December 13, 2018

Solidarity For Never

Since conservative orthodoxy has turned out to be voodoo economics after all, now would be an excellent time to unmask its demonization of labor unions as yet another con job that big business has pulled on the American people.

You know the knock on big labor.  It’s bleeding the private sector.  The health care benefits and pension plans it has extracted from the private sector are ruinous to global competition.  Its contracts prevent bad workers from being fired.  Unions are losing members, they’re losing power, and as a sign that organized labor is in its death throes, its number one goal – the price it’s extracting for helping Democrats win – is stealing the right to a secret ballot from American workers.  Is nothing sacred?

This menacing caricature of labor is standard Republican dogma, core CEO doctrine, conventional Washington wisdom, kneejerk media narrative and a traditional Beltway litmus test of Democrats’ neo-liberalism, common groundism, post-partisan centrism and countless other euphemisms for a willingness to shaft the workers who voted for you. 

A massive ” title=”Here’s how”>Here’s how organizing actually works under current law.  To unionize a workplace, a union has to get more than 30 percent of that company’s workers to sign cards saying they want the union to negotiate with management on their behalf.  The union gives the cards to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which certifies them and sets a date for a vote within 42 days. 

During this period – which the company can drag out for years via NLRB extensions and appeals – the ” title=”declaration of disloyalty”>declaration of disloyalty to me personally and an affront to everything the company stands for.”  When at long last election day arrives, the polling place is right on the job site, where workers can be forced to run a gauntlet of grim supervisors who will watch their faces as they mark and cast their ballots.  Under these circumstances, it’s a miracle whenever the organizing side tops 50 percent and gets a union.  This is the fabulous process that big business says that big labor wants to take away from workers. 

But ” title=”Americans’ rights at work”>Americans’ rights at work are a grave threat to freedom. 

Their bonuses may have been capped, their jets grounded, their securitized mortgages and credit default swaps unmasked as tulipomania.  But there is an obdurate arrogance in the financial power elite that no clawback has yet reached.  It reared its head in their attempt to crush unions and break contracts under cover of rescuing the auto industry, and it was apparent in the threat by their wholly owned Senators to derail Rep. Hilda Solis’s (D-Calif.) nomination as Secretary of Labor because she supported the Employee Free Choice Act. 

Workers who belong to unions are as patriotic as any other Americans.  Across the economy, unions are making painful concessions to keep their employers in business.  In the wake of this economic meltdown, maybe it’s time to put to rest, at long last, the conservative canard that respecting workers’ rights to unionize and to bargain collectively is tantamount to a Communist coup d’état. 

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.  His column appears here weekly.  He can be reached at