FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Labor Unions From Another Angle

In his classic 1971 treatise, A Theory of Justice, American philosopher John Rawls attempts to answer a question that has preoccupied political philosophers, clergymen, social scientists and legal scholars ever since Plato first hung out his shingle.  The question:  What is justice?

To answer it, Rawls assigns us the hypothetical task of establishing a collection of rules and principles guaranteed to be as fair and equitable as humanly possible.  Admittedly, that’s a tall order.  To assist in this endeavor, Rawls employs what he calls a “veil of ignorance,” an ingenious device that prevents us from knowing who we are, what we stand for, or what will personally benefit us.

In establishing these rules and principles, none of us know in advance if we were born a man or woman, black or white, gay or straight, able-bodied or handicapped, smart or average, etc.  It’s Rawls’ belief that the resulting schematic—unencumbered by self-identity or self-interest—would represent what could properly be called “principles of fairness.”  A theory of justice.  It’s a deceptively simple, yet brilliant methodology.

He explains the hypothetical “veil” thusly:

“No one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does anyone know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength, and the like. I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance.”

For example, if none of us knew in advance whether we’d be able-bodied or confined to wheelchairs, we would insist that every building and intersection be handicapped-accessible.  And if we didn’t know whether we’d be born a man or woman, we clearly wouldn’t invent a world where women earned roughly 78-cents for every dollar a man earned, or where women couldn’t vote or voluntarily terminate a pregnancy.

Similarly, no one is going to invent a system of rules and principles that permits slavery or racial discrimination if they themselves could be born as African Americans, just as no one is going to willingly restrict the rights of gays if there was a chance they themselves could grow up to be homosexuals.

Which brings us to organized labor.  Arguably, Rawls’ veil of ignorance would also yield the establishment of labor unions.  Why?  Because unions are intrinsically fair.  If we didn’t know in advance what job we would have—corporate CEO or NASA rocket scientist….or teacher, airline pilot, nurse, retail clerk, electrician or dishwasher—we would inevitably seek protection for the nominal “working class.”

After all, what potential working person would reject the right to join a workers collective dedicated to procuring good wages and benefits along with the assurance of working with dignity?  Even the Koch brothers—if they were nimble-minded enough to imagine what their lives would be like as Mexican dishwashers—would recognize the virtues of such an arrangement.

Thus, a philosophical examination of labor unions shows them to be not only ethically superior but socially and economically essential.  Unions provide the kind of protection American citizens would have invented on their own, had they started from scratch—instead of being forced to invent it on the fly and in self-defense, within the oppressive confines of the Industrial Revolution.

A theological examination yields the same thing.  Given what we know of human nature and the rapaciousness of the profit motive, unions provide the kind of balanced, resistance-based economic justice that God had in mind when He said, “Let there be balanced, resistance-based economic justice.”  And on the seventh day He rested (as stipulated by the union contract).

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”. He served 9 terms as president of AWPPW Local 672. 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

January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail