• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

Support Our Annual Fund Drive!fund-drive-progress-thermometer

We only shake our readers down two times a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Management: Your Friend Until They Aren’t

With May Day about a week away, it seems quite appropriate to write about labor’s most obvious opponent: employers and the politicians that serve them.  It is these men and women who write and pass laws designed to ensure labor’s continued exploitation and the capitalist system’s persistent dominance.  It is these men and women who tell working people that they are the backbone of their respective nations while they suck the marrow of their labor, always conspiring to weaken the position of labor and make it subject to the whims of profit and the greed of their market.  Sometimes that exploitation is blatant, as in events like John Rockefeller’s massacre of women and children in the Ludlow, Colorado camp of striking mineworkers or the deaths by fire of textile workers in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in 1911.  More often, however, that exploitation is wrapped in silvery speeches expressing ideals of freedom and respect, patriotism and dignity and a shared sense of purpose between laborer and employer.

It is this latter approach that defines Chad Pearson’s 2015 book Reform or Repression: Organizing America’s Anti-Union Movement. Pearson, a labor historian, takes a nuanced look at the anti-union movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States. The text examines four different cases of the open shop movement’s victories in four different regions of the United States. Three of those regions—Cleveland, Buffalo and Worcester, MA—were strong union towns when the open shop movement began its assault on labor unions. The fourth was the US South, never a place of union strength. In telling his story, Pearson adheres to his framing of the debate within the context of the professed American principles of individualism and merit. The details of his stories make it clear that, when this good cop effort to appeal to working people’s sense of pride and individual worth (and competitiveness), virtually every single employer called in strikebreakers (scabs), private security and the police. In other words, when the “good cop” approach failed, the “bad cops” were called in and told to bring their clubs and guns.51asOYj9urL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_

Today’s anti-union movement is a direct descendant of the one explored in Reform or Repression. Not only is the methodology the same, but the words spoken and written by corporate management and the supplicant media are almost verbatim. If anything, the captains of the current anti-union movements pretend even less that they are trying to help the worker attain some kind of freedom. Indeed, when combined with the campaign against raising the minimum wage, the exportation of jobs overseas, and the details of CEOs exorbitant salaries and bonuses, any pretense at concern for their US workers (or any of their workers, for that matter) is a joke. This text is a portrayal of an anti- worker movement overwhelmingly populated by company owners and management claiming to be in favor of the worker. By emphasizing individual workers over the working class, the capitalist class convinced other workers and citizens alike that nonunion workers were the true Americans and workers in unions were not. While demanding and cajoling workers into abandoning their organized unions, the employers organized into associations with a primary purpose being to break up unions. They did this by shipping scabs to each other’s workplaces, supporting politicians who agreed with their anti-Union philosophy and in at least one instance, arming strike breakers.

The scenarios Pearson examines point out some of the inherent contradictions of the political movement known as Progressivism. This movement is based on the idea that capitalism can be humane and take care of the greater good. As Pearson explains, the liberal proponents of the open shop described in his text seemed to genuinely believe their approach honored the individual worker and their work. Yet, when challenged by union men fighting for respect and decent pay as a class, the liberal factory owners joined with their reactionary brethren to quash the union. In any economic system that depends on the exploitation of those who labor in that system, this outcome is inevitable. When the bosses want to keep their profits and income high and the rising cost of materials conspires with the lower prices in the market due to increased competition, the difference must be made up on the backs of the laborers. This is the fundamental truth of capitalism. It is also why working people who are not organized as a class can never be certain their pay will not be reduced or their jobs will not be lost.

This basic reality of capitalism is why employers organized themselves to fight unions in the period Pearson discusses in his book. It is also why they organize today. Judicious in its exposition and unemotional in its approach, Reform or Repression is an essential book for those hoping to find a historical explanation for the anti-union sentiment always present in the workplace and political arenas of the United States. By examining its relationship to liberal and progressive politics, he has revealed some of the inherent contradictions in those political philosophies and the struggle of working people to organize for their wages and working conditions.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
Anthony DiMaggio
Fake News in Trump’s America
Andrew Levine
Trump’s End Days
Jeffrey St. Clair
High Plains Grifter: the Life and Crimes of George W. Bush
Patrick Cockburn
Kurdish Fighters Always Feared Trump Would be a Treacherous Ally
Paul Street
On the TrumpenLeft and False Equivalence
Dave Lindorff
Sure Trump is ‘Betraying the Kurds!’ But What’s New about That?
Rob Urie
Democrats Impeach Joe Biden, Fiddle as the Planet Burns
Sam Pizzigati
Inequality is Literally Killing Us
Jill Richardson
What Life on the Margins Feels Like
Mitchell Zimmerman
IMPOTUS: Droit de seigneur at Mar-a-Lago
Robert Hunziker
Methane SOS
Lawrence Davidson
Donald Trump, the Christian Warrior
William Hartung – Mandy Smithburger
The Pentagon is Pledging to Reform Itself, Again. It Won’t.
Richard Moser
The Empire Is Running Out of War Stories. Or is it? Will American Exceptionalism Rise Again?
Roger Harris
Why Trump is Facing Impeachment
Doug Lummis
Everything Going Wrong in Okinawa
Ramzy Baroud
Administrative Torture: Free Heba al-Labadi, a Jordanian Citizen in Israeli Prison
Christopher Ketcham
Ode to the Drums of Ginger Baker
W. T. Whitney
Upcoming Elections Represent Testing Time for Bolivia’s Socialist Government
Louis Proyect
Building Soldier Resistance Under the Shadows of Fascism
Mark Ashwill
Reflections on General Giap and the End of an Era in Vietnam
Gabriel Leão
Killing the Messengers: Rising Violence Against Journalists and Indigenous Leaders Defending the Amazon
Graham Peebles
Climate Change: All Talk No Action
Arthur Hoyle
The Meaning of Donald Trump
Dean Baker
Those Quaint Corporate Scandals in Japan
Laura Santina
Take Their Feet Off Our Necks
Julian Vigo
The New Workers’ Revolution is Afoot
Robert Koehler
The Rights of Nature
Dan Bacher
New Report Reveals Oil Waste in CA Aquifers
David Swanson
Trump’s Opponents Have Him Beat . . . When It Comes to Incompetence
Ben Debney
Liberals, Class and the Joker Complex
Brian Wakamo
Paying College Athletes: California Takes on the NCAA
Theo Wuest
Don’t Leave Equality to the Supreme Court
Jesse Jackson
To His Wealthy Donors, Trump is the Grifter
Mairead Maguire
Pathways to Peace
George Wuerthner
Logging Wild and Scenic River Corridors in the Name of Reducing Wildfires is a Really Bad Idea
Tracey L. Rogers
We Can’t Hug Away Injustice
Mike Garrity
How the Alliance for the Wild Rockies Stopped Trump From Bulldozing Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk Grizzly Bears into Extinction
Lawrence Wittner
Why Are Americans So Confused About the Meaning of “Democratic Socialism”?
Nicky Reid
Climate Cthulhu: A Post-Modern Horror Story
Seth Sandronsky
A Sacramento King’s Ransom: Local Tax Dollars and the Owner’s Wealth
Susan Block
Cougar 2020?
David Yearsley
Mother Mallard’s Little Boy Grows Up
Elliot Sperber
Taking Out Columbus
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail