FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Obama: The Bosses’ Friend

“Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen,” Adam Smith noted in The Wealth of Nations, “its counsellors are always the masters.” US president Barack Obama reaffirms this insight with his intervention in the dispute between shipping industry employers and longshore workers on the west coast.

That intervention comes at the behest of retailers concerned over supply chain bottlenecks resulting from the standoff. Obama’s primary motivation is to get cargo unloaded and on the road. “Out of concern for the economic consequences of further delay, the president has directed his Secretary of Labor Tom Perez to travel to California to meet with the parties to urge them to resolve their dispute quickly at the bargaining table.”

Meanwhile, the dispute drags on because management is simply unwilling to meet workers’ demands: Higher pay for weekend work. To resolve the impasse, one side or the other will have to do something it not only currently finds unacceptable, but has consistently found so unacceptable that it prefers leaving ports shut down to doing it. Either the bosses will have to offer higher pay, or the workers will have to return without higher pay. Three guesses which side will bear the brunt of the administration’s pressure to “compromise.”

Obama may or may not order workers back to the docks, but he has that authority under the terms of Taft-Hartley, which permits the president to order a “cooling-off” period in the event of an economically disruptive strike. In other words, the government can simply forbid workers to strike to keep the economy moving. The Republican Congress passed that provision in the late 1940s because they thought organized labor had too much power, not too little.

The general authority to impose a “cooling-off period,” and the specific authority to do so for railroads under earlier legislation, was granted in response to transportation sector strikes that had turned into regional general strikes or even threatened to become national general strikes. The most prominent example was the Pullman railroad strike of the 1890s, widely backed by workers in other industries, which Grover Cleveland broke with federal troops. ILU strikes in the 1930s turned into general strikes involving most of the west coast, as did transport strikes in the midwest. The CIO’s standard playbook was to enlist the support of teamsters who would refuse to haul scab cargo, thereby creating defense in depth up and down the corporate supply and distribution chains.

“Binding arbitration,” along with Taft-Hartley’s prohibitions against sympathy and boycott strikes, was meant to prevent this from ever happening again.

Fortunately workers are able to organize radical unions outside the Wagner framework (created to domesticate them), or engage in unofficial direct action to slow things down even if they belong to Wagner-certified unions. The automobile and other industries were paralyzed by wildcat strikes in the early ’70s despite union leadership’s best efforts to enforce labor contracts against rank-and-file action.

And non-workers can resort to direct action themselves, as evidenced by the success of the #BlockTheBoat campaign against the Israeli Zim shipping company during the IDF’s recent atrocities against the civilian population of Gaza. The shutdown action was joined by dock workers, and was so effective that Zim simply gave up on trying to unload cargo until the action was over. Port shutdowns were also part of the brief Oakland general strike in 2011, after Mayor Qwan’s uniformed thugs stormed the Occupy encampment.

Such actions show great promise. In Ken Macleod’s near-future novel The Star Fraction, an American general strike in protest against the US/UN Hegemony’s worldwide counter-insurgency wars shuts down ports and prevented export of all war materiel, causing America’s war effort to collapse.

When “progressive” states do anything to ostensibly regulate corporations in the “public interest,” they have the corporations for their counselors. Fortunately, we have a far more effective regulatory tool of our own: The monkey-wrench.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. 

 

More articles by:

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
February 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Mayor Mike, Worse Than Mayor Pete
Bruce E. Levine
“Sublime Madness”: Anarchists, Psychiatric Survivors, Emma Goldman & Harriet Tubman
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Leader of the Pack
Jennifer Matsui
The Doomsday Cuckoo Clock
Paul Street
Things Said in Confidence to 4000 Close Friends This Week
Jonathan Cook
Even With Corbyn Gone, Antisemitism Threats Will Keep Destroying the UK Labour Party
Thomas Klikauer
Cambridge Analytica: a Salesgirl’s Report
Joseph Natoli
Vichy Democrats vs. the Master Voice
David Rosen
Sanders vs. the Establishment Democrats: McGovern All Over Again?
Louis Proyect
Marx, Lincoln and Project 1619
Robert Hunziker
Amazon Onslaught
Russell Mokhiber
NPR and the Escalating Attack on Single-Payer Health Care
Ramzy Baroud
Breaking with Washington: Arabs and Muslims Must Take a United Stance for Palestine
Mike Miller
Race and Class: Overcoming the Divides
Michael Brennan
Timeline: How the DNC Manipulated 2016 Presidential Race 
Jacob G. Hornberger
U. S. Lies and Deaths in Afghanistan
Rev. William Alberts
Trump Served Up Projection at the National Prayer Breakfast
Nick Pemberton
The Overwhelming Sex Appeal Of Bernie Sanders
David Swanson
Why This Election Is Different
Dan Bacher
Western States Petroleum Association Tops CA Lobbying Expenses with $8.8 Million Spent in 2019
Christopher Ketcham
The Medium Warps the Message Straight to Our Extinction
Erik Molvar
Trump’s Gutting of NEPA Will Cut the Public Out of Public Lands Decisions
William Kaufman
Tulsi Gabbard: A Political Postmortem
Colin Todhunter
Menace on the Menu in Post-EU Britain
Gregory Elich
Mnangagwa’s Neoliberal Assault on the Zimbabwean People
Ron Jacobs
The Lies of Industry and the Liars Who Sell Them
Binoy Kampmark
Subverting the Blacklist: Kirk Douglas’s Modest Contribution
Tom Engelhardt
The War in Questions: Making Sense of the Age of Carnage
Peter Certo
Who’s Afraid of Socialism?
Brett Wilkins
Dresden, February 1945
Missy Comley Beattie
You’re a Lying, Dog-Faced Pony Soldier
Thomas Knapp
Yes, the ERA Has Been Ratified
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Can the World’s Second Superpower Rise From the Ashes of Twenty Years of War?
Manuel García, Jr.
A Short History of Humanity’s Future
Leonard C. Goodman
The Iowa Fallout and the Democrats’ Shadowy Plot to Stop Sanders
Nilofar Suhrawardy
Delhi Polls: A Storm Over Winner’s “Religious” Acts!
Saad Hafiz
The Unending Human Tragedy in Syria
Jacob Levich
Ocasio-Cortez to Constituents on Bolivian Coup: Drop Dead
Nicky Reid
The Buttigieg Delusion
Gary Leupp
Gramsci and You: an Open Letter to Mayor Pete
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Black America and the Presidents
John Kendall Hawkins
50th Anniversary of Abbie Hoffman’s Intro to STB
Susan Block
Rush Limbaugh Gets Medal for Being the King of Creeps
David Yearsley
Better in Dolby
Peter Harrison
Money is Our Assonance: Seven Short Poems
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail