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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Historians in Support of the Employee Free Choice Act


Historians in Support of the Employee Free Choice Act
March 14, 2009
By Michael Honey and Fred Haley and Dorothy Haley

Michael Honey's ZSpace Page

One hundred historians have declared their support for the Employee Free Choice Act, introduced into Congress on March 10 by Senator Tom Harkin and Rep. George Miller. The legislation would make it easier for workers to organize unions and harder for employers to evade them. Workers could obtain a union when fifty percent sign cards authorizing a union. The law would also force employers to respond quickly and bargain in good faith or face increased fines and mandatory, binding arbitration by the National Labor Relations Board.

Why are faculty members, who are so notoriously un-organized, speaking on behalf of unions? There are many reasons, but on one level the reason is simple: democracy depends upon it, and our economy needs it.

The last great depression occurred when unions declined to almost nothing in the 1920s. Republican government cut taxes on the rich and removed many of the regulations of the Progressive era, which in turn allowed bankers and corporations to make sky-high profits. The housing and stock market boomed, and the rich got richer. That led to the crash of 1929.

Because labor was not organized, it had almost no restraining influence on government, leading to a vast divide between the rich and the working class. Sound familiar?

In 1935, the Wagner Act made it easier for workers to organize, establishing the right to freedom of association and speech on the job without employer intimidation or interference. The rise of unions paved the way to the Social Security Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and many of the government safety nets we rely upon today.

Because unions gained in strength, workers increased their wages and their buying power. When the economy came out of its stupor during the rapid industrialization of World War II, unions became widespread. The result was the rise of the largest middle class in world history.

This history favors two arguments about the need for labor law reform today. Without unions, government will not reflect the needs of the great majority of people who work for a living. Not only will democracy suffer, but wages will stagnate, people cannot afford to buy what they produce, and our economy will suffer.

Those who have jobs need to be able to advocate for themselves. Employers will not voluntarily raise wages, and government will not do very much to make that happen either. Only workers themselves can do that, but to do it, they need to be able to harness their numbers in an organized way.

Employers will say EFCA takes away the workers right to a secret ballot. It isn't true. If thirty percent or people in a work place petition for it, they can demand a secret ballot election. The trouble is, employer strategies since the 1980s have turned elections into a nightmare of intimidation, delays, and poor results for workers.

EFCA allows that if fifty percent petition for a union, it will take effect immediately. The choice of methods belongs to workers, not to the employers, who seem perfectly capable of protecting themselves. Let's face

it: Labor laws are written to protect workers.

History shows that we are in a time where worker rights need increased protection. Unions are clearly not the answer to every problem. But for capitalism to function in a democratic manner, we need them.

For a list of signers to the historians' petition, and for more information on the Employee Free Choice Act, see the web site (http://LAWCHA.org/tls.php).


By Michael Honey, Fred and Dorothy Haley Professor of Humanities, President, Labor and Working-Class History Association University of Washington, Tacoma http://faculty.washington.edu/mhoney/


Blogger Thaddeus Russell said...

Why is this post here? It has nothing to do with the stated mission of HAW.

2:09 PM  
Blogger David T. Beito said...

It seems that progressive bloggers can post whatever threads they they want, including on domestic progressive issues, such as faculty labor unions while libertarian bloggers are not allowed to post any new thread at all. Can someone please explain this apparent double standard?

2:40 PM  
Blogger RichGibson said...

Since I feel I have more than paid my dues to whatever there is of a labor movement, I will chime in to initially oppose this, with willingness to hear from others.

I don't think this EFCA proposal recognizes either the severity of the current crisis, the nature of the unions these historians want people to join, what will happen to people who do join those unions, and the relationship of most of the union bosses to support for imperialist wars (through for example, their ties to the National Endowment for Democracy, the Meany Center, AIFLD, Solidarity Center, etc). After all, their huge salaries (like Dennis Van Roekel, boss of NEA, at about $450,000 a year plus an expense account he can live on) come in part from the fruits of empire. They know that. The unions are, fully, the empire's unions.

Not a single major labor boss in the US will openly state that workers and bosses have truly contradictory interests, thus obliterating the reason most people think they join unions. And those union bureaucrats behave like that as well. The labor bureaucrats openly support corporate state unionism: the unity of Labor Leaders, the government, and big business, in the national interest.

Worse, the union bureaucrats use violence against their own members who seek reform inside and outside the union. I have seen that happen, and fought the staff thugs in the streets, over and over again. Examples: The Detroit Mack Avenue Sit Down. The Detroit Newspaper strike. The California grocery strike. The Detroit teachers wildcat strike. The Teamster effort to raid the NEA affiliates in Florida....and on and on.

The union bosses support the most reactionary turns in education, such as NEA and AFT's top mis-leaders supporting the Duncan/Obama education project of merit pay, a national curricula, charters, racist high stakes exams, and the militarization of schooling at every level.

Moreover, I know how those unions, like SEIU, go about collecting cards and have no faith whatsoever in their representation. SEIU today is more a multi tiered extortion racket than anything most people think of as a union.

The structure of US unions means they divide people by job, by race, by gender, public vs private workers, etc, more than they unite people.

Few if any unions allow workers to "advocate for themselves," (below). That's nonsense. They won't even carry the overwhelming majority of cases to arbitration, where they usually lose anyway.

Maybe more to the point, the unions promote the idea that they are vending machines, ie, you pay your dues and the union "does" for you. That's doubly wrong. The union doesn't do for you. It does TO you, sells you out. And it demolishes the ideas of solidarity, responsibility, and direct action that are vital today.

The internal structures of every AFL-CIO affiliate that I know of (and I worked for a lot of them) makes it nearly impossible to change them--in the absence of real, dangerous, direct action that would send plenty of honest people to jail.

People inside unions need to keep about nine toes outside the unions and one toe in.

Unions are NOT where the people are, except in some public service jobs and education.

I think this uncritical support for EFCA and the AFL-CIO and its ridiculous splinter Change to Win represents a dreamy and ahistorical view of unions in the US. People who sign on to these unions are typically adding another level of enemies, and they are at the same time offering opportunist routes out for others.

This is not 1929. Uncritical analogies harking back to the days of the Great Depression and the rise of the CIO (which fairly quickly came to be what it set out to oppose) are not especially helpful.

How the signers wrote this document without recognizing the key role of the then activist CPUSA (or Troskyists in Minnesota, or anarchists)--the CPUSA which I see as little more than a leafleting wing of the Democratic Party today-- is beyond me. What caused these historians to erase that significant piece of history? That's especially odd since some of them helped write that history. Gut check?

The authors and signers of this EFCA proposal are educators with a pedagogical and practical project. It's completely wrong. Nobody will learn anything significantly true from the statement since they hid what, presumably, many of them already know.

Capitalism does not act in a democratic manner as this piece suggests. Exploitation is undemocratic. To ask it to do otherwise is, again, dreamy at best.

In sum, there is something dramatically wrong with the analytical abilities of the people who wrote this document, and perhaps the signers as well.

This is class war. Right now. An international war of the rich on the poor, with fascism emerging as a mass popular movement world wide.

The core issue of our time is booming inequality challenged by the potential of a mass class conscious movement dedicated to overcome the system of capital.

Those who seek to steer people out of that reality just worsen the social conditions of all.

Of course, anyone could ask: Then just what should people do? I am ready to answer that, but enough for today.

Good luck to us. Every one. The sky is falling. It would be fun to watch if we were not under it.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Highmesa said...

Boy has this blog ever jumped the shark. There hasn't been a post about our wars, empire or foreign policy in 2 weeks.

Now it's morphed into "Historians Opining on Domestic Policy Change." One less blog to read, which is good since I spend too much time reading blogs anyway.

11:43 AM  

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