O Labor, Where Art Thou?
It’s astonishing that we have all these people out there—all these wildly opinionated, patriotic folks—who, without any prompting, will spontaneously burst into rhapsodic discourse about how much they admire the “checks and balances” written into the U.S. constitution by our genius Founding Fathers, but who, alas, express nothing but contempt for the working man’s best friend: labor unions.
When you try to compare those constitutional checks and balances they so admire with the de facto “checks and balances” that labor unions contribute to the economy, these people go ape-shit. They become emotional. It’s like we’re suddenly talking about confiscating their guns. It’s no exaggeration to say that these people are more likely to defend the most gargantuan and predatory corporations in the world than acknowledge the modest contributions of even the tiniest, most obscure labor union.
Over the years I’ve had these arguments many times—so many times, in fact, that I’ve broken down the “pro-union catechism” into six, user-friendly components: Resistance, Fair Play, Social Evolution, Consumer Economics, Personal Pride, and the Appeal to General Douglas MacArthur’s Restructuring of Post-World War II Japan.
(1) Resistance: without it, minorities are doomed. (2) Fair Play: it shouldn’t be only the powerful who get the goodies. (3) Evolution: workers collectives are a logical point on the social axis. (4) Economics: the more affluent the consumer, the healthier the economy. (6) Pride: don’t act like sheep. (7) Douglas MacArthur (a right-wing Republican) insisted that post-war Japan establish unions. Why? Because he believed that, without unions, management would have too much of an upper-hand.
Oddly, none of these arguments have ever worked (not even the appeal to MacArthur). Indeed, the most generous reply I’ve ever gotten from these hardcases was the acknowledgement that, while unions were helpful once upon a time (presumably, they’re referring to the 1930s), those days are long gone. Unions of today are not only unhelpful, they are downright harmful. I’ve heard people describe unions as “corrupt,” as “poison,” as “job-killers,” as a “cancer on society.”
And they have the arrogance to say these terrible things with a straight face, even with union membership hovering at only 11.3-percent, even with the wreckage of the middle-class visible all around us, even with the so-called “working poor” growing faster than ever, even with the top 2-percent accumulating wealth at a record pace. Yet these stubborn worshippers of “checks and balances” insist that labor unions are not only an anachronism, but a curse.
Yet, when you drop the big question on them, when you ask how workers can be expected to break Corporate America’s death-grip, they have no answer. They have no remedy. They sheepishly admit they have no solution. All they know for certain is that workers collectives are definitely NOT the way to go. There’s a name for ignorant bastards like these. They’re called “voters.”
David Macaray, CounterPunch’s labor correspondent, is a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd Edition). He was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org