Tuesday, January 06, 2009

"Employee Free Choice" and Leverage

Daily Kos, known in some circles as "the great Orange Satan," runs a scintillating think-piece on the Employee Free Choice Act:

...[P]eople don't [form labor unions] because it's ideologically satisfying -- they do it because they want their share. They want a safe workplace. They want better wages. They want the security of health insurance. They want retirement security. They want fair treatment on the job. And ... it's nigh impossible to get those things without organization in the workplace - without all the employees of a company standing together to demand their fair share.

In case you don't know about the Employee Free Choice Act, it's a proposed law that would make it easier for unions to organize companies large and small.

Unremarkably, companies large and small are rabidly against it. Also unremarkably, I think it's a pretty good idea. But I have evolved.

In my dreamy-eyed youth, I was an Eisenhower-Nixon Republican, a Goldwater conservative, and then ... a lacklustre Democrat who voted for Ronald Reagan and Richard Milhous Nixon.

I voted the way I did because I believed that moving toward some horrid "resdistributionist" society on the order of wicked Europe was a bad idea, and bad for the country. And since the GOP was against those things (I thought), I gave the Republicans my vote.

I believed, naive youth that I was, that people who worked hard and made a kazillion dollars deserved every greenback because they were more meritorious, and that the people who earned less were just ... you know ... less deserving.

But then I became an adult, and saw how things actually worked. And realized my earlier world view was delusional.

Today, before I'm a Democrat or a Liberal or anything else, I am a classical cynic. I understand that we live in a corporatist state, that merit and hard work often have nothing to do with the amount of money somebody rakes in, but that the part of town they were born in ... and who they know is often the determining factor.

See, it isn't about fairness, or Horatio Alger, or being on the side of "good", whatever that means. Elbow grease and stick-to-itiveness have their place, but as Malcolm Gladwell says in Outliers, when and where you're conceived, and with what opportunities, are big-time influences on how you'll end up.

So I think of the Employee Free Choice Act as a little leverage to improve your chances for a decent living and satisfactory retirement. A way to expand opportunities for people who aren't gifted with parents who are doctors, lawyers or research scientists. Who don't live in a gated community with access to an ivy league university.

Historical statistics are compelling. When the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was enacted into law, unionism flowered and the Middle Class enjoyed thirty-five years of steady expansion. Since the early 1970s, however, when the percentage of union-represented employees peaked, the earning power of the average working stiff has steadily declined.

I don't think this is some kind of weird coincidence. I think that one stat is connected to the other, and I think that here in 2009 it's become pretty clear to see. The current government has dropped their earlier song-and-dance about the glories of the free market determines winners and loser, and if you're on the wrong side of the line, tough.

Anybody with eyes and a brain understands that our hundred million dollar corporate leaders aren't going to sit still for this "free enterprise" thing if it means losing everything and swirling down the drain. They are now, all of a sudden, strong advocates for socialism.

What a surprise.

So at this stage of my illustrious career, I'm an advocate for getting the Employee Free Choice Act signed into law, because it (slightly) levels the playing field and gives people who aren't gifted with stock options but only their weekly paychecks an easier way to better their condition.

Of course, as a classical cynic, I don't think passage of this legislation will be easy. Corporate heads might now be in favor of government protections and assistance, but the Federal manna applies only to them them, not for the chumps down the food chain making twelve bucks an hour.

Remember, we only want to take the New Socialism so far.


Anonymous said...

Exactly where can I read word-for-word the Employee Free Choice Act for myself, exactly as it hopes to be passed? CNN, FOX, and everyone else seems to lack the motivation to point me in that direction. They all have more commercial priorities, of course.

Then, I can compare this version with the version that does actually pass.

Finally, I will be able to recognize the fatal flaws that will create the usual unintended consequences that powerful small groups of legal bodies throughout history have doomed the masses to, over and over and over again.

Management or labor, you all use the same blunt-force manifestos from on high to 'unintentionally' promote your careers.

Now that's cynical.

Anonymous said...


good luck. it's all lawyers, this world. we're going to spend the next two terms unraveling the lawyer-speak of the last two terms. then we can move on to unraveling this pile of shite.

Jeff Massie said...

The version passed by the House in 2007 is here.

The version introduced in the Senate is here.

Steve Hulett said...

Then, I can compare this version with the version that does actually pass.

As I say above, I don't think it will pass. (Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised, but I think not.)

And I would disagree with you about labor using blunt-force to gain its wicked ends.

Unions haven't had that kind of power in forty or more years. FOr most of the time I've been an adut, corporations have ruled the roost.

Anonymous said...

Steve lay off the politics. Your constant bitching and crying about the evil corporations and free markets blah blah blah is turning me off your side more than anything I can think of.

NoamChomsky said...


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