Arlen Specter Checked A Card
The irony was hard to miss. Senator Arlen Specter, checking a card changing his party affiliation from Republican to Democratic, saying that he won't support the right of working people to check a card to change from unaffiliated to affiliated with a union.
Somehow, what's been lost in all this debate is that democracies typically invite people to check a card to register their desire to participate in that democracy. In the USA, for example, we call it "voter registration."
Unions are democracies. Each has its own "constitution" (bylaws) determined by its members. Each democratically elects its own officers and leaders (by secret ballot). And American workers would like the right to check a union registration card to bring a union to their workplace.
Every voter in America, in fact, checked and signed a card - a public card, which is part of a public record - to be able to participate in our democracy. We publicly register to vote to say, "Yes, I want to be part of the democratic processes in our republic!" For example, Arlen Specter is registered to vote, that voter registration card he checked and signed being the necessary prerequisite to participate in the political processes of this democracy we call The United States of America.
Once registered as a member of a small-d democratic institution, whether it is the USA or the Teamsters, all subsequent votes are in secret. And to register to vote in our national democracy is even more public than to register to vote in a union - card-check records for union organizing are kept confidential from both the union and the employer.
The Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers', and Wal-Mart's talking points on this are pretty simple. They argue that giving people the right to simply check "yes" on a card and sign their name to it to join a union will open up potential union members to coercion. Much like the "coercion" right-wingers decry from voter-registration groups like ACORN. How dare they actually walk up to people and ask them if they want to join a democracy and participate as a voter in determining our collective fate and future?!
Specter publicly checked a card to register to vote. He publicly checked a "yes" box on a card to register to run for political office. He publicly checked a "Democrat" box on a voter-registration-change card to become a Democrat.
How tragic that he doesn't understand - or is willing to kowtow to corporate donors who don't want him to acknowledge - that the right to check a card to join a democracy is the essence of our American system.
And that without the strong presence of democracy in the workplace - unions - balancing the antidemocratic power of corporate capital, American democracy will never be as healthy or resilient as it could and should be.
What Steve seems to want from America is a situation where those who vote in the majority get to follow the elected leader, and those who didn't vote for that leader get to do...whatever they want?
Majority rule doesn't mean each individual gets to follow their own course. The real analogy in Steve's suggested case is, if you didn't vote for the union, but the majority did, you either live with the union (like the Dems did for eight years), or you go work somewhere in a so-called "right to work" state.
The worker in Steve's hypothetical case, if he really expects to stay union-free despite the will of the majority, takes part in the card-check process under false pretenses. If he never intended to join the union, regardless of the vote outcome, why did he vote in the first place?
Steve's comment, in general, seems like that of a right-wing union-basher who will "allow" unions as long as they have no real power. That's how they do it in Communist China. Wonder how the workers there feel about it? Do you think they feel "independent" or "empowered"? I'm betting no.
Hold on a second. Is card check a vote or is it not a vote? Thom's article said it was just registering to vote, and should be on the public record. But Kevin is talking voting for the union. It sounded like Thom was saying that card check only concerned those employees who wanted to create a union, not those who didn't.
If, contrary to Thom's article, card check is actually a vote, then I'm a little confused about the whole point. Aren't votes supposed to be private, a matter of personal conscience? Isn't the private ballot box a tradition that Americans regard as their right? What's next, card check elections for president, so that all our votes are a matter of public record?
And to address Kevin's statements about the minority's obligation to follow the will of the majority, I have just a couple of thoughts. First, generally such a rule applies to those who have already opted to join a group. Just because two robbers break into your house and then ask you to vote with them on whether they should take your TV does not mean that you need to go along with the majority vote.
As far as communist China, I would imagine that the workers there feel quite empowered, since, because of the whole communism thing, they own the means of production. Thankfully, they don't need unions, since they don't have to negotiate with management. There IS no management.
No analogy is perfect. Nevertheless, Thom makes a salient point: Workers must have the right of association just like anybody else.
If a union is formed, I guess the anti-union worker can find employment elsewhere. It wouldn’t be the first time a worker was told to “like it or lump it.” Some people believe that ultimatum should only come from their bosses or from suits on TV. I distinctly remember our “betters” telling laid-off workers that they’d have to find work in the service industries after manufacturers moved overseas. That’s the way the “free” market works, they were told.
As far as Communist China is concerned, everyone knows that collectivism works only on a small scale. For instance, I belong to a food cooperative. Incidentally, I also can disassociate myself from it if I chose to do so. Nobody seriously believes that Chinese workers, whether “unionized” or not, have any power or have a sense of ownership of the means of production. The irony of Communist China is that it is such fertile ground for capitalism. Communist China plus capitalism is the perfect marriage because neither are small-d democracies.
Arlen Specter is just a bigot when it comes to workers. He wants his freedom of association—even if it is just to get re-elected—but doesn’t want the “unwashed rabble” to have that same freedom.
Over time, I have developed a test for judging whether any government action is morally right or wrong. I consider whether it would be morally wrong for any single person to take the same action. I ask myself whether I would be willing to personally perform the action, and whether it would be right. Depending upon the answer, I get a pretty good feeling for the morality of the law in question.
Now I apply this test to Thom's example. I am the government, and I have to act or not act in the following circumstatnces: A group of workers want to form an association. Fine, everyone has the right to form an association. The remaining workers want no part of the association. Also fine, people have the right to not associate. The employer has agreed on terms of employment with each employee. Fine, how could I interfere here between the right of two people to trade. The workers' association wants to bargain with the employer as a single unit. Also fine.
But then there are some things that I would feel uncomfortable enforcing. First, I'm not sure that I could tell the employer that he is not allowed to say, "No thanks, I don't want to bargain with you; I deal with my employees as individual people." How can I personally tell him he can't do this? By what authority? Then again, how can I approach those workers who did not wish to associate with this union and tell them, "This union now will determine the terms of your employment." What right do I have to interfere with their lives.
In either of these cases, I would be met with resistance by the employer and by the non-joining workers. Were it not for the pair of ivory handled shooting irons hanging from my belt, they would tell me to go take a hike. So the only way I could enforce this idea would be for me to threaten them with... what? I lock them up? Shoot them? So now, here I am, threatening people who have done no one any wrong. How can I claim any moral authority.
Anyway, when I look at a situation like Thom describes, that's the way I analyze it. And when I determine that I would be violating innocent people's rights, considered a meddling ass, and probably met with righteous resistance, I have to conclude that the plan is morally wrong, and that government would also be wrong to do the same thing.
If we can't agree, then we at least ought to be clear on where and why we disagree. I'm sure that I've not convinced anyone of anything here, but just thought I'd try to make my principles and reasoning clear and understandable.
And Blue Neck is right, only small scale VOLUNTARY collectivism works.
Absolutely correct. That's why anti-union peole can voluntarily find work elsewhere. Employers in Communist China, the United States, and everywhere around the globe tell that to workers all the time.
To all the anti-union workers who belong to unions, if you don't like collective bargaining and don't want to find a job elsewhere, find a charity to donate your extra income garnered from that evil collective bargaining. Then absolutely donate your vacation pay to charity as well. Also find a job during off-hours because it was that "awful, immoral" union that pushed for overtime and a 40-hour work week. Then if you empathize with the employer so much, help pay for any safety equipment/measures it must buy or institute for which that evil union most likely bargained. Start a charity for employers--voluntarily. As long as you STUGGLE to eat, put clothes on your back, and a roof over your head, you are living the corporate nirvana--dystopia is utopia.
So how much are pro-employer trolls paid to make sure they answer any pro-union comment on all the progressive blogs. I'm especially entertained by their sense of moral superiority. So what's next? Accusing me of being a communist or a fascist? Now that's entertainment!
I don't claim that unions are the perfect answer to workers' problems or any economic problem for that matter. Pothing is nerfect.
Your use of quotes ("awful, immoral") seems to imply that I'm saying that unions are awful or immoral. I'm not. I'm not judging the union. I'm not pro-union or anti-union. Nor am I pro-employer or anti-employer. Employers and workers are people, and they all are equal and have equal rights.
What I AM judging is the government, and I claim that it is acting immorally. Government is created by the people, who delegate to government the powers necessary to protect the citizens' rights. However, the people cannot delegate to the government authority that they themselves don't have. And no person, or group of people, have the right to coerce two people to bargain with each other in a particular way. Therefore, I have to conclude that neither does the government have this right. As Thomas Jefferson said, "It is strangely absurd to suppose that a million of human beings, collected together, are not under the same moral laws which bind each of them separately."
I want all workers to have the best possible employment opportunities. And I want employers to pay good money to good workers. But I also realize that I, personally, have no authority to force either of these parties to make agreements that they themselves don't consider to be in their mutual best interest. So therefore neither does the government have that authority.
All of Blue Neck's suggestions as to what a so-called "anti-union worker" ought to do don't really make much difference to the above analysis. The government has used the force with which we have entrusted it to benefit one group at the expense of another group's rights. Some might claim that the ends justify the means, but we all know where that slippery slope leads.
Nobody tells me what my frame is, and I don’t tell anybody what his or her frames are. Isn’t it just like a troll to have all the time in the world to sit on progressive sites and tell everybody else what he or she doesn’t understand and what is applicable and what isn’t? Only they set the parameters of discussion. It never dawns on them that others might respond to a couple of things said in a previous comment and then go in a different direction or interpretation. I wonder what it’s like to be a bossy budinski. I could probably be a well-paid corporate sycophant.
Since the bad ol’ government doesn’t have any authority (in the minds of pro-corporate libertarians) to give We the People the right to form unions that “coerce” collective bargaining, then why stop there? Let’s stop so-called free trade agreements that are written of, by, and for the corporations that roam the planet to exploit natural resources and human beings. How about stopping corporations from owning the human genome? How about when corporations issue SLAPPs? How about when corporations stop small towns from passing no-big-box-stores ordinances? Oh no, we got to make only individual workers be all moral according to libertarianism which as a governmental system doesn’t exist. Actually, the natural outcome of libertarianism is feudalism.
What would be nice is if individual workers with limited means and limited lifetimes were dealing with entities that had limited means and limited lifetimes as well. Corporations have seemingly limitless means, not because of risk-taking and competitive cunning and wit by management (the mythology of some), but mostly because they buy politicians and write (for the pols) the laws to be passed. Thus, the price of access has a ten and hundred fold return in the form of corporate welfare and special tax breaks. Corporations are sociopathic entities whose sole objective is shareholder return—and the lax climate perpetuated since Uncle Ronny, I don’t believe they even do that. Also, corporations, whether they are good or bad, never die. They are, according to the mythology, supposed to “go away” if they aren’t “competitive.” But they don’t. Hence, unions are a necessity.
And I do understand that truly small businesses are legal corporations too. They truly have to bust their humps to stay alive. If they aren’t mistreating their workers, then they should not be worried that their workforce will unionize. What is amazing is that even smaller corporations will hire expensive union-busters rather than investing that money in better wages and working conditions. It gets back to worldviews, motivations (like fear), and personality traits.
If readers like Thom Hartmann, they’ll like Dean Baker’s Beat the Press blog. I just found it recently.
As a protest against bossy trolls, I’ll just repeat what “doesn’t apply” according to the previous commenter:
“To all the anti-union workers who belong to unions, if you don’t like collective bargaining and don’t want to find a job elsewhere, find a charity to donate your extra income garnered from that evil collective bargaining. Then absolutely donate your vacation pay to charity as well. Also find a job during off-hours because it was that “awful, immoral” union that pushed for overtime and a 40-hour work week. Then if you empathize with the employer so much, help pay for any safety equipment/measures it must buy or institute for which that evil union most likely bargained. Start a charity for employers–voluntarily. As long as you STRUGGLE to eat, put clothes on your back, and a roof over your head, you are living the corporate nirvana–dystopia is utopia.”
PS: I use quotes as a form of emphasis--not necessarily as enclosing a direct quote.
I hope I didn't give the impression that the principle I described only applies to labor unions. Maybe I need to clarify and emphasize that I regard it a universal principle, applicable to all.
All people are endowed with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In order to secure these rights, people institute government, delegating to it the authority to use force to protect us from those who would infringe on those rights. However, if the government uses the power with which it has been entrusted to help some to infringe on the rights of others, then it has both violated its charter and acted immorally.
This is true no matter whom the government is favoring. If the government uses its power for the benefit of a corporation or an employer to infringe the rights of a worker or anyone else, then the government is wrong here as well. It's a two way street, and the principle applies to everyone equally.
As I said earlier, I prefer clarity to agreement. While I understand we won't all agree, I have tried to state my case, and to explain the principles that support it. Obviously, Blue Neck disagrees with me. I would have preferred to get a better understanding of the principles upon which his opinion is based. Instead I got several variations of, "Corporations are bad, and you're a bad person for supporting them."
At this point, I've made my case for government neutrality as best I know how. I can only hope that I have at least given some readers some food for thought. Unless anyone has any specific questions I can answer to help clarify my position, I'll just go ahead and butt out now.
I clearly disagree with libertarianism because I’ve never met a libertarian who admits that the very complex marketplace we experience in this country evolved with the government’s help—for good or bad. Corporate charters, tax codes, regulation of stock exchanges, patents, copyrights, contract law, courts, etc. are creations of the very government that “free-market” libertarians deride. Is it perfect? Heck no. The purpose of government vis a vis the marketplace is supposed to be to create a level playing field so that large, medium, and small players have confidence to participate. The deeper, wider, more diverse, and more dynamic the marketplace is, the better.
The only free market that exists, as Thom has explained, is when two people exchange products or services (i.e., Farmer A exchanges his goat for Farmer B’s sheep). Not even money, issued by the government, could be exchanged. And no methods of regulated transportation or communications (i.e., trucks, public roads, phones, postal service) could be used . Now that may sound ridiculous. But it is truly the only way to have a transaction where the government has no part in making it happen. And our recognizing how government has evolved with the private sector and individuals to play a role (good or bad) in so many facets of our complex lives is important.
Of course, libertarians would argue that the private sector can do whatever government does better. Again, I clearly disagree. But that’s another discussion.
So when We the People (the government) want to level the marketplace for workers by allowing them to belong to unions in a fair and open way, without intimidation and delay tactics by employers and to bargain collectively, it’s no more interventionist than the myriad of government interventions that benefit other groups—mostly corporations. To be concerned about favoring workers and just ignore all the favoritism bestowed by the government for employers, or worse yet—just calling it the “free market” and not even acknowledging the government’s favoritism—is not, I believe, intellectually honest.
Some libertarians do acknowledge the favoritism, only they don’t call it that. It’s just a function of what is moral in a capitalistic society in their minds. Positive incentives are justly bestowed on the “producers” and the rabble need negative incentives to keep them in line. Then when you point out their classist bias, they start screaming “That’s class warfare!” But perpetuating the bias is class warfare by the privileged on everyone else. They want favoritism, AND they don’t want anyone to acknowledge it let alone call it favoritism. Can arrogance be any more willful than that?
I'm wondering about those workers who choose not to "check the box", or to keep with the analogy, registered as independent. Since they didn't choose to join any "party" (or union to keep with the analogy), I'm guessing that they'd simply continue their jobs as before and would not become part of the "constitution". That would be quite a change from the current "secret ballot" law, where, once a union forms, ALL employees become part of that "bargaining unit", whether they voted yes or no.
I suppose I could get behind that the whole "check to box to sign up" thing, as it seems reasonable. So, the employees that "check the box" all become members of that union, and in the future operate under its "constitution." Those that didn't "check the box" continue to negotiate their contracts on their own, either individually or possibly as a member of some other union for which they decide to "check the box."
Would there be a facility for a member of a union to unregister, and return to being an independent employee, or possibly to "switch parties" (to keep with the registration theme) and join a different union that could negotiate a better deal for that worker?
Sounds like a big change, but I guess if it gives us workers more freedom of choice and makes the unions compete to negotiate the best deal for the employees, I'd be all for it.