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“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
–Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
One would have to be a dyed-in-the-wool Pollyanna or plain fool not to recognize that labor unions in this country, despite all the good they’ve done and continue to do, are fighting for their collective lives. Indeed, it requires every resource at labor’s disposal just to keep their heads above water. Things are grim.
On one side, unions face a deadly, triple-threat combination—Corporate America looking to outsource everything that can be manufactured or digitalized; Joe Citizen buying into all the anti-labor propaganda he’s being bombarded with; and Republican lawmakers seeking to further marginalize unions through the courts and government agencies.
Alternatively, on the other side, unions face their traditional allies and benefactors, the Democrats, who continue to embarrass themselves and disappoint the Movement by pretending to be organized labor’s staunch supporter, yet rarely go out on a limb to help. Meanwhile, the once proud and healthy middle-class continues to be chipped away.
This is not to say the battle is over, or that, despite their woeful current predicament, unions aren’t capable of making a dramatic comeback. In fact, given the climate of the country and the fundamental dichotomy and tension that has always existed between labor and management (in spite of those slick “We’re all on the same team” slogans), it can be argued that labor’s eventual resurgence, in one form or another, is almost guaranteed.
Still, just when it seemed that organized labor had been battered, slandered and beaten down about as much as it could be, we find that there’s no end to it. New plots continue to be hatched, new enemies continue to be recruited.
For those wondering whatever happened to Steve Forbes, the one-time Republican presidential candidate and radical flat tax disciple, he has recently resurfaced as a shill for a virulently anti-union organization called the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF).
In a letter dated April 28, 2008, Forbes implored the readers on his mailing list to heed the dangers posed by America’s labor unions, and urged them to fill out the enclosed questionnaire and mail it back immediately. His 4-page letter is filled with anti-union diatribe. Here’s a sample:
“Fueled by massive forced-dues dollars seized from employees as a condition of employment, union bosses are now on a legislative rampage to help the new far-left majority. Big Labor is pulling out all the stops to:
block the appointment of qualified judges on the nations’ Federal courts;
further reduce parental control over their children’s education and hand it to unaccountable teacher unions and government bureaucrats;
stop lawsuit and medical malpractice reform needed to restrain greedy trial lawyers
retain the unfair federal “Death Tax” and cancel the Bush tax cuts; and
seize new powers to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in forced union dues.”
The questionnaire (titled “Voter Opinion Survey on Big Labor”) consists of nine questions, most of them emotionally loaded, categorical and wildly misleading.
Question #1: “Do you think American workers should be fired for refusing to pay dues to a union?”
Question #6: “Do you think union violence should continue to enjoy legal immunity under federal law and the laws of more than 15 states?”
Question #8: “Do you believe that public employees such as police and firefighters should be forced to join labor unions?”
Very weird stuff.
Instead of focusing their outrage and fury on the federal government—for wantonly violating the civil liberties of American citizens, spending billions of dollars a month on an unpopular war, propping up maggoty oligarchies all over the globe, and bailing out greedy Wall Street investors (not to mention engaging in perjury and every other manner of deception)—this NRTWLDF group feels compelled to go after working men and women.
Of course, these are the same folks who opposed the establishment of a mandatory federal minimum wage and the creation of OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration), and who favor privatizing social security. By and large, they’re the same closet-plutocrats who claim to “respect” working people but try to conceal the fact that the average American worker hasn’t received an actual (allowing for cost of living) wage increase since 1973.
Because these anti-union zealots can’t come out and honestly say what they really feel—i.e., that the notion of common working people getting a substantially larger slice of the pie makes them ill—they attack the organizations representing these workers. They use lurid, smear tactics in their attack, depicting labor unions as corrupt, dictatorial and greedy. The following paragraph is taken from the second page of Forbes’ letter:
“For America’s workers, it’s not much of a choice. Either pay tribute to labor chieftains or lose their jobs. But for union bosses, it’s like cashing in a giant lottery jackpot every day of the year. And their lust for money is nearly endless.”
If the ideology being peddled here weren’t so scary and potentially dangerous, that paragraph would actually be funny . . . funny in the same way the movie “Reefer Madness” was funny. Unfortunately, the stakes are too high to appreciate the humor.
It’s hard to understand why class distinctions remain so powerful in America. People don’t flinch when they hear of a hedge fund manager, like John Paulus, who made $2.5 billion in 2007 via the quasi-legal manipulation of money, yet they get downright resentful when they hear of a group of janitors asking to be paid $14/hour ($29,000 annually). It’s hard to understand. And it ain’t fair.
DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org