Friday, October 10, 2008

Pining for the day when America becomes France

Something we're all going to hear a lot more about in the event of an Obama win is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). For the American business community, it is probably one of the most significant bills to come along in the past 30 years, because it would make unionization a much simpler process, with less opportunity for employer interference.

From the employer's perspective, "America will become France," in the words of Home Depot founder, Bernie Marcus. France happens to have paid maternity leave, however; and I hear that's cool if you want to, like, raise your kids and feed them at the same time. It's one of the benefits people enjoy when their tax money is spent on basic public needs -- as opposed to merely making things go kablooey in far distant lands, or ensuring that the have-mores can play the stock market when they aren't cockblocking wages via executive compensation and shareholder payouts. (Just to be kind, we'll omit the kinds of public outlays required in the event of a wholesale financial Armageddon -- which happens every once in a while, too -- and restrict our criticisms to the normal, healthy functioning of a pro-business economy.)

American business is always in an awkward position when it comes to discussing its basic motivations. You will never hear any high-level executive or government hireling say: "Fuck man, we need more cash-money for bitches and bling!" You will only hear them say: "Shit dude, we're only trying to create jobs up in this piece!" And yet, no company creates jobs without an implicit guarantee (or, at the very least, expectation) of profits derived from that expenditure. In practice, the shittier the job created, the greater the profits derived. This is why unions suck from a business perspective: they impose limits on the shittiness of jobs created. In the early 20th century, this meant being able to work in a meat processing plant while enjoying a much reduced probability being processed as meat yourself. Today it might mean having some variety of health insurance for your family, even though you didn't go to college and don't deserve it -- at least from an employer's perspective.

True to form, business is framing their argument against the EFCA as a defense of workers' fundamental rights -- in this case without even disclosing their identity or self-interest in the legislation:

The deceptively titled Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) threatens to shake loose one of the cornerstones of democracy: the private-ballot vote.
For over 70 years, workers have exercised this fundamental right to privacy in deciding whether to unionize. EFCA seeks to disrupt the private ballot and use in its place a public system in which a worker's vote will be anything but private. Under EFCA, workers could be required to publicly declare their vote in front of union leaders, fellow employees, and management. This invasion of privacy is not only unfair, it is just plain un-American-and it opens the door for coercion and intimidation from both sides.
Anybody who has ever "done time" in a place of employment can tell you how long anything told in confidence to one co-worker will last before it becomes the common intellectual property of all. There is no "private option" at work unless you express nothing that you want kept private.

The same is true of union organizing drives -- especially true since perks and privileges can be distributed by managers to their subordinates in exchange for info on pro-union employees. These employees can then be sacked on whatever pretense required; and they can be sacked before the private ballot process ever begins. This is why the private ballot option is so useful to employers: organizing simply can't be done in private, and the more time employers have to disrupt the process, the better. EFCA addresses this disadvantage by establishing union legitimacy through a simple collection of signatures, or, "card check."

But if anything is evidence of an unwillingness among business concerns to negotiate with employees in good faith, it is the kind of treatment, like above, which purposefully aims at deceiving the public as to where workers stand on this issue.

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