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With Taft-Hartley repealed, the impediments removed, and a new “worker’s consciousness” in the air, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to expect organized labor’s national membership to rise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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail