My Organized Labor Fantasy


Most of us have spent time fanaticizing about stuff.  Like what we would do if we hit the $100 million lottery, or what we would do differently if we could go back to high school, or what it would be like being Mick Jagger for a weekend.  Call me uninspired or boring, but I’ve spent most of my adult fantasy hours imagining what I would do if I were president of the AFL-CIO.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that perception is everything.  While we all like to believe it’s cold, hard facts that dictate our decisions, that simply isn’t true.  It’s images that influence us.  I recall reading that when Marlboro cigarettes introduced the “Marlboro Man” (a rugged cowboy on a horse) way back in the sixties, their cigarette sales jumped by 3,100-percent in one year.  Perception is everything.

Take taxes, for example.  People complain about high taxes.  But when you ask them what the top federal income tax bracket is, most don’t know. When you ask how much one has to earn to be in that bracket, most don’t know.  When you ask what their own tax bracket is, most don’t know.  Even when you get down to something as basic as how much they themselves paid in taxes the previous year, most don’t remember.  All they know for certain is that taxes are too high.

Not only are “high taxes” a matter of perception, the Republicans have, for decades, made “lower taxes” the totemic centerpiece of their Party platform, secure in the knowledge that all they have to do is wave the Low Tax banner and people will rise up and cheer like braying jackasses.  Indeed, the Republicans have gotten so much mileage off this one issue, they could fly to the moon on the gas it’s produced.

Because “facts” matter so little, if I were president of the AFL-CIO, I would abandon all attempts to use statistics to make our case, even though, clearly, there’s a direct correlation between union membership and the prosperity of the middle-class.  When union membership was high, the middle-class flourished, and when union membership was low, the middle-class shrank.  The numbers don’t lie.  But because no one pays attention to numbers, I wouldn’t waste my time on them.

Instead, I would change America’s perception of organized labor.  I would start buying TV spots, hoping to emulate the Marlboro Man ad campaign.  Our labor union ads would not only portray the American worker as noble and patriotic—as the glue that keeps this country together—they would portray those turn-coat corporations that invest in foreign countries (to the detriment of the U.S.) as traitors.  And we would use the word “traitors.”

Our TV commercials would depict those phony “free trade” policies (the ones that enrich American corporations at the expense of the American worker) as a form of treason, and expose those multi-national corporations as the anti-American finks they are.  Is such an approach too “emotional”?  Of course it is.  It’s wildly emotional.  That’s why it would work.  And as for that tired, old lie about the wealthiest one-percent being “job creators,” our clear, hard-hitting advertising campaign would demolish it.

Another thing our commercials would do is destroy the myth that U.S. companies leave this country to avoid paying a “union wage.”  Instead, we would show that what these treasonous companies are really avoiding is paying an “American wage,” because there is no way in hell that Americans can compete with foreign workers making $2.00 per hour—not with a federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Our commercials would boldly accuse Wall Street of trying to reinvent the United States in its own predatory image.  We would accuse Wall Street of trying to change America from a country, from a national community, and turn it into a vast gladiatorial arena where, instead of citizens with common interests and goals, we have only winners and losers.

And given that unions have been unfairly cherry-picked and portrayed as corrupt and greedy, we would list the salaries of the top 100 union leaders in the country, and juxtapose them against those of America’s CEOs and Wall Street bankers.  Compared to businessmen and hedge fund managers, union leaders will appear as paupers.

Our overall message?  Without unions to represent America’s workers, there would be no checks and balances, there would be no push-back, there would be no resistance of any kind, save for the weak labor laws that now exist and are being loop-holed with impunity.  Without a group to represent America’s working men and women, business would have a free, unimpeded hand.  That’s not a hypothetical.  It’s a fact.

If I were president of the AFL-CIO, I wouldn’t waste another nickel on organizing drives.  Instead, I would spend my money launching a big-time, national advertising campaign, one aimed straight at the American psyche.  Organized labor must present a new image.  It must change how its perceived.  Because perception is everything.

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


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

Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
Sam Husseini
A Thanksgiving Day Prayer