Waging War on US Workers
by Stephen Lendman
America’s war on workers dates from the 19th century. Labor learned the hard way what it takes to win.
It requires organizing, pressing demands, taking to the streets, going on strike, holding boycotts, battling police and National Guard forces supporting management, as wells paying with blood and lives to get results.
They came. Workers got an eight hour day, a living wage, important benefits, pensions, and passage of the landmark 1935 Wagner Act. For the first time, labor could bargain collectively with management on equal terms.
Grassroots struggles prevailed. Management and government give nothing unless forced to. Today, virtually everything gained was lost. Federal, state and local Republicans and Democrats wage war on worker rights.
Obama did straightaway in office. Serving business ahead of workers became policy. In March 2009, he told auto executives, “We cannot, must not, and will not let this industry vanish.”
His message was clear. Business got bailed out. Labor got sold out. Rank and file members were forced to make painful concessions.
They include permanent job losses, temp or part-time employment in place of full-time work, lower wages, fewer benefits, gutted work rules, forfeited security through pensions and retirement benefits, as well as other sacrifices.
Obama showed Democrats can trash worker rights like Republicans. He wants them treated with 19th century harshness.
Organized labor is a shadow of its former self. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder delivered the latest blow. On December 11, he signed right-to-work legislation. It takes effect in April. More on Michigan below.
Twenty-three other states have similar laws.The 1947 Taft-Hartley Labor-Management Relations Act precipitated labor’s decline. It’s one-sidedly pro-corporate.
Harry Truman called it a “slave labor bill.” He hypocritically used it 10 times. No president since matched him. It destroyed hard won Wagner Act benefits.
Union violators face stiff penalties. Corporate bosses at most get hand slaps. “Unfair (union) labor practices” were enacted.
They include jurisdictional strikes (relating to job assignments), secondary boycotts (against firms doing business with companies struck), wildcat strikes, sit-downs, slow-downs, mass-picketing against scabs, closed shops (mandating union membership), and more.
At the same time, Taft-Hartley legalized employer interventions aimed at preventing union organizing. Doing so seriously eroded union bargaining power. Workers were headed on a slippery slope toward losing all rights.
Presidents are empowered to halt strikes by court-ordered injunction for 80 days. They can claim national security or whatever reasons they invent.
Under Section 14(b), states may enact laws exempting workers from union membership as a condition of employment.
Right-to-work laws prohibit unions and workers from entering into agreements requiring they join. They also forbid mandating dues and fees be paid to stay employed.
Although union shops are allowed, states can proscribe them. Non-union members in companies having them get the same benefits as organized workers. Unions call them “free riders.”
Right-to-work advocates argue that union membership shouldn’t be a condition of employment. Organized labor believes that right-to-work laws let “free riders” benefit at the expense of union members.
Unions also say these laws weaken organized labor en route to destroying it altogether. They attack collective bargaining and worker rights. They earn on average $1,500 less pay and fewer benefits.
Mostly southern and western states have these laws.
Northern ones include Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and now Michigan. Once it was one of the most unionized states in America. No longer.
Less than 20% of its public and private workers are organized. Right-to-work legislation assures many more will lose out.
Indiana, under Republican Governor Mitch Daniels, became the first midwest state to adopt right-to-work. It was the first state to do so since Oklahoma in 2001.
Union bosses bear much responsibility. They resist weakly, then yield. They accept false notions that lower wages and fewer benefits make companies and states more competitive. They betray their rank and file in the process.
A race to the bottom heads workers toward near wage slave status. In November 2003, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) offered hope. It went nowhere during Bush’s tenure. Obama was no friendlier.
In July 2009, he and Senate Democrats agreed to eliminate EFCA’s “card check” provision from pending legislation.
It would have required employers to recognize the right to organize once most workers signed union cards freely and openly. Hope for passage died. So did worker rights.
Union bosses side more with management than rank and file. So do government officials. The UAW reflects organized labor’s decline. At about 380,000, its membership barely exceeds one-third its total eight years ago.
In the 1950s, about 35% of workers were organized. In 1979, it was around 24%. At the end of the Reagan era, it was 16.8%. In 2007, it was 12%. In 2011, it was 11.8% and declining.
Public union membership is about 37%. Less than 7% of private workers are organized. It’s the lowest percentage in over 100 years. Unionized worker membership is the lowest since Depression era organizing struggles.
Democrats, Republicans and union bosses conspire to let workers live or die by market-based rules rigged against them.
Michigan is the latest battleground. Right-to-work was enacted. United Auto Workers (UAW) bosses did nothing to block it. They betrayed their rank and file. They did numerous times before.
Other union heads operate the same way. They feign worker support while conspiring against them behind their backs. They’re well compensated for selling out.
They’re not about to sacrifice their own welfare for rank and file members they represent.
Workers have been ill-represented for decades. The 1981 PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) strike was seminal. It was a shot across organized labor’s bow.
Over 11,000 workers lost jobs. AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland conspired with Ronald Reagan in union-busting. During the 1980s alone, coal miner, steel worker, bus driver, airline worker, copper miner, auto worker, and meatpacker strikes were defeated.
Union bosses sold out worker interests. They virtually abandoned their most effective weapon. They rarely strike. They block collective struggle.
They tell rank and file members one thing, then spurn them privately. UAW president Bob King conspired with Michigan Governor Snyder the way he and other union bosses do with management.
Dues workers pay goes to anti-worker Democrats. It also affords union bosses substantial six-figure salaries, generous benefits, and affluent lifestyles.
In January, King spent thousands of dollars of union dues traveling to Davos, Switzerland. He participated in the 2012 World Economic Forum.
Global high-level business, political, media, academic, think tank, and union bosses met. Each year, they flaunt predatory capitalism and party. They plot year ahead strategies.
They advance their own interests at the expense or workers and others losing out. They do it annually. Showing up makes union bosses complicit in securing the divine right of capital.
No wonder unionism today is a shadow of its former self. It’s headed for extinction without committed worker activism to save it.
Union bosses are their enemies, not allies. Rank and file members are on their own to fight back. They won’t regain lost rights any other way.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.