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Labor unions, like the United Nations, are all too often judged by what they are envisioned as being – not by what they actually are or what they actually do.
Many people, who do not look beyond the vision or the rhetoric to the reality, still think of labor unions as protectors of working people from their employers. And union bosses still employ that kind of rhetoric. However, someone once said, “When I speak I put on a mask, but when I act I must take it off.”
That mask has been coming off, more and more, especially during the Obama administration, and what is revealed underneath is very ugly, very cynical and very dangerous.
First there was the grossly misnamed “Employee Free Choice Act” that the administration tried to push through Congress. What it would have destroyed was precisely what it claimed to be promoting – a free choice by workers as to whether or not they wanted to join a labor union.
Ever since the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, workers have been able to express their free choice of joining or not joining a labor union in a federally conducted election with a secret ballot.
As workers in the private sector have, over the years, increasingly voted to reject joining labor unions, union bosses have sought to replace secret ballots with signed documents – signed in the presence of union organizers and under the pressures, harassments or implicit threats of those organizers.
Now that the Obama administration has appointed a majority of the members of the National Labor Relations Board, the NLRB leadership has imposed new requirements that employers supply union organizers with the names and home addresses of every employee. Nor do employees have a right to decline to have this personal information given out to union organizers, under NLRB rules.
In other words, union organizers will now have the legal right to pressure, harass or intimidate workers on the job or in their own homes, in order to get them to sign up with the union. Among the consequences of not signing up is union reprisal on the job if the union wins the election. But physical threats and actions are by no means off the table, as many people who get in the way of unions have learned.
Workers who do not want to join a union will now have to decide how much harassment of themselves and their family they are going to have to put up with, if they don’t knuckle under.
In the past, unions had to make the case to workers that it was in their best interests to join. Meanwhile, employers would make their case to the same workers that it was in their best interest to vote against joining.
When the unions began losing those elections, they decided to change the rules. And after Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, with large financial support from labor unions, the rules were in fact changed by Obama’s NLRB.
As if to make the outcome of workers’ “choices” more of a foregone conclusion, the time period between the announcement of an election and the election itself has been shortened by the NLRB.
In other words, the union can spend months, or whatever amount of time it takes, for them to prepare and implement an organizing campaign beforehand – and then suddenly announce a deadline date for the decision on having or not having a union. The union organizers can launch their full-court press before the employers have time to organize a comparable counter-argument or the workers have time to weigh their decision, while being pressured.
The last thing this process is concerned about is a free choice for workers. The first thing it is concerned about is getting a captive group of union members, whose compulsory dues provide a large sum of money to be spent at the discretion of union bosses, to provide those bosses with both personal perks and political power to wield, on the basis of their ability to pick and choose where to make campaign contributions from the union members’ dues.
Union elections do not recur like other elections. They are like some Third World elections: “One man, one vote – one time.” And getting a recognized union unrecognized is an uphill struggle.
But, so long as many people refuse to see the union for what it is, or the Obama administration for what it is, this cynical and corrupt process can continue.
A Cynical Process: Part II
A small headline in the 2nd section of the Wall Street Journal last week told a bigger story than a lot of front page banner headlines. It said, “U.S. Firms Add Jobs, but Mostly Overseas.”
Just as there is no free lunch, there is no free class warfare. Some people may be inspired by President Obama’s talk about making “the rich” pay their undefined “fair share” of taxes, or taking away corporations’ “tax breaks.” But talk is not always cheap. It can be very costly to those working people who are looking for jobs that the Obama administration’s anti-business policies are driving overseas.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “Thirty-five big U.S.-based multinational companies added jobs much faster than other U.S. employers in the past two years, but nearly three-fourths of those jobs were overseas.” All these companies have at least 50,000 employees, so we are talking about a lot of jobs for foreigners with American companies overseas.
If the Wall Street Journal can figure this out, it seems certain that the President of the United States has economic advisers who can figure out the same thing. But that does not mean that the president is interested in the same thing.
In this, as in so much else, Barack Obama is interested in Barack Obama. Whatever bad effects his policies may have for others, those policies have had a track record of political success for many politicians in many places.
To put it bluntly, killing the goose that lays the golden egg is a viable political strategy, provided the goose doesn’t die before the next election. In this case, the goose simply lays its golden eggs somewhere else, so there is no political danger to President Obama.
Unemployment may remain a problem to many Americans, but that only provides another occasion for the Obama administration to show its “compassion” with extended unemployment benefits, more food stamps and various interventions to save home buyers from mortgage foreclosure. This can easily be a winning political strategy.
Franklin D. Roosevelt won his biggest landslide victory after his first term in office, during which the unemployment rate was never less than twice what it has been under Barack Obama.
The “smart money” inside the Beltway says that a high unemployment rate spells doom at the polls for a president. But history says that people who are getting government handouts tend to vote for whoever is doing the handing out.
The Obama administration has turned this into a handout state that breaks all previous records. Lofty rhetoric about “stimulus,” “shovel-ready projects,” “green jobs” or “investment” in “the industries of the future” all give political cover to what is plain old handouts to people who are likely to vote to re-elect Obama.
At the local level as well, history shows that some of the most successful politicians have been people who ruined the local economy and chased job-creating businesses away. Mayor Coleman Young of Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s was not worried when affluent whites began moving out of the city in response to his policies, because they were people who were likely to vote against him if they stayed.
Of course they took their taxes, their investment money and the jobs they created with them. But that was Detroit’s problem, not Coleman Young’s problem. Barack Obama may win re-election by turning the United States into Detroit writ large.
Something similar happened in earlier times, when James Michael Curley served 4 terms as mayor of Boston, and 2 terms in prison. As the non-Irish left the city, in response to Curley’s policies, that increased Curley’s likelihood of being re-elected.
This kind of cynical politics is even more likely to succeed when political opponents fail to articulate their case to the public. And Republicans are notorious for neglecting articulation.
The phrase “tax cuts for the rich” has been repeated endlessly by Democrats without one Republican that I know of saying, “Folks, I don’t lie awake at night worrying about millionaires’ tax problems. Millionaires have lawyers and accountants who get paid to do that. But I do worry about jobs being lost to millions of American workers because we make the business climate here worse than in other countries. That’s a high price to pay for rhetoric.”
The case can be made. But somebody has to make the case.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His Web site is www.tsowell.com. To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page.