Bookending the Working Class

S. Artesian

It’s not exactly a secret that over the last 35 years, labor unions have experienced “lean times;” nor is it a secret that the “lean times” have been codified as policy; nor that the policy transcends the bourgeoisie’s party divisions; nor that all of the above has been triggered and is sustained by the need of capitalism to offset the persistence of declining profitability by “clawing back” from workers, organized and unorganized.

The numbers of unionized workers in the US has declined relatively from 20.1 percent of the labor force in 1983 to 10.7 percent in 2017.  The number of unionized workers in the US has declined absolutely from 17.7 million in 1983 to 14.8 million in 2017.  Only 6.4 percent of the labor force in the private sector is unionized, with the utility industry having the highest concentration.  In the public sector, 34.4 percent are unionized with teachers showing the highest rate of unionization.

Besides the 14.8 million workers claiming union membership, there are an additional 1.6 million workers covered by union agreement without being members.   These 1.6 million pay “agency fees”–assessments paid to union for time, money, effort expended in negotiating contracts and agreements that benefit them collectively as part of the work force covered by collective bargaining agreements.

It’s worth the money as union members generally earn 25 percent more than non-unionized workers for the same work.  And it is this 1.6 million that shine so brightly in the eyes, plans, and wallets of the Dark Money vanguard of capitalist expropriation.   This rats nest of John Birchers, billionaires, crackpot libertarian drunkards, pseudo-Smithian political economists, cocooned inside a web of lawyers, has pushed an attack on the assessment and collection of agency fees all the way to the US Supreme Court in the case of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. 

Now in 1977, the US Supreme Court in Abood v. Detroit Board of Eduction ruled that agency fees were indeed constitutional, as unions are bound by contract to represent all employees in contract negotiations.   The Court also ruled that such fees could not be used for any costs incurred through political activity or advocacy.  The agency fees  have to be segregated, and dedicated to the costs of negotiation and representation.

But that was then, and this is now, and that “now” is the era of Citizens United v. FEC where the Court ruled that political spending is protected speech.  The Dark Money lawyers advocating on behalf of their real clients, the State Policy Network, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the Koch Brothers Donors Trust and Donors Capital funds, the Bradley Foundation, the Cato Institute argue the negotiation for a contract cannot be separated from political advocacy as the negotiations, the contract, and indeed the very act of representation itself, amount to political advocacy as there can be no distinction between negotiating with the government and lobbying the government.   Of course there is a difference,– the difference is between being a worker employed by the government and being a special interest group that does not have an employer-employee relationship, but so much for the subtleties of a sledge-hammer.

The destruction of language, where the meanings of words get flipped, reversed, destroyed is essential to every phase of reaction.  We get Ronald Reagan as a “revolutionary,” and a Reagan “revolution,” which means that ketchup is a vegetable.  We get money is free speech when it’s class power.  We get freedom is property, when the reality is freedom of property.  We’re never more than a verb or two away from “War is Peace,” “Ignorance is Strength,” “Freedom is Slavery.”  Burke gives way to Gilder gives way to Sean Hannity; Smith gives way to Hayek gives way to Wilbur Ross, Nixon gives way to Reagan gives way to Trump. Sophistry gives way to, paves the way for,  the disavowal of reality.

Corporations are persons, but slaves aren’t.  That’s the sum total of the Supreme Court’s “rule of law.”  Those are the bookends on the shelf of US Constitutional Law.   That’s the distillation of political economy.

Of course the issue isn’t, and has never been one of logic, or rationality.  It’s always been the issue of class struggle. It’s the need of the bourgeoisie, with money laundered, light and dark separate or together, to drive down wages, to reduce any organized, collective, class resistance by the workers, even if that organization is as fractional as that of the unions.

The union response has been determined, as always, by the unions’ adherence to the terms of their legal incorporation into capitalism.  The usual rallies with the usual governors, mayors, legislators, legislative reps, labor council officials have been held.   The usual appeals urging the membership to support the usual Democratic governors, mayors, legislators, as if incorporation of labor  into capital’s structures of administration, regulation, regimentation, was still a goal of policy; as if the goal and policy hadn’t altered to that of  atomizing of labor organizations; as if marginalization isn’t the “new” incorporation.

The “strategy” is not even one of defense, but rather one of nostalgia; to wish for something that might qualify as something close to a coalition of labor with “progressive” Democrats, an impractical and impoverished response that has brought organized labor to the edge of extinction.  This “strategy” and its “tactics” must be opposed.  Such a “defense” is itself part of the attack in that workers are suborned to, and condemned to dependency on the organizations of capital.

Without a doubt, when the US Supreme Court rules in favor of Janus and the dark money vanguard, the ruling will represent a defeat for the working class.  A defeat is always a defeat.

Even if the Court rules against Janus, Koch, Bradley and company, adhering to and abiding by the legal boundaries placed by capital around class conscious action  means that any setback to reactionary attacks is but momentary.  The economic forces, the fragile nature of profitability, the fact that the source of the recovery in profitability is found in the ongoing attacks on wages, benefits, living standards, access to health care, education, are relentless, and will dictate further attacks.  Until capitalism is abolished, a victory is only rarely going to be a victory.  This is not one of those rare occasions.

March 4, 2018


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