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

January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail