do for us?” I’d launch into the same old song and dance about 8-hour workdays, lunch breaks, child labor laws, and weekends and such. (Everyone knows what unions did for us back then.) And those things are true, but you know what, my coworkers were also right. American unions these days aren’t progressing the conversation, they’re not moving the chains, they’re not agitating and striking for new radical rights. This is why so many Americans don’t support them.
No American politicians (or union bosses for that matter) support real workers rights. How many union bosses are on TV talking about radical reform in America for such things as free housing, 20-hour work weeks, living wages, or free education? None of them. How many are striking right now? None of them. The 8-hour day was a radical thing. The weekend was a radical thing. Pensions were radical concepts at the time. Child labor laws were radical ideas. And all of those were opposed extensively by business interests. Unions don’t do that anymore. They haven’t done much in the past 30 years. They just kept giving campaign funds to weakling Democrats so that the Dem can keep the right-wing from running completely roughshod over the union: it’s a lazy and convenient dance.
Here’s something to consider though: it’s not the labor unions fault for being wimpy milksops. The labor unions exist within a framework of laws designed by business interests. The most famous of these laws is the Taft-Hartley act which says that communists and convicted felons can’t act as labor union executives. You may think you don’t want “convicted felons” heading up any organization, but think of a labor leader who locks arms and won’t let police pass; that labor leader is instantly ineligible for president, vice president, treasurer or any other executive position within the union just for the simple act of union picketing. The 1947 Taft-Hartley act also states that before a union can strike it must give several state and federal agencies 80 days’ notice. (There’s a blister of an action ain’t it? “We’re so pissed off at how badly we’ve been treated! We’re telling you right now that almost three months from today we might do something about it!”) Taft-Hartley set up the National Labor Relations Board, the NLRB, to make sure unions play by these business-friendly rules and it also states that a President of the United States can intervene into worker strikes. You think this might be a throwback to union-busting days of iron and railroad workers, but George W. Bush invoked this against dockworkers in 2001.
In short, American unions are weak, and they got that way by design.
Contrast this with overseas labor actions. Look at the strikes, riots, and agitation in Europe and Australia! Spanish miners shoot handmade rockets at police and management. Greeks lock out businesses and smash storefronts of unfair shops. In Australia, Domino’s pizza cut the wages of its delivery drivers so anarcho-syndicalists hand out coupons for free homemade pizzas outside Domino’s shops. The IWW in England is organizing sex workers –telephone operators, prostitutes, dancers, porn actors, etc.—into unions so that bosses and customers can’t take advantage of them.
Now, on Labor Day, when you mention union action to your friends and they say “Meh, what do unions do?” You can tell them that unions are hamstrung in this country, completely locked down by onerous laws. When the bloated visage of union organizers wheeze on about support for some Democrat, keep your money! If you’re already in a union, pressure them to act instead of donate. If you want to organize your shop, consider the IWW. When a Republican says that we have too much regulation in this country, tell him he’s right, we should repeal Taft-Hartley and see what happens!
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