Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Card Check Neutrality and the 2008 Elections

This article was originally submitted to Playpus but they rejected it saying that it was confusing. I would like Platypus editors to explain to me how this article which they did publish made any sense at all. My article was an attempt to deal with strategy and tactics of the union movement in relation to elections. A lot of what they print has no practical value to the movement, but is instead arm-chair revolutionizing.

To be fair I should say that I have made some edits to this piece, and Platypus did offer to have me resubmit the piece, however I was not happy with editor they assigned to me and I did not get around to making the edits and resubmitting it in time to go to print before the November election.


It is election time again. A black man who has made hawkish statements on Iran, Pakistan and Palestine and who continues to vote to fund the war is running against a woman who is pro-free trade, and voted for the war in Iraq. Neither one will take the nuclear option of the table for Iran, both want to build a wall on the border with Mexico and that's only the tip of how each of them is not as liberal as the media would have you believe.

Why, when the majority of the American people want someone genuinely progressive this election cycle do we have no real progressive option in the top tier? Partly it is the ignorance among the general populace regarding what the candidates truly stand for. The candidates are then able to spend their fortunes (personal or collected from the rich) to project an image that has little basis in reality, but that appeals to what people want. Consider Ron Paul, the anti-war but pro-capitalism candidate who rode on a crest of liberal ignorance about his actual policies (cutting welfare, privatization, etc) to gain a following.

Why The Employee Free Choice Act Is Important

The democratic presidential contenders are bourgeoisie politicians and the majority of their policies are in opposition to people's movement's, but there is one weak spot among the top Democrats that progressive and radical groups can exploit and use against the bourgeoisie: the Employee Free Choice Act, which the top democrats both support the passage of. This act would make it easier for unions to grow and organize workplaces.

Unions protect workers rights, fight for better wages and benefits, improve living conditions in the workplace and community and fight against the worst corporate sweatshop conditions. A workplace without a union is one where the boss can inflict all sorts of abuses.

Unions can also become a vanguard in a greater movement. A union shop is one where workers have a democratic structure to organize their power. Unions led by a
progressive/radical vanguard can become incubators for true democracy and for the revolution which will sweep aside all oppression and unjust hierarchy.

To many people the presence of a union is the difference between life and death, between a life worth living and a life wasted on serving the rich.

Without the Employee Free Choice Act it is more difficult to unionize a workplace. Often the company fights the union and forces an election to take place where workers must vote whether to join the union or not. These elections are anything but free and fair. The companies have all the advantages in these elections. They can force the workers to watch anti-union videos at work, they have workers contact information and they are able get away with intimidating and firing workers who publicly support the union.

The passage of the Employee Free Choice Act would change this by making card check neutrality the law of the land. A union card check is when a union gets the majority of workers in a shop to sign a union card and then call the National Labor Relations Board in to certify that the majority of workers in a shop did indeed sign a union card. The law today makes it so that companies can challenge a union's certification, thus forcing a vote. If the Employee Free Choice Act were passed, company's would be forced to accept a card check. Companies would be legally required to remain neutral in their employee's decision on whether or not to join the union.

With the Employee Free Choice Act, the playing field would be more balanced between the bosses and the union. The union could visit employees at their home, away from the intimidation of the boss. They could organize a company’s workers without the company even knowing about it until the NLRB is called in to certify the union cards. Unionizing a workplace would be less like the intensity of an election, and more like a slow build of petition collecting.

Preventing Embarrassing Compromises

The passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is arguable the most important legislative issue in this election. While all the other issues are just as morally important-- ending the war, equal rights for queers, stopping global warming, civil liberties and civil rights for immigrants and oppressed people of color, few of them has the carry over impact on the other issues that national card check neutrality would have.

Legalizing gay marriage won't end the war, the same way ending global warming won't stop police brutality. However a labor movement made stronger by the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and led by a progressive/radical vanguard, will have an impact on those other issues. It will oppose the war by striking and shutting down ports that ship war supplies. It will support legalizing gay marriage because many union members are gay. Unions will fight against police brutality like they have fought against strike breaking police and scabs. They will fight against global warming because they need a good environment to maintain the health of their members and the raw materials needed for jobs comes from a sustainable environment.

All of the top tier Democrats have agreed to support the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. They have adopted this position to win support from a
sizable and active part of their base, but the passage of this act would also create an opening for progressives and radicals to challenge Clinton and Obama on the issues they aren't so progressive on. By using the new legal terrain to organize and build its ranks, labor will be able to take more radical positions without worrying about losing, because it will be stronger and able to fight back more effectively.

This will also prevent embarrassing compromises unions have often made to get card check neutrality from companies. Unions often find themselves agreeing to support a company’s expansion if the company agrees to card check neutrality.

Without the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, unions are only able to get card check neutrality conditions if a corporation agrees to them. Most companies do not agree to card check neutrality out of their own good will towards organized labor or because of a belief in democratic workplaces.

Usually the union asks the company to agree to card check neutrality to prevent an election where the union would face an uphill battle to win. Sometimes the union is able to organize in secret and force the company to agree to card check. Other times in order to get the company to agree to card check neutrality, the union cuts them a deal to support the company in a permit application in city hall, or to not oppose a merger or an expansion into a new market. This is embarrassing because the unions should be fighting for the destruction of capitalism, not helping it expand.

In a sense, under the present conditions, unions have been forced into the same situation that many Communist countries like Vietnam, China and Cuba have been forced into. Party leaders in Vietnam can argue that allowing corporate sweatshops into their country is a win-win situation, a Communist country is able to develop and the corporations are able to profit. Likewise many moderates argue that supporting a company that has agreed to card check neutrality is a win-win situation. The company expands and as it does so it benefits the union because it create more union jobs.

But it is not a win-win situation, it is a complicated and messy situation. There is a dialectic with such tactics, as the capital of a card check neutral company expands it creates more union jobs which hold the potential for undermining capital. However, if unions did not fear the company challenging them and forcing an election that the union could potentially lose, unions would not have to worry about such compromises, and could instead take on a broad organizing approach without any compromises with the bosses.

The Future of the Workers Movements Rests on the Workers Movement

Despite the benefits the labor movement would gain from the Employee Free Choice Act, the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act would not mean that organized labor would get a free ride. The union movement will have a few things they will have to do to fully take advantage of card check neutrality as the law of the land. They will have to work and put a lot of effort in to bring non-union workers into unions. They will need to raise the class consciousness of union workers and organizers. They can not be satisfied with mere contracts, but should demand worker ownership and control of the workplaces.

It will also be important for organized labor to push the Democrats for more, to raise the demands and the stakes for support. The labor movement has been forced to make many compromises to gain even moderate allies of labor in the electoral realm . These compromises have been counterproductive in many ways. Consider Clinton and Obama-- both supported the McCain-Kennedy immigration act which would have codified a two-tiered labor system, one for American citizens and and a sub-standard one for immigrants. Both would not act against free trade deals which allow capital to flow across borders virtually unchecked while criminalizing workers who seek to cross borders. They would both continue to support corporate globalization or the “race to the bottom” where workers and countries compete against each other to see who will work for the lowest wage. Clinton and Obama have, through their actions and policies, divided workers instead of uniting them.

The unions have supported these candidates in an attempt to gain pressure points and allies in Washington, yet it has not gotten them much of anywhere, because the unions do not have the grassroots power to pressure politicians effectively.

Imagine if a union president told a Democratic candidate, “we'll only knock on doors for you if you will oppose anti-union legislation like Taft-Hartley, support worker expropriation of the factories, full amnesty for immigrants and universal single payer health-care. Oh and we want a cancellation of all World Bank debt and an immediate withdrawal of US forces from the world.” Right now, that candidate would tell the union they doesn't need their endorsement. If the Employee Free Choice Act gets passed and unions organize and build their ranks under it, becoming powerhouses, then that candidate would feel pressure from the union and would be more inclined to take their advice, or that politician would suffer the consequences of not doing what the workers wanted-- losing an election or worse.

Labor's Ultimate Goal

The ultimate goal of the labor movement should not be the election of labor friendly politicians, rather it should be the abolition of capitalism. No matter how good a union job is, it is still undermined by the existence of the boss. Some might not like this kind of class conflict. They might see labor and business working hand in hand. These business unions want win-win situations for the corporations and the unions. They believe that there is such a thing as a good capitalist, a capitalist who provides well paying union jobs.

On a certain level corporations and labor do work together. Laborers works for corporations, who give workers rent and food money. However, even the USSR and the USA had relations, but each had the intention of defeating the other. Likewise should labor's relation be with corporations. The labor movement should not want to just create comfortable union jobs, it should want the union to be the seed of the workers cooperatives which will seize control of all industry and abolish capital's undemocratic control of the economic and social system.

It's important to remember that using the Employee Free Choice Act to build bigger unions will not be the only thing that lead to unions that are more progressive and are able to compromise with capitalists less. Unions were big in the 1950's yet they purged communists from their ranks, and in the 1960's and 1970's, when organized labor had far more members than today, many unions supported the Vietnam war.

The labor movement should not allow itself to be hijacked for less progressive causes. Many workers have conservative views on any number of issues: gay marriage, the war, evolution, global warming and race relations. However their views will change as their material conditions change. The worker who harbors racist bigotry will have to work in a multi-racial group if they want more respect on the workplace, and this will challenge the mistaken ideas they have. The flag waving patriotic worker will doubt supporting the US army when that same army is called in to squash their attempt to seize a factory which is to be downsized and exported to a sweatshop in another country. This is how they come to identify less with the boss and develop their own revolutionary class consciousness and a communist world-view.

It will be up to the left of the union movement, including but not limited to those who identify as socialists, anarchists and communists, act as a vanguard in the labor movement by leading workers down such a path. This vanguard will have to gain work in the unions, gain positions of influence on the shop floor as rank and file workers and in the union offices as radical organizers, and push for the most radical demands if the labor movement is to have any relevance beyond a few more pennies on a pay check for workers. If the labor movement is to be about respect and democratic control of the workplace and healthier conditions and lives for workers and the community, this vanguard of organizers will have to act as a spark that ignites the prairie fire. That doesn't mean that they won't have to make compromises from time to time, but they will do so in a dialectical way, with the ultimate abolition of capital as a goal.


What should the movement do in the election? Campaign for the Democrats? Support a radical third party? Third party candidates are more likely in step with communist positions, unfortunately their campaigns are more propaganda and publicity stunts than serious mass movements. Communists should develop contacts in the different campaigns, going to volunteers who will be betrayed by the candidates and recruiting them to a communist outlook, but beyond that, it's difficult to determine the best tactic for communists in an election such as this.

One thing is for sure, the Democrats support the passage of pro-labor legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act because of the progressive/radical movement and organized labor's strength, not because of any moral justifications. The Democrats do not support other pro-labor positions, such as ending the war, legalizing gay marriage, ending corporate globalization, and other issues because of the weakness of the progressive/radical movement and organized labor. To get the Employee Free Choice Act and other progressive legislation passed the movement needs grow. There can be no easy short cuts to this.

Many in the labor movement are looking for a shortcut to a more powerful labor movement. They say that labor needs a Democrat in the White House because it would give the left breathing space to organize. A Republican would set out to crush the unions and while a Democrat won't help labor, they will need labor support enough to not work directly against it. Organized labor should be careful to not forget the betrayals of the Clinton era. Many thought that with Clinton's 1992 theme of “It's the Economy Stupid,” that unions would get a boost. After Clinton signed NAFTA into law and created the World Trade Organization, many in labor felt betrayed. Unions should not doubt for a moment that any Democratic candidate in 2008 will betray labor as well. Just look at who the top Democrats have already betrayed-- Obama denounced his pastor (a man he compared to the father he never had) because Rev. Wright had the audacity to “equate the United States wartime efforts with terrorism.”

While Clinton and Obama both support the passage of the Employee Free Choice act, it remains to be seen how much the act would be watered down to secure its passage, what new free trade deals a democratic administration would pass and what other pro-business positions it would take. Several union organizers I have talked to say that they are worried that the language the Employee Free Choice Act would use would be weaker than many of the Card Check Neutrality Agreements they have with different companies now. It might even prohibit stronger more pro-union card check neutrality agreements being made.

Which is why the burden isn't on whoever runs for office, it is on the movement. Whether or not the democrats win in 2008, whether or not the Employee Free Choice Act is passed, working people, organizers and radicals are the ones who will build the movement, using both legal and illegal methods that will hold capitalists and those bourgeoisie office-holders to the flames, and ultimately, throw them in the flames.

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