Disorganizing Labor

It is no secret that Republicans, for the most part, hate unions.

And the reason they tend to hate unions is because the moneyed interests the Republican Party represents tend to hate unions and hate them a lot.

You might be surprised to know that the moneyed interests don’t hate unions because they hate labor.  Oh, far from it. They love labor because the laborers enable the moneyed interests to become and remain moneyed interests.

But what the moneyed class hates is organized labor.  Because organized labor enables the laborer to get some love from the moneyed class in the form of cash and benefits and improved working conditions, which is not the kind of labor-lovemaking the moneyed class has in mind.

Here is a graph based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows the earnings differential between union and non-union workers:

As is obvious, it pays to be a part of organized labor, which is what causes so much heartburn on the right and which is why a new propaganda war has been launched against unions.

Apparently in various parts of the country an ad was shown during the Super Bowl that promoted something called the Employee Rights Act, which is an anti-union proposal disguised as “labor law reform,” and backed by a $10 million campaign.

Before we look at the Super Bowl ad, just to give you a flavor of the tactics of the folks behind this campaign, here is a full-page ad that appeared in The New York Times about a month ago:

The Employee Rights Act is designed, of course, to put a lot of disorganization in organized labor and if Republicans gain control of the Congress and the White House next year, it—or something worse—will likely become a reality.  Unlike Democrats—who campaigned on the middle-class-building Employee Free Choice Act in 2008 but didn’t do a damn thing with it when it came time to govern—Republicans these days have shown that they intend on doing all of the extremist things they say they are going to do.

Here is the Super Bowl ad, which is just a part of a larger propaganda war against organized labor:


  1. Is it propaganda to just point out a little hypocrisy? If unions are so wonderful then why can they not stand on their own in the arena of ideas? Why do they require the heavy hand of the state to protect them and their own monied interests (ie: the Democrat party that gets almost 100 percent of the political contributions)? If every worker in all the “right to work” states is truly feeling so put upon and taken advantage of by his big bad “monied interest” employer then why time, after time do so many of them vote for NO union representation?
    Could it be that they feel they’re already getting a “fair” wage for a “fair” job and they don’t want a “fair” and “equitable” relationship sullied by the thug tactics used by the national unions? (Wichita finally lost all of Boeing thanks in part to the “strike now, strike tomorrow, strike and confront as much as possible” mentality of the local machinists union. The union bosses are beating their chests and yelling loud but in the end all the accomplished was to ignore the reality of the global world and priced themselves right out of their jobs.)
    Unions gained their largest foothold when American manufacturing basically had no competition post WWII and the wages and demands had to be paid. But for the past twenty years the unions have had to rely upon organizing government employees because they can still legally fleece the taxpayer with the blessing of democrat city councils and state legislatures the country over
    Every American worker should and does have the right to “organize” his/her fellow workers but in return those who disagree also should have the right to not have a union take control of their workplace should they not? Or is this just another example of the hypocrisy of the left: “We’re all for your freedom of choice as long as you “choose” our way?


  2. Unions are by their nature adversarial to management, so I can understand the tensions involved. From what I understand, it was union pressure that motivated Boeing to move part of their operation to SC so as to be more competitive against AirBus. Again, understandable. Still, I am hard pressed to think of any other factor than the potential for unionization that would prevent our remaining large industries from paying employees East Indian wages. Maybe we’ll find out if that will happen because it looks like it is happening.


    • Jim,

      Airbus is unionized, too. And it has had its labor problems just like Boeing. As I understand it, the biggest problem for Boeing has been interruption in production caused by strikes here at home. That seems to have been settled for now (as are the problems associated with moving to South Carolina).

      European workers have more generous benefits (health care for most of them is nearly free) and the wages appear to be comparable. This is likely why there are fewer strikes in Airbus’ European production centers (plus the fact that I think management exploits nationalism–French against Germans, for instance).

      In any case, you make an excellent point about the “potential for unionization.” And that is why anti-unionists are trying like mad to make it harder to unionize, thus limiting the damage any such potential might pose to their bottom line.

      And you are right about the race to the bottom in terms of wages. The bad guys (my words, not yours) are winning.



  3. It seems if one did not want to be part of a Union, they have the choice not to take a Union job. With less than 15% of all jobs being Union, it is not hard to find a non-union job. Now why would anyone take a union job if they hated unions?

    What surprises me is the fact that many people want to see wages go down to the level of foreign employees, yet do not see fit to lower wages to comparable levels for management. Look at the lower wages for the new auto employees after the bail out. However, the GM CEO makes 9 times that of the CEO of Toyota.



    • KABE,

      You asked,

      Now why would anyone take a union job if they hated unions?

      I think we both know the answer to that one. People tend to want the benefits that come with either the reality or the threat of unionism, but they would rather not pay union dues, which the right-wing has done a good job of tainting by saying those dues go to big union bosses and causes they don’t support.

      We have to admit on our side that we haven’t done as good a job defending unionism as the other side has of trying to destroy it.  If you want to see a great piece of filmmaking about one such attempt, I suggest watching Harlan County, U.S.A. (the documentary won an Academy Award). It took courage and tenacity to start unions in this country and it takes courage and tenacity to maintain them.



    • ansonburlingame

       /  February 6, 2012

      Kabe again,

      I disagree with Duane (big surprise) based on working in the management ranks of a heavily unionized work site, Rocky Flats. The union was Steelworkers of America, not a bunch of pushovers in terms of union negotiations.

      I never heard union employees gripping about paying dues. The BIG thing that the union did for them (TO the plant) was protecting workers from the impostition of tough work rules. I am NOT talking about safety, radiation exposure, etc. I am talking about suiting up and going into the plant to put in a hard 8 hour work day to get the jobs accomplished.

      I had worked, supervising work, in hot, potentially dangerous, and for sure difficult radiological work environments for a couple of decades before going to Rocky Flats. Take a nuclear powered ship through a shipyard overhaul or build a new ship from the keel up. Not easy tasks for sure. But the work was done, safely, throughout those years of my experience.

      But Rocky Flats was a whole different story. It was almost impossible to get even routine work tasks completed with all the “rules” imposed by the unions. It was a travesty, from the standpoint of getting the work done properly, safely and efficently. And taxpayers were footing that bill, not a company.

      Never in my career had I ever faced such THUGS, simply THUGS that would pull every trick possible to avoid “suiting up and doing the job”. And the union workers LOVED sitting on their butts in the “break room” while the work went undone.

      Duane of course will say bad management caused such a stituation. Well I was NOT a bad manager, and it drove me crazy for a while.

      But then we renegotiated a new contract which the union refused to sign. It went to arbitration and the company won. The union choose NOT to strike (actually I wish they had). And guess what. We started to get some real work accomplished, safetly and much more efficiently. Not nearly as efficently as a crew of well trained sailors, but still a far cry than what went on before the new contract was finally put in place, without a strike!

      As an aside, I hired a couple of former chief petty officers that used to work for and with me in the Navy. They were tough, blue collar guys that had all the sympathty in the world for the “working man”. But they saw what went on in the union work environment and were aghast at what went on, therein.

      I never hated the union. I simply saw it as another challenge to overcome. But those old “chiefs” HATED the unions and what they stood for. No one ever came after my home of my car, but with those old chiefs, well I knew someone had my back so to speak, along with some pretty good floor level managers at Rocky Flats as well.



      • Anson,

        You wrote,

        It was almost impossible to get even routine work tasks completed with all the “rules” imposed by the unions.

        Of course we all know that unions don’t “impose” on management any “rules.” These things are negotiated at the bargaining table, and if your side had poor negotiators then don’t blame the unions.

        And for the record, I resent the use of the term “thugs” in reference to union representatives. Here is the definition of that word:



        1. a cruel or vicious ruffian, robber, or murderer.

        2. (sometimes initial capital letter) one of a former group of professional robbers and murderers in India who strangled their victims.

        Your side tosses around terms like this (and Nazi-like references) but I will call you on it when you do.



      • Anson,

        I’m beginning to believe that you’re a secret admirer of Hunter S. Thompson after reading “Thugs.” An alternate title could well have been, “Fear and Loathing in Rocky Flats.” I was waiting for one of the union “thugs” to be named Dr. Gonzo. At least you weren’t stuck with a five figure room service bill.

        A harrowing experience, indeed.



        • John,

          At first I thought I had been directed to The Onion, then I realized it was all too real.

          Notwithstanding the weird and inaccurate use of the term thugs, I found it interesting that those thugs would dare to “use the force of raw numbers” to “make their point.” How could someone be so, well, so thuggish as to do something like that?

          And as for saying that union thugs will “flat out lie and encourage their cohorts to do the same,” that is a perfect description of some of the management types I dealt with during my career. But I was never smart enough to figure out that they were just “thugs” that could be dismissed with a smile.




          • LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) — Hundreds of Longshoremen stormed the Port of Longview early Thursday, overpowered and held security guards, damaged railroad cars, and dumped grain that is the center of a labor dispute, said Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha.

            Six guards were held hostage for a couple of hours after 500 or more Longshoremen broke down gates about 4:30 a.m. and smashed windows in the guard shack, he said.

            Naaaah, no union “thugs” here. Nothing to see, move along now, nothing here. (Just make sure your state mandated union dues are current.)

            This union history is littered with accounts of such intimidation and “thuggery”. But hey, this is the EC so why bother with the truth right?


            • I looked up this story. I did not have time to read all the stories, but many reported that these incidents all brought arrests to those responsible. In this day and age, it would be very difficult to get away with actions like this.



      • Hmm. Let me see how this works. You have an unruly bunch of union guys do something stupid, and those in the labor movement can now safely be labeled as “thugs.”

        Okay, I’ll play.

        David Duke is a white supremacist and Jew-hater. He is also a tea party-loving Republican. Therefore, Republicans and teapartiers are Jew-hating racists.

        There, I feel better. Conservative logic can be quite liberating.



  4. ansonburlingame

     /  February 6, 2012


    “Management jobs” are competitive jobs. NO union involvement in such jobs. Good people compete on their own to gain such jobs. Pay is adjusted to attrach the good people. And mangers get fired a lot for not being good, believe it or not.

    What you read about with all the golden parachutes is very TOP level managers that generally negoitiate the bailouts as part of their employment contract. If I fail then you owe me $X as a matter of negoitation at the beginning of the job.

    A BOD does not willingly give $ Millions to someone that has failed to produce. They do it as a matter of contract law, in many cases, it seems today.

    So why agree to such a contract? Obviously to get the best perceived talent in the pool. Again, competition for the best, who sometimes fail in very difficult jobs.


    I wrote my comment this morning before watching news or cruising the internet. But it seems now that the ad has stirred heated political debate. It was BIG story on tonights NBC news.

    I stick with my point that it was an effective car ad. But had Obama been in the ad rather than Ole Clint, car sales for Chrysler would have plummeted!

    I believe I also saw a story recently that while car sales are “up” this year, GM remains on the bottom of the “up” pile. I wonder why?



    • AB, why do you think it is ok for a manager to have a contract that protects him, but not a group of employees? There is competition for most jobs and the best get hired at all levels. And contrary to popular belief, union workers do get fired. There seems to be a myth that a union employee cant be fired and that is just not true.

      I do recall you talking about your experience with the union in Rocky Flats in the past. I do not have an opinion on this since I was not there. But there is one thing, when was this? I have been in a union for over 20 years and can only recall one act of vandalism by an employee, and this guy hated EVERYONE, union or management. The need for you to have “protection” seems a bit over the top. During the bail outs I do not recall any violence. My father was in the UAW for a short period, in the 60s and I do not recall any acts of violence.( He hated the UAW and quit, the only union worker I know that quit a union because he hated it, by the way.) If you were in danger, why did you not notify authorities? There seems to be a lot of exaggeration these days to connect the union violence of the 19th century to the politics of todays unions.

      Well, I do have one more thing. What was the reason the workers under you did not want to go to work? It is hard to believe that they simply did not want to work. Were there safety rules or unsafe conditions? It seems something is missing. If they did not want to work, couldn’t they have just used a sick day or something? Now I am sure that you had a few bad apples, you get that everywhere, at all levels. But it is hard to believe that this would be acceptable and that you had no avenue to fix the problem. I know if I went to work and just simply refused to work and sat in a break room I would be fired and the union would not back this behavior.



  5. JO

     /  February 8, 2012

    How dare these people use the acronym “ERA”. In my generation of women we fought for the ERA, which stood for Equal Rights Amendment”, and it was never passed. The unions continue to fight for rights for women, for equal pay for equal work, for the same benefits as our male counter parts, something that all these years later after our fight has still not been achieved. Say what you may about unions, but they are one of the few groups still standing up for ALL workers.


    • JO,

      Amen to all that. I am surprised at how successful the right-wing reactionaries have been at the game of demonizing unions. But our side has to keep fighting the fight. There is a lot at stake, for women, for men, for all working folks.



  6. I think the Far Right is actually waking up the labor movement, which has been in decline for decades. At the peak of unionism there were over 50 % of workers in unions (in the 1950s and 60s I believe) Companies were forced to give better benefits to fend off unions and for years union membership declined. Now companies are reversing that trend and cutting benefits such as health care, 401- Ks, vacation times, wages have been dropping for years, etc.
    So, why in the world would the right want to go after the last 12-15 % of the labor force? It looks to me like that they want to deliver a knock out punch to unions. This appears to be a bad strategy and looks like nothing but pure greed. They are “kicking a sleeping dog” as they say. Wisconsin is a good example. I think people realize that without the threat to have a union that all working class people are facing a very rough road.



  7. ansonburlingame

     /  February 9, 2012


    You posed questions to me above and then went to my own blog to question the basis for my comments. I replied “over there” and thus will not repeat myself herein.

    My bottom line concern about unions is that, generally speaking, could care less about the success of the company. They are only concerned about the things Duane harps on above.

    GOOD union leadership along with the same GOOD managers should be able to sit down and look at the whole picture to reach agreement. RARELY does that happen in my own experiences.



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