My Organized Labor Fantasy

by DAVID MACARAY

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

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

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”