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Labor accepting permanent defeat?

2010 November 20
by Ian Welsh

This is exactly what you MUST never do as a union:

Even at manufacturing companies that are profitable, union workers are reluctantly agreeing to tiered contracts that create two levels of pay.

In years past, two-tiered systems were used to drive down costs in hard times, but mainly at companies already in trouble. And those arrangements, at the insistence of the unions, were designed, in most cases, to expire in a few years.

Now, the managers of some marquee companies are aiming to make this concession permanent. If they are successful, their contracts could become blueprints for other companies in other cities, extending a wage system that would be a startling retreat for labor.

Doing this splits the union.  Solidarity is the first rule of unions, if you sell anyone down the river, you weaken yourself fatally.

On a larger scale, the destruction of unions remains job #1 of the oligarchy, especially that part of the oligarchy which prefers Republicans to Democrats.  Why?

  • Because union members vote Democratic, even if they are part of a demographic which normally vote Republican.
  • Because the oligarchy’s overall goal is to crush wages and benefits, both to pay for their bailouts and as a permanent, long-running goal. They do not really believe that domestic consumer demand is necessary to their own prosperity, and prefer workers who are in permanent debt-slavery.  For a generation and a half now they have made most of their money through leveraged financial games, asset bubbles and by offshoring and outsourcing jobs.  American workers are nothing to them, less than nothing.

Update: My friend Matt Stoller has up his first blog post in about 2 years, on debt-peonage.  A good read and some interesting information on where the phrase “the man” originally came from.  I’m sad Grayson lost, but it’s nice that Matt can write again.

19 Responses
  1. Celsius 233 permalink
    November 20, 2010

    I’ve been a member of the Teamsters; good unions are good for workers; corrupt unions are very bad for workers; the teamsters were corrupt! This was a long time ago.
    I also came up through the union busting of the Reagan era and witnessed the Oligarchs destroy the labor movement in the U.S.
    When your government supports denying bread on the table, home ownership, and the promise of the American dream that effectively scared the workers away from any effective actions. The few who fought were crushed.
    Governments and Oligarchs have always done what they do; so, it’s incumbent on the workers to deny their skills without just compensation; that didn’t happen because there was no solidarity among the general population with the workers plight and those workers caved in to the pressure. This was the beginning of the dismantling of the blue collar skilled worker class, who actually made things. I was proudly a big part of that for over 30 years. I left the trade because I spoke up and fought like hell and it damn near ruined me.
    It was also the beginning of off-shoring important technologies such as casting and pattern making; along with tool and die makers. It’s taken over 40 years to completely destroy the skilled manufacturing class known as the blue collar workers; but it’s now complete and one can cry a river; but it’s been there all along for anybody to see…but nobody cared because the were kept distracted by politics, bullshit, lies, fraud, wars, and general white collar crimes. More importantly “they” believed; I no longer believe anything.
    So, cry me a river of crocodile tears for the complete fucking destruction of an economy of lies and a society built on fantasy; good riddance.
    Anybody who says they didn’t see this coming is a fool or a liar!
    This could be a beginning of something, an opportunity. It will take special people; rejecting capitalism and refusing the capitalist model of economic independence. But that’s another topic isn’t it? Cheers.

  2. Chris permalink
    November 20, 2010

    Oh god, we’re f*cked. There is no counter-weight to the kleptocracy.
    I see this as the beginning of the 5th century Rome. People survived, life went on.

  3. November 20, 2010

    Their are elements of the uaw that have been trying to rebell against their sellout leaders. The California Nurses tried to form a different union from seiu. There has also been an attempt at rebellion against the the uaw’s corrupt leadership but nobody writes or cares about it.

  4. Celsius 233 permalink
    November 20, 2010

    Dameocrat PERMALINK
    November 20, 2010
    Their are elements of the uaw that have been trying to rebell against their sellout leaders. The California Nurses tried to form a different union from seiu. There has also been an attempt at rebellion against the the uaw’s corrupt leadership but nobody writes or cares about it.
    ====================================================
    There you go! And here we are!

  5. Celsius 233 permalink
    November 20, 2010

    When one says “LABOR”; is one speaking of/about the workers? Or the political, sellout hacks, of the hierarchy who allege to represent the workers?
    One must understand that LABOR was sold out 40 years ago; maybe they’re just coming to grips with that; but I doubt that because it’s too late!
    It’s almost too late for any meaningful change: my advice…get out while you can.

  6. grayslady permalink
    November 20, 2010

    Great piece, Ian. One of the few unions that has not caved is the one representing the AT&T workers. I spoke with an AT&T tech a year ago about their union negotiations, and he told me that the union had refused to go with a two-tier approach. The union was successful.

  7. November 20, 2010

    Doing this splits the union. Solidarity is the first rule of unions, if you sell anyone down the river, you weaken yourself fatally.

    Yep. And this all comes from the same place as “Don’t let government into my Medicare”… Solidarity has already been broken society-wide on generational lines.

  8. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    November 20, 2010

    @ 233ºC

    Your words are exactly correct, spot on. The Taft-Hartley Act was the thin wedge needed to destroy labour. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taft–Hartley_Act which amended the Wagner Act against the interests of labour.
    The Wagner Act ( established National Labour Relations ) provided a level ground for Labour and Management to meet to settle their disputes, the government also having an interest in industrial tranquility, providing the balancing power between Labour and Management and the level playing field for the sides to meet.
    Ronald Reagan’s coup against the Air Traffic Controllers, basically eliminated all laws and their enforcement concerning labour relationship with management, throwing the superior power of government with management on all related issues, dooming labour to defeat in their struggle with management. Since then, management has uncontested power over the economic rights of working labour and has brought the economic viability of the country to its present state, of a barely warm corpse, and has destroyed the middle classes that depend upon labour for their sustenance.
    Since the level of knowledge of and about economic issues of the Duhmerican public is at or approaching zero/zilch/nada, it is clear that smoke and mirror marketing has obscured all possibility the public can discern their self-interests in maintaining their return on their economic participation (and all the ancillary issues as well, e.g. health care) and surrendered their economic and political sovereignty to the management malefactors of great subverted wealth. Management has built and grabbed total monopoly power over the economy, removing from exercising power the actual owners of the corporations they manage. The actual owners are no more able to control their business than labour is able to control their conditions. Oversight by government is a sham, the regulators bought, paid for and neutered by corporate interests. The courts have been gamed, ideologues at all levels substitute their agendas and interpretations for the enforcement of law, and remove the sole means of conflict resolution from public access.
    The country, and its empire are set for failure, it is unsustainable, and will not last. Like the farmer who asked JC about the sin of working on the Sabbath, the alleged reply “If you know what you are about, there is no sin” (from Be Here Now, IIRC). Likewise, knowing what you are about may be the only way to survive the economic maelstrom that is coming.

  9. senecal permalink
    November 20, 2010

    I wonder why labor is so much stronger in France than here? Is it because socialist politics, missing here, provided a kind of intellectual legitimacy for labor? Otherwise, France has followed pretty much the same developmental curve as US capital, with an expanding middle class providing the main alternative to the labor world-view.

    In my experience here, labor was weakened by, and increasingly isolated from, the growing middle class, which tended to see itself as unaffected by labor’s realities. In American culture, the middle class was going to expand forever — a uniquely naive view of things, which contributed to such popular fantasies as that a program like NAFTA would actually increase jobs in the US.

    My little straw of hope for the future is that over the next decade, a sizeable portion of the American middle class will see the truth and realize that they’ve become labor too.

  10. guest permalink
    November 20, 2010

    And it’s sad that the meme about corrupt unions is so pervasive that most American equate the bad ones with the mafia and the good unions with communists (cuz when you can’t think of anything bad to say about someone in Amerika, call them a Kommie!) . Who do they think corrupted the unions? The rich did, but of course.

  11. John permalink
    November 20, 2010

    One of the reason, IMO, that the Europeans in general and the French in particular protect their labor rights better is that the European landscape is littered with the palaces and architectural monuments of their former oligarchs. They have a constant reminder of where total oligarchy leads. Versailles. Americans have forgotten Europe’s feudal past. Our oligarchs want what any 12th century feudal lord wanted. Absolute control over the serfs. And other than keeping the serf down, they just want to play power games with the peers of their class. Simple as that. Been going on since Babylon.

  12. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    November 20, 2010

    @ John comment# 11624

    What Europeans know (as most can recall their history) is what European monarchs knew, that safety lays in no few accumulating so much power or wealth as to be able to threaten the monarch; that just sufficient wealth was enough to chain the ambitions of aristocracy through the fear of loosing that wealth; and that a numerous enough aristocracy became pliable to state interests by taking advantage of naturally occurring divisions between members of the aristocracy, playing one faction against another, all jealous of their prerogatives.

    Not so the inattentive Duhmericans. They allowed the faceless corporate management, wielders of immense wealth and resources to insidiously buy control of government, enslaving the state to corporate purpose, obtaining protection from law through counterfeit agendas and trojan ideologues, promoted incapacitating debt by fraud and deception, bankrupting the ability to provide for the general welfare by voodoo illusion that reduction of tax results in increase in benefits to the public, and encouraged the mal-education of the population by perfidious insistence that beliefs had equality with knowledge. Overlooked was the knowledge that the conduct of a republic is no different than the conduct of a kingdom, the same conditions that remove kings from power, also remove republics from power.

    Marxism has been an active part of European life in one form or another from early on in the development of the industrial economy. Consequently the management there gained less control over the labour force as compared with the industrialization of the US where Industrialists had the cooperation of government and policing agencies to suppress the labour movement. Only the general collapse of capitalism of the Great Depression allowed the full development of the labour unionism in the industrial economy to have any economic consequence which the captains of industry resisted with every resource at their command. Labour and America blinked at the end of WWII and the economic revival bought with pent up economic demands not satisfied from the beginning of the Great Depression. Subsequent war and economic incompetence have depleted the accumulated economic resources, fraud and malfeasance have drained all savings, ignorance and hubris used debt to satisfy need, the seed corn has been consumed by extravagance, and the crafty, cunning, perfidious, patient management were able to regain effective control of government, the only edifice capable of controlling their acts, they now stand unhindered in pursuit of their ends.

  13. alyosha permalink
    November 20, 2010

    This two-tier system is what resulted from the 2003-04, four and half month long supermarket strike in LA.

    …The contract the negotiators crafted has been widely viewed as a victory for the supermarkets, especially because it includes a two-tier system under which stores will pay new hires much less in wages and benefits than veteran workers.

    But an inside look at the long-running contract talks shows that for all of the supermarkets’ gains, the UFCW hung tough and scored a few points, too. Veterans won’t have to pay for part of their healthcare coverage for at least two years, and the supermarkets lost their bid to significantly pare workers’ overall healthcare and pension coverage.

    “We achieved more than we ever expected we would,” said a union official, although he added, “I’m not saying we didn’t compromise on benefit levels.”

  14. dugsdale permalink
    November 20, 2010

    Of the many disparate policies I would hope progressives can unite over, if and when we eventually, finally wake up & decide it might be a good idea to organize for collective action to push back against corporatism (though I’m not holding my breath on this), I would HOPE solidarity and interdependence with labor unions would be key on the list, along with publicly funded elections.

    The meme about corrupt unions has obviously been true, and may still be among some of them, but A) the meme has been blown way out of proportion by gleeful corporatists and B)any human organization has some corruption of some kind–but unions remain the sole bastion I know of, of know-how for mass organization and collective action, for feet-on-the-ground information campaigns, for local actions to support a particular issue.

    The number of alliances that could be formed among progressive groups is potentially enormous: WFP, labor unions, MoveOn, etc.–and organizing for collective action is (says me, anyway) the next big task we have to face to break the corporate hammerlock. The chickensh*t Democratic Party will be of no help on that score whatsoever.

    It’s sad to hear about unions settling for 2-tier contracts, but who the hell has their back, anyway? Who’s helping them toward an alternative? Certainly not Obama or the chickensh*t Democratic party; and I think we all can make it a mission of sorts to start correcting peoples’ misunderstandings about unions starting right now. I’m in three unions myself and they’re run by smart, serious, committed people, and they wage a good fight against employers who’d love to pay you minimum wage for nuclear-physicist-caliber work.

    Time for a pushback on behalf of unions, I think, and also some recognition that we’re all on the same side. (er…usually. In the aggregate, I mean. Because without unions, what else ya got?)

  15. senecal permalink
    November 20, 2010

    Jimmy Hoffa was the poster boy of the propaganda campaign to make Americans believe that unions were corrupt, as Harry Bridges was the icon of communist influence in the unions. I can’t help remembering that at the end of WWII, agriculture was numerically the largest occupation in the country. Then all those boys came to the big city, and later to the suburbs, and the fear campaigns of the fifties just naturally fell into line with their corn-fed, manicheistic, good versus evil, religious backgrounds.

  16. someofparts permalink
    November 20, 2010

    Actually, americans have been split along generational lines since the 40s because of advertising. The 15-25 yr old demographic spends more on fashion, music etc than we do at any other age. So, I guess ads target people that age so relentlessly that generations find it hard to connect.

  17. soullite permalink
    November 21, 2010

    This is the untold story as to why Americans so often hate unions: their actual personal experiences with unions that don’t actually fight for them, go to dinner parties with the management and corporate, and generally think of themselves as members of the elite rather than working people.

    A lot gets made of the notion that people just hate that union members make more than them, but that’s really far too simplistic. It’s just very convenient for liberals to believe this, even if real leftists know otherwise.

  18. Celsius 233 permalink
    November 21, 2010

    soullite PERMALINK
    November 21, 2010
    This is the untold story as to why Americans so often hate unions: their actual personal experiences with unions that don’t actually fight for them, go to dinner parties with the management and corporate, and generally think of themselves as members of the elite rather than working people.
    ========================================
    That resonates IME.

  19. dugsdale permalink
    November 21, 2010

    Americans don’t hate unions. Americans have been trained via relentless media manipulation to hate a cheap, ugly, enthusiastically promulgated stereotype. I doubt that any of the abovementioned 15-25 year old demographic (or 15-35 for that matter) knows any more about unions than a hog knows about Christmas–except in terms of the steretypes they’ve been force-fed.

    I have a feeling that if more Americans who work for wages knew that unions are on THEIR side, and saw some concrete benefit from it, things would be different. Instead, if somebody, somewhere in the middle class happens to have decent union-won job or pension benefits (think municipal workers or teachers), they’re singled out and scorned by the talking-heads, who develop a burning thirst that they be punished for doing well-ish, and the rest of the middle class is set against them by the overlord class.

    Sorry, preaching to the choir perhaps. But after years of staying mum on the subject, I’m starting to push back hard in conversation when the typical anti-union BS gets spouted.

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