FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Return of the Yellow Dog

by DAVID MACARAY

With Labor Day weekend approaching, it’s appropriate to take a moment and consider the status of the American worker.  Given the unemployment figures, the devastating export of American jobs to foreign countries, and, accordingly, the paucity of full-time jobs that offer decent pay and good benefits, it’s not a very encouraging picture.  In fact, it’s fairly bleak.

One doesn’t have to be a hardcore cynic to ask why we continue to celebrate Labor Day.  Clearly, the patriotic aspect of this once-exalted holiday is long gone.  No one is interested in glorifying the American worker—not John Q. Public, not the beleaguered workers themselves, and certainly not the companies employing them.  In truth, the only purpose Labor Day now serves is providing the last 3-day weekend of summer.

Not surprisingly, U.S. companies continue to thrive.  In November, 2010 (in the midst of a debilitating recession), the Department of Commerce reported that U.S. companies just had their best quarter . . . ever.   That statement bears repeating.  U.S. companies had their best quarter ever.  Businesses recorded profits at an annual rate of $1.66 trillion in the third quarter of 2010, which is the highest rate (in non-inflation-adjusted figures) since the government began keeping records more than 60 years ago.

That statistic tends to confuse people.  They naturally assume that when you have one of the worst recessions in American history, one that followed the biggest financial crash since the Great Depression, the fallout is going to affect everyone, not just the people on the bottom—the ones who lost their jobs or their homes or had their pay cut—but America’s corporations as well.  But that didn’t happen.

Corporate America is doing amazingly well.  And when you take a moment to consider it, you realize why.  They have not only laid off millions of workers, they have cut or squeezed the wages of those who remained.  Their payrolls are modest.  That represents an enormous, unprecedented savings in overhead.  With skeletal, understaffed, underpaid workforces looking just to hang on because they’re afraid of losing their jobs, these businesses are flush.  The only thing they have left to whine about is their taxes.

But just when you thought things couldn’t sink any lower, there are reports that some of these employers are engaging in the same anti-union mischief that was done way back in the 1870s and 1880s.  American companies are now asking their non-union employees to sign documents promising that they will never join a labor union.

Such agreements, prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were called “yellow dog contracts,” and signing one was a condition of employment.  They wouldn’t hire you unless you signed it.  And if you signed a yellow dog contract, and were caught trying to organize or join a union, you could be fired on the spot.  They played rough in those days.  They hated unions and did anything in their power—legal or illegal—to keep them out.

Although the final step in making yellow dog contracts illegal was the 1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act, there were several intermediate steps leading up to its prohibition, including several states (beginning with New York) passing laws making them illegal, and passage in 1898 of the Erdman Act, which banned railroads from such restrictions (although portions of Erdman were later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court).

That today’s businesses would resort to something so nakedly anti-union as having employees sign yellow dog clauses shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Not only does anti-union sentiment among the American public run fairly high, but U.S. businesses see themselves as invincible.  What are they afraid of?  Having their wrist slapped by the Department of Labor?  Having a handful of picketers march outside their gates?

Because these “agreements” are unenforceable, the AFL-CIO advises job applicants to go ahead and sign them.  After all, jobs are already hard enough to get without making them harder.  As for established workers, they should sign them also.  You don’t want to get passed up for a promotion because you sounded vaguely pro-union.

Again, because these agreements aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, people need to be smart and do what’s necessary.  We live in a world turned upside down.  Unions not only used to be respected, they were more or less admired.  But today, with the rise of Corporationism, unions have come to be seen as the enemy.  Unions are now something to be ashamed of.  They’re a menace.  Happy Labor Day.

DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.   He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

COMING IN SEPTEMBER

A Special Memorial Issue of CounterPunch

Featuring recollections of Alexander Cockburn from Jeffrey St. Clair, Peter Linebaugh, Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky, Mike Whitney, Doug Peacock, Perry Anderson, Becky Grant, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Neumann, Susannah Hecht, P. Sainath, Ben Tripp, Alison Weir, James Ridgeway, JoAnn Wypijewski, John Strausbaugh, Pierre Sprey, Carolyn Cooke, Conn Hallinan, James Wolcott, Laura Flanders, Ken Silverstein, Tariq Ali and many others …

Subscribe to CounterPunch Today to Reserve Your Copy

 

 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail