introduction of the Employee Free Choice Act in Congress this week
signaled the beginning of a battle royal between the Republican
Party and American workers.
became very clear several weeks ago, when Congress was debating
the bailout of the American auto industry that the Republicans believe
American workers make too much money. They said at that time that
United Auto Workers union members needed to give up the pay scales
that they had worked decades to win at the bargaining table and
on the shop floor, and agree to reductions in pay and benefits to
match the lower pay and benefits of their non-union counterparts
at the foreign auto plants.
was the peak of their decades-long campaign to keep American workers
from organizing their own unions. They had them where they wanted
them - without unions and without a way of expressing their desire
for democracy in the workplace.
want your industry bailed out? Then submit to our demands for ever-lower
wages and no unions, no collective bargaining,” was the message
from the Republicans, who maintained a united front on the issue.
Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) simply makes it easier for workers
to form a union. They can do so by having a majority sign union
cards, indicating their wish to join a union. Of course, they still
may vote by secret ballot, conducted by the National Labor Relations
Board (NLRB), if they wish.
in their desperation, have lied about the effect of the EFCA, saying
that it eliminates the possibility of secret ballot for workers
and, therefore, is not in conformance with the American way. As
has been noticed in the matter of free, secret ballot elections,
the Republicans have shed crocodile tears about “their” workers.
You’d almost think they cared about them and their families.
the early days of the last century, when assembly line production
was coming into its own in all of the major industries - auto, rubber,
glass, steel, appliances, and electrical gadgetry - workers didn’t
like the idea that they could be fired for any reason or for no
didn’t like the idea that they were paid on the basis of what the
boss or the employer deemed sufficient.
labor movement was in its early stages, even though unions had been
around for a half-century. In all those decades, employers and the
wealthy hired their own armies, called “detective agencies,” which
knew how to break heads and, when it was necessary, kill those who
were too unruly and too insistent on forming their own unions or
federal law that encouraged workers to form unions was the next
step, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In the ensuing 20 years,
there was a surge of union organizing that shook the foundations
of the political right wing. They looked at the rate of organizing
and feared that the whole country would be unionized in no time.
the time, however, they were pursuing the same line of propaganda
that they’d been pushing through the late 19th Century and the first
three decades of the 20th - unions are the same as Bolshevism…unions
will destroy freedom and the American way of life.
recent weeks, Republicans have stood up in Congress and said essentially
the same thing: EFCA is a sure path to socialism. They never explain
what they mean by that and we shouldn’t expect them to explain.
Using the word is enough to devastate any proponent of card-check
to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in a report released
this month, more than one-fourth of all union representation elections
in the 2000s have been marred by an illegal firing of a pro-union
worker. The report covers firings of union supporters from 1951-2007
and finds that the rate of firing of union-supporting workers has
increased in this decade. Since the election of Ronald Reagan as
president, a new industry has arisen - union-busting law firms and
individual “union-avoidance” consultants. Their job is the same
as those of 80 years ago, except without the clubs. In the past
three decades, they have used the law and courts to deny workers
their right to a union.
effect has been the same, but the worker-organizers appreciate having
their skulls intact at the end of a union campaign, although they
might be without a job. Some get their jobs back, but it has taken
years for the cases to make their way through the National Labor
Relations Board proceedings, especially under Reagan, George H.W.
Bush, and George W. Bush. By then, most fired workers were employed
is difficult to organize a union under any circumstance. The opposition
is formidable: hostile politicians, a very hostile Corporate America,
a court system that often sees things through a haze of sympathy
for the fellows of their class, and individual bosses that exert
direct influence and power over all the workers, union-supporters
employers decide to get rid of a union, they start a petition for
what’s called a decertification election. That’s pretty straightforward.
They like decertification, yet they don’t want workers to have a
similar basic process to form their own union.
Republicans have demanded recently of individual workers - to take
the lower pay of non-union foreign-car makers in the U.S. - is what
American corporations have done for nearly four decades: They have
told workers that, in a global economy, you will take the lower
pay and lesser benefits that we’re offering at the bargaining table,
or we’ll just take our factory or company to a low-wage country.
this stage of American history, they no longer need to threaten
flight to another country. Deregulation and other factors in the
financial sector have brought the U.S. economy to a condition in which it seems
almost reasonable for workers to give up their present and their
future. But the people in Congress who are demanding it never for
a second think about giving up the life of privilege that they enjoy.
And they don’t demand much sacrifice from corporate CEOs and their
are not all that brave for introducing EFCA, for it will not guarantee
rejuvenation of the organized labor movement. They have had a half-century
to mitigate the laws and court rulings that have weakened American
workers’ right to a decent standard of living for themselves, their
families, and communities. It hasn’t happened. But card-check is
a small step toward a new beginning, when workers will be able to
support one another across industries and geographical boundaries
to form unions of their choice. And, it’s hard to imagine Democrats
calling for pay cuts for American workers.
all of the debate and threats and whining about card-check, it should
not be forgotten that the huge middle of the American economy -
whether it’s called a middle class or a powerful working class -
was possible because of two things: a growing and strong union movement
and the GI Bill that gave the working class’s sons and daughters
an opportunity to be educated and thrive in a scientific and technological
that’s what worries congressional Republicans and their friends
and supporters. You can’t keep too tight a leash on a resurgent
working class. And, you can’t let them make too much money.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer.
His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper
Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers
in New York State. In addition to labor work,
he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the
land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land
developers. Click here
to contact Mr. Funiciello.