FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Union Fable

by DAVID MACARAY

Playing off Barack Obama’s inspiring book title, “The Audacity of Hope,” let’s take a moment to consider something that, for organized labor, which, seemingly, has lain dormant for decades, is not only audacious and hopeful, but wildly tantalizing.

Let’s consider the following scenario:

(1) Obama becomes president;

(2) the Democrats win an additional 20-30 seats in the House of Representatives;

(3) they secure a minimum of 60 seats in the Senate; and

(4) they have the moral courage to do something institutionally audacious to help working Americans.

For openers, Obama winning the presidency and the Democrats taking 20-30 additional seats in the House is not only reasonable, it’s quite plausible.  In fact, by October, with all that Obama vs. Hillary hostility having long ago melted into the political landscape, such an outcome might even be likely, given how difficult it will be for John McCain to overcome the toxic legacy of the Bush administration.

Getting those 60 senate seats is another story.  It will be a longshot, at best.  The reason “60” is a magic number is because it’s the minimum number of senate votes required for cloture (the ability to break a filibuster), thereby giving the party in power an enormous advantage.

And even with 60 seats secured, there are those who would argue that getting the Democrats to go out on a limb for labor, despite all that congressional muscle and arithmetic to back them up, will be a miracle, that faced with a genuine opportunity to rejuvenate organized labor, the Democrats will ultimately chicken out.

But let’s remain optimistic, and speculate.  Let’s say the Democrats win the White House, increase their majority in the House, get those 60 seats in the Senate, and then (stay with me) go off on a holy crusade to restore organized labor’s once substantial role in the American economy by repealing the Taft-Hartley Act and passing a law prohibiting the permanent replacement of striking workers.  What would happen?

With Taft-Hartley repealed, the impediments removed, and a new “worker’s consciousness” in the air, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to expect organized labor’s national membership to rise from its current 12% to something closer to 30%, which would be fairly close to its all-time high of 35%.

Where would these new union members come from?  With all the obstacles and bad vibes gone away, they could be expected to be drawn largely from retail clerks, culinary, and clerical workers, many of whom had never considered organized labor a viable option; from coal miners (shockingly, only 27% of which are unionized) and truck drivers (only 19% are union); and from the 13.7 million American factory workers who are not currently signed up.

Besides representing a sea change in our national consciousness, what would the result be?  How would having 30% of the American workforce suddenly belonging to labor unions affect the economy?

For one thing, given organized labor’s exemplary record of providing safe working environments (check out union coal mines vs. non-union), industrial accidents would drop significantly.  For another, productivity could be expected to improve.  When Henry Ford famously raised his workers’ pay to $5 per day, he expected production to rise more than proportionately . . . which it did.

A fact that’s often overlooked in all this globalization rhetoric is that Americans are extremely productive workers—some say the best in the world.  Moreover, it’s been demonstrated that businesses offering superior wages and benefits (i.e., union shops) tend to attract a higher caliber worker than those offering inferior ones.  Think about it.  Which job will attract better people—the shabby hole-in-the wall, or the classy enterprise?

For another, with businesses now forced to negotiate benefits packages that include employee medical insurance, there will likely be pressure placed on the government to adopt some sort of national health care reform, which would be a monumental step in the right direction.

Of course, the counter-argument will be that a vastly increased union membership (and the 10-15% increase in wages and bennies that go with it) will force business owners to seek drastic remedies.  It will be argued that they’ll be forced to move to a cheaper state or even a foreign country, or have to shut down their businesses altogether and go on welfare.

But with the barriers removed, these hysterical scare tactics will be exposed for what they are.  The obscenely high salaries of company executives may be dinged a bit, and the stock market might take some time to readjust, but paying workers a livable wage won’t result in a cataclysm or full-scale migration.

First of all, businesses don’t move to foreign countries to avoid paying a union wage; they move to avoid paying an American wage.  You don’t pull up stakes and move to Guatemala because your forklift drivers go from a non-union $14.50 an hour to a union $16; you move there because you can hire drivers for $2 per hour.

In more innocent and wholesome times, an American businessman who was selfish and unpatriotic enough to move his operation to an impoverished foreign country run by an unenlightened government (thus leaving his workers and their families in the lurch) would have been called a “traitor.”  In today’s corporate-dominated climate that same businessman is considered “shrewd.”

Secondly, as for moving to an anti-union region of the U.S., with Taft-Hartley repealed, the Deep South will be in danger of losing his longstanding amateur status.  Many of those time-honored intimidation and propaganda techniques that were used to keep employees at bay simply won’t work anymore.

The realization will be dramatic.  It will be like perestroika in the former Soviet Union, or dogs let out of the yard for the first time.  With the skids now greased, employees will be able to decide freely and openly whether or not they wish to join a worker’s collective.  It could happen.

Alas, a reality check.  As promising as this scenario sounds, let’s be honest.  It could turn out to be little more than an ambitious dream, a fantasy.  Indeed, there are many people who believe that American politicians, despite their noble promises and egalitarian oratory, favor keeping the American worker in a permanent state of “neediness.”

There are people who believe that not only the Republicans, but the Democrats as well, fear giving the working class anything close to the strength-in-numbers hegemony it had during the 1940s and 1950s, because increased numbers bring increased influence, and increased influence can be dangerous.

In any event, two things are certain:  Americans are extremely good workers, and the working man or woman’s only realistic hope for a better life is by applying pressure to those who control the payroll.   And, for now, the only way to apply that pressure is by organizing.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was a former labor union rep.  He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and Henry the First: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail