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Disorganizing Labor

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Conservatives are cheering as they watch the economic collapse destroy one of their most hated opponents: organized labor. But instead of sneering at the vanquished, the business class should be thanking them in gratitude, for the unions did themselves in (I say this as a current unionized worker and a partner in two small businesses). I'm not talking about the "excessive" wages of workers when the executives who pay them earn so much themselves they lose sight of reality, I'm talking about how since 1968 they turned to their oppressors' politics against their own economic interests.

Union labor voted more heavily for Nixon in 1968 under the mistaken impression that he was all about law and order (for others – the young, the non-whites, foreigners, etc.). With that shift in allegiance, their own future was sealed, and they are now reaping the benefits they are now due. These 1968 voters are included among the legacy costs which GM claims to be costing $70 an hour (a false figure based on all current and retired employee costs divided only by current employee work hours). Abandoning those contractual obligations "would save us," failed GM CEO Rick Wagoner exclaims to the Congress as he pleads for relief like the Wall Street banks already got at taxpayer expense (yet his company is very profitable in foreign markets!). "I'll work for a dollar a year!" proclaims Ford CEO Alan Mulally, whose reorganization package includes shafting his workforce for his errors one more time (but at least he will share in the pain!).

Can you hear the anguished cries of the UAW retirees, the ones who voted for Nixon in 1968 and started this whole mess we now live in? "Save us!" they cry, but there is no one to heed their cries. The current president is too busy removing the organization rights of about 8600 federal employees while issuing "guidelines" protecting the fundamentalists' religious beliefs against having to serve the public's medical needs while helping to create more by removing protections against the use of hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

So these self-assassinated retirees and their still-working union descendants can only turn to the incoming Chief Executive for relief (to non-union workers: "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Labor!"). Leading the charge on their behalf is Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson, who declares that "Obama […] needs to publicly and personally urge Bush to not utterly abandon the American worker. It would be a strong sign that his White House will be one where the working stiff is not stiffed."

Ah, that audacity of hope is at work again! There is only one problem, as Jackson's colleague over at The New York Times, Bob Herbert, observes: "What I wonder is whether the members of this team, in addition to their grasp of the issues and success at achieving power, have a real feel for the needs of the people they are supposed to be representing. […] The people at the pinnacle of power in Washington are encased in a bubble that makes it extremely hard to hear the voices of those who aren’t already powerful themselves."

The power needed to be heard through the Beltway Bubble began to be squandered in 1968 by organized labor shifting Republican.

But to ease Herbert's mind, I quote from the Good Book (it's that big, dust-encrusted object up on the high shelf in your back closet where no one has to admit it exists as the Season of Materialistic Greed is observed): "By their deeds shall ye know them." Following this maxim, it isn't hard to see where Obama is going to lead on this issue.

Columnist Peter Canellos of The Boston Globe did so, and opines that Obama could end up resembling Ronald Reagan with his promises of "swift government action" to protect the business sector.

Canellos reports that corporate executives have been alienated by the divisive social issues of the religious radicals who dominate the GOP, and George's Terror War Against Terror (TWAT) has disrupted foreign business opportunities. Nothing gets a CEO's attention faster than adversely affecting the bottom line – and his bonus! And as there appears to be no pending effort by the Republicans to regain their long-term allies in the financial sector, Canellos feels that the Democrats are going to become the Party of Big Business. The past slander linking Democrats and high taxation will vaporize as the financial sector exercises its influence against such measures, while the Republicans will continue to pander to the Neanderthal vote as they forget what a tax cut is.

Considering that too many union workers qualify as low-brows, this may be the only way the GOP can survive in the coming years. What better way to gain power if not from those you helped to experience severe economic and freedom losses by your hostile political actions! After all, the answer to "what have you done for me lately?" changes daily for them, and their long-term memory evaporates into the electronic ether within two weeks (check your local listings). They can blame the Democrats for not rescuing them from Republican legislation and rule-making that cost the American worker his middle-class status!

Might it work? Who could imagine!

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About pessimist

  • Realist, again you prove the irony of your name.

    You seem to have entirely forgotten that the greatest exploiters of workers in this country are labor union bosses who use them as capital to generate political power, while making deals for them which ultimately rob them of wealth, bankrupt the businesses they work for and eventually leave them unemployed and even unemployable.

    Unions in America don’t protect the rights of individual workers, they protect the abstract rights of ‘the worker’ while making sure that individual workers get trampled and driven into unemployability. They forget the basic maxim that for a worker to be a worker he must have a job and the company which he works for must make a profit so that he can get paid for that job.

    By placing insane demands for compensation and long term pensions on employers mainly to fatten their own pocketbooks, union bosses have made their unions the main players in a game of financial disaster played at the expense of their workers.

    People absolutely do deserve decent compensation for the work which they do, but under no reasonable scenario is a total compensation package of $85 an hour reasonable for an auto worker. Those who are paid a market wage of $45 an hour still get reasonable benefits and a respectable take-home pay without bankrupting the companies they work for in non-union shops. The extra $40 an hour means that the best way for a company to save itself from financial disaster is to cut workers and eventually just move away from where unions hold them hostage.

    Unions are a great idea in many ways, but when they become capitalists and monopolists themselves and use control of labor to blackmail themselves into a pyramid of greed the end result is self-destruction.


  • bliffle

    “People absolutely do deserve decent compensation for the work which they do, but under no reasonable scenario is a total compensation package of $85 an hour reasonable for an auto worker.”

    So, should that wage be reserved for an auto company CEO?

  • bliffle

    Since you, Dave, consider $85 and hour opulent, would you think it enough for all executives at the Big3?

  • I don’t consider $85 an hour to be opulent. I consider it to be an inflated wage for a job where the market sets the wage at about $45 an hour.

    Executives don’t do the same job as assembly-line workers. They are also drawn out of a much smaller pool of qualified people. The market sets their wage differently and they are paid on the basis of what it takes to hire competent people with their skills and qualifications.

    If you could hire a competent CEO for $85 an hour then it would be irrational to pay more than that. But you can’t, so you pay what it takes to hire the best CEO you can. That’s your responsibility to the stockholders who own the company.


  • bliffle

    There you go again, Dave, trying to divert from what is good compensation to What The Traffic Will Bear.

    Do you think that the CEO could maintain his family adequately on $85 per hour? You seem to think that is more than enough for someone else.

    As for finding the best by paying more, I bet that several people right here on BC could handle the CEO job at least as well as the current occupants. I could, and I suspect that several people here on BC consider themselves superior to me. Perhaps you do too.

    I don’t think that CEO of GM is a very high skill. I’ve worked for CEOs and found them generally to be no way superior to any number of 2nd level managers and plant managers. In fact, I remember occasions where they were definitely just serving time.

    If the job were REALLY open to competition then the corps they administer would be better served, but they are not.

  • I don’t think a CEO could maintain his family adequately on $85 an hour. The costs for entertainment, travel and image maintenance exceed that level of income, and they are requirements of the job. Those things could all be paid as company expenses, but if we’re using the $85 an hour which is a figure based on perks and salary, then those thngs alone would add up to more than $85 an hour.

    Yes, you or I or a number of others here on BC could probably manage the day to day business of a large company like GM with some time to learn the specifics of the business. However, what we would not bring to the job are the connections, the reputation and the background and experiences of a top-line CEO. We don’t play golf with the right people, belong to the right clubs or attend the right cocktail parties, or have the private lines of other CEOs in our address books – and those things are very real parts of the qualifications for the job.

    I grew up in the environment that produces CEOs and other political and business leaders. My grandfather and three of my uncles were CEOs. I guess I’ve even got some of the qualifications myself, with family connections and having been president of a charity and managing partner of a couple of LLCs – probably puts me one level below where I’d need to be to start moving up in the CEO world.

    But I know that I don’t have the temperament for a CEO job. I could do the work part of it – running meetings and setting policy. But I don’t think I could do the part of the job that involves full-time schmoozing people and wheeling and dealing and building and trading influence. It’s very demanding, leaves you with zero personal life, and takes a very specific type of personality which I just don’t have. Plus I don’t like the idea of being responsible to stockholders and for the welfare of a large number of workers.

    The CEOs you describe working for sound like they weren’t very good or very successful CEOs. If they’re just serving time then they aren’t advancing the interests of their company and ought to be replaced.

    There’s a lot more to being a CEO than just being a manager, and a lot of it isn’t necessarily all that tangible or apparent to those working under the CEO. You don’t see what he does when he’s out playing golf with other CEOs or taking them for drinks or attending conferences, or meeting with bankers and suppliers and potential business partners.


  • bliffle

    Most of that schmooozing is just mutual reinforcement.

  • Mark Eden

    While the ‘disorganization of labor’ in the US might seem like a sickly cynical joke, it’s a bit more serious elsewhere.

  • Thanks for the reminder, Mark. The irony is hard to miss. In developing nations the unions are attacked by thugs, and once they get rights as they have in developed nations, the unions turn into the thugs.


  • Mark Eden

    Dave – I guess that’s one of the marvels of a system that encourages blind competition rather than cooperation.


  • bliffle

    What I’ve seen, mostly, in those schmoozing sessions is repetitive competitive head-butting, whether it’s over golf games, tennis matches, drinking prowess, eating or chasing whores. And that’s one of the reasons that the top execs in business assiduously exclude females from their clubs.

  • bliffle


    “In developing nations the unions are attacked by thugs, and once they get rights as they have in developed nations, the unions turn into the thugs.”

    In the 20th century police and Pinkertons were hired by management to kill (as in ‘murder’) union organizers, and judges were paid off to let it happen.

    Are union leaders in the USA now hiring police and other killers to kill managers?

    If so, I haven’t heard of it.

  • Bliffle, the thuglike activities of unions these days are mostly directed at silencing and disciplining their own membership and trying to bully people into joining unions against their own best interests.

    And I think that the US in the early 20th century could be considered the equivalent of a 21st century developing nation.


  • Marcia Neil

    Many factors influence labor-union decisions as well as company activities, and those are not documented anywhere except as a mental code within the minds of constituencies. Phrases such as “movers and shakers” “freedom of the press” “when in the hands of the enemy do whatever they say” “freedom of speech” are all used to make major international business decisions (using the terms ‘oracles’ or ‘mantras’) but nowhere on any form are those inscribed as traceable action reference. In a similar vein, certain persons are demanded to assume certain corporate or public-service roles, some as the wishes of their own families only, without any documentation of the type of influence that puts certain people into very specific and influential employment scenarios.

  • Clavos

    Thuggery is a long-standing, time-honored American tradition, even though the word is Indian in origin.

  • bliffle

    IIRC, Indian Thugees were very murderous, not just aggressive.

    IMO the All American form of political persuasion were the old “shoulder punchers” of Tamany Hall. These guys, usually big beefy red-nosed bon vivants, would come up to a guy and wrap one arm playfully around The Victims shoulder while smiling broadly and recommending a certain vote, and ask for an expression of fealty while progressively punching the victim harder in the shoulder with his free fist.