FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Labor Unions and Taft-Hartley

by DAVID MACARAY

Polls show that upwards of 50% of working people say they’d be interested in joining a labor union, but only 12% of America’s workforce is unionized. Even acknowledging that some of those expressing an interest in joining up were fooling themselves and misleading the pollster, there is still a huge number of working people out there who would like to become union members but either don’t quite know how to proceed or, frankly, are too frightened to make their feelings known, fearing management retaliation.

This discrepancy (between the number of those who’d like to join and actual membership) reflects brutal two truths: management has the statutory ability to limit organized labor’s power; and companies are still dedicated to the point of obsession to keeping non-union workers away from union organizers.

While insuring that the workforce remain unrepresented has always been a cat-and-mouse game, one which management has played well through the use of flattery, deceit, rewards and intimidation, the statutory limits on labor’s power are directly traceable to the Taft-Hartley Act, passed in 1947. The Act was passed by a Republican congress, with the help of southern Democrats (“Dixiecrats”), over the veto of President Truman.

Taft-Hartley not only amended or rescinded many of the bedrock components of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (commonly known as the “Wagner Act”), it more or less defanged the labor movement. It domesticated the movement. By adopting a set of “unfair labor practices” (ULPs) that applied to unions in the much the same way that the Wagner Act applied ULPs to management, Taft-Hartley effectively blunted labor’s ability to resort to “radical” action.

Taft-Hartley outlawed the closed shop, eliminated the sanctity of the union shop (allowing “right-to-work” states to exist), enacted a mandatory waiting period before calling a strike, made it illegal to engage in jurisdictional strikes, secondary strikes and boycotts, gave management the right to stall and impede a membership certification vote, and expanded the NLRB’s governing board from three to five members. In a word, Taft-Hartley made unions infinitely more “controllable.”

Right-to-work laws allow employees the privilege of choosing whether to join or not join a union. Prior to Taft-Hartley that right didn’t exist; if you hired into a facility that had a union you were required to join it, or you lost your job. Today there are 22 states with right-to-work laws on the books, mainly in the Deep South and Midwest, and four of them (Arkansas, Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma) include these right-to-work provisions in their state constitutions.

Supporters of right-to-work statutes tend to be anti-collectivist, libertarian wannabes who elevate personal choice to iconic status, and are willing to be paid less and accept substandard benefits in return for the right not to have to join a big, bad workers’ collective. When you consider the simple arithmetic involved, this antipathy to unions, this flat-out rejection of economic advancement via strength-in-numbers, isn’t merely irrational, it’s pitiful.

Then, of course, there’s the whole other matter of “free riders,” those workers who benefit from union wages and benefits by hiring into a union shop but who aren’t required to join the union. They’re able to maintain their ideological “amateur status” while simultaneously drawing a professional wage. Not too shabby.

Also, it’s no coincidence that the overwhelming majority of states with right-to-work laws have significantly poorer safety records than those without them. Say what you will about labor unions, their safety records have always been demonstrably superior to those of non-union facilities, and this has remained true even after passage (in 1970) of OSHA.

Since the enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act there have been a few half-hearted attempts at repealing all or parts of it, most recently under the Carter and Clinton administrations. Vehement Republican opposition and tepid Democratic support were responsible for the defeat of these attempts. There are simply too many lobbying groups opposed to it, too much money arrayed against it, to give anyone hope that the Act will ever be repealed.

But what would the country look like if that were to happen? How would repeal of Taft-Hartley affect organized labor?

In truth, it could be argued that too much has occurred in the intervening 60 years to result in the radicalization of the labor movement. The connection to labor’s revolutionary ideological roots has been severed. The face of the American worker isn’t what it was in 1947.

Yes, without Taft-Hartley there would be more national membership drives, more people being allowed to join unions, all of which would be a salutary, democratic effect of repeal, one that would benefit working people. But, arguably, the country is too “grown-up,” too cynical and world weary, to engage in radical industrial actions such as secondary strikes and boycotts, even if they were made legal.

With so many workers now invested in the stock market, and union expectations and identity having been profoundly warped over the last half-century, it would be hard to find a critical mass willing to engage in the more radical actions made available by repeal of Taft-Hartley. In any event, to get back anything close to the mindset labor once had would require a lengthy period of adjustment.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright and writer, was president and chief contract negotiator of the Assn. of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, Local 672, from 1989 to 2000. He can be reached at: dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

 

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Douglas Valentine
The Real Man’s Ten Commandments
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail