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 “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered, Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail