FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Labor Under Democrats

by DAVID MACARAY

Robert Reich served in three administrations, most recently as Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton.  He is a professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley and the author of twelve books, including The Work of Nations, Locked in the Cabinet, and Supercapitalism.  This interview was conducted on June 2, via e-mail.

Surveys show that roughly 60% of American workers have expressed an interest in belonging to a labor union, yet national membership is barely over 12%.  How do you explain that?

Two things: first, employers are using coercive (and often illegal) methods to discourage unions by intimidating workers, firing workers who organize or help in organizing, and delaying the legal process.  Second, consumers favor lower-cost products made in states or countries that have lower-cost workers, often who are not unionized.

Did the EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act), which would have made joining a union much easier, ever have a realistic chance of passing? What was the main reason it failed, and do you see it passing in the future, even in a modified form? 

It might have passed had it been high on the president’s agenda, and put in play within the first months of his administration.  But it wasn’t high on his agenda.  Once again, the leaders of organized labor got hoodwinked.  It happened in the Clinton administration.  It happened under Carter.  Labor leaders support a Democratic candidate for president, and then are disappointed and surprised when he doesn’t come through.

Do you see the EFCA passing in the future, or has the opposition been sufficiently mobilized?

It could pass, but not in its original form.  Perhaps a much speedier election process, coupled with heavier fines on employers that violated the NRLA.

Given that union jobs offer better wages and benefits, why is there so much hostility toward organized labor in the Deep South? Not just from southern politicians, but from regular working folks, those who could benefit most?

Other than in mining states that border on the south, the south hasn’t had a strong tradition of labor organizing.  Race has interfered.  In the 1930s through the 1950s, the peak years for the labor movement in the north, southern whites held back, worried that union organization would spread to blacks.  Note also that the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (the Wagner Act) did not cover agricultural or domestic workers.  That was no accident.  FDR didn’t want to antagonize southern politicians, who at that time were mostly Democrats.

In what ways could America’s labor unions improve or help themselves?  What are they doing right, and what are they doing wrong?

They continue to make great strides among personal service workers, hospitals, hotel chains, restaurant chains, big-box retail chains, custodians, construction workers, and others who don’t have to worry about global competition or technological displacement.  Many of these workers are very low paid, and they need unions.  The biggest successes among industrial unions are in developing productivity or profit-sharing agreements, such that any contributions they make to the bottom line are shared between them and the company.  The biggest mistake has been a failure to put enough resources into organizing, especially local personal service workers.

Wal-Mart, Inc, with nearly 4,000 stores in the U.S., all of them non-union, has been a thorn in labor’s side.  A hypothetical question:  If you were in charge, how would you make a run at them? 

The only way is through old-fashioned organizing, while at the same time putting heat on Wal-Mart’s suppliers and customers.

Is there still a pro-labor sentiment among academics, or has the intellectual climate of the country shifted?  And if it has shifted, is the phenomenon mainly "generational,” with younger academics being less sympathetic?

Most academics who think about it—who know labor history, understand the contributions unions have made to progressive legislation over the last century, and realize how much the decline in real wages among those without college degrees is attributable to the decline of organized labor—continue to be very supportive.  But I think it’s fair to say that younger academics are less familiar with unions.

Is there any way for labor to engage the Tea Party movement via an appeal to "patriotism"?  By reminding the TP’ers that, unlike union members—who earn every nickel of their wages in this country, and spend every nickel of it here—the Wall Street crowd has no allegiance to anything but the dollar?

Perhaps, but my impression is the Tea Partiers are mainly set against government rather than private centers of power and wealth in the nation.

Although the Democrats have long been regarded as the "party of labor,” that doesn’t seem to be true anymore.  Why don’t more Democrats support organized labor?  Is it a breach in ideology? A fear of being branded "pro-labor" by opponents?

Elected Democrats tend to reflect the values and aspirations of their constituents.  Although organized labor is enormously important in many states—especially in the northeast and California—it is a less visible force in many others.  I don’t see any fear of being branded as pro-labor except in very conservative states and in the Republican Party.

With the deindustrialization of America, is it too farfetched to expect our manufacturing base to make a comeback—even a modest one? What would be required for that to happen?

If by “manufacturing jobs” you mean old-fashioned assembly lines, they’re never coming back.  All over the world they’re being replaced by automated equipment, numerically-controlled machine tools, and robots.  In other words, technology is a bigger force displacing old manufacturing jobs than is globalization.

Given your familiarity with the international labor scene, what are the chances of an IWW-style worldwide labor movement emerging?  Is such an ambitious endeavor even feasible? 

It’s possible.  But nations—even rich nations—face such different labor conditions, laws, and social safety nets that it’s hard to envision an international movement.

How do you think NAFTA, which was passed despite labor’s vehement opposition, has turned out? 

NAFTA was over-feared and over-sold.  Neither the bad consequences predicted came about (jobs didn’t go to Mexico; they went to China), nor did all the good consequences.  (the U.S. didn’t have a huge export boom).

If you see NAFTA as being neither as harmful as its enemies predicted, nor as bountiful as its supporters promised, then what good has it done?

The peso crisis of 1998 would have been far more severe had NAFTA not been in place to calm global investors.

Finally, on a personal note, what are you most proud of having accomplished as Secretary of Labor, and what, if anything, do you most regret not having accomplished?

The Family and Medical Leave Act, the first minimum wage hike in many years, the Pension Protection Act, and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act.  My biggest regret is not having been able to preserve more of Bill Clinton’s investment agenda from the deficit hawks, and build a more solid base of schooling and infrastructure for America’s hard-hit middle and lower-middle class.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor” (available at Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc.) He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WORDS THAT STICK

 

February 09, 2016
Andrew Levine
Hillary Says the Darndest Things
Paul Street
Kill King Capital
Ben Burgis
Lesser Evil Voting and Hillary Clinton’s War on the Poor
Paul Craig Roberts
Are the Payroll Jobs Reports Merely Propaganda Statements?
Fran Quigley
How Corporations Killed Medicine
Ted Rall
How Bernie Can Pay for His Agenda: Slash the Military
Kristin Kolb
The Greatest Bear Rainforest Agreement? A Love Affair, Deferred
Joseph Natoli
Politics and Techno-Consciousness
Hrishikesh Joshi
Selective Attention to Diversity: the Case of Cruz and Rubio
Stavros Mavroudeas
Why Syriza is Sinking in Greece
David Macaray
Attention Peyton Manning: Leave Football and Concentrate on Pizza
Arvin Paranjpe
Opening Your Heart
Kathleen Wallace
Boys, Hell, and the Politics of Vagina Voting
Brian Foley
Interview With a Bernie Broad: We Need to Start Focusing on Positions and Stop Relying on Sexism
February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail