Keep On Takin' Back

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Today's Obama speech in Philadelphia underscored something about Take Back America: the conference is right, smack in Washington, D.C., and the grand guignol of the campaign is happening everywhere else. Robert Borosage, the co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, confirmed to me that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were both invited to speak. He didn't expect the campaign to drag on this long, did he? "No, we moved this up from June," he said. "We wanted to have some time before the convention, and… we expected to have a nominee by now," he said.

This isn't great for attendees, who I see swarming into sessions with anyone they've heard of: Jim Webb, Naomi Klein, Barbara Ehrenreich. It's good for reporters, who can avoid crowds and talk to activists in wide-open sessions. Last night I cracked beers with some members of the United Steelworkers who were funny and blunt about the election. "We needed to get rid of Hillary, and it looks like she's done," one said. I asked him about the chances of passing the Employee Free Choice Act (which would let people unionize by signing cards instead of holding elections) if a Democrat won the election. He looked at me like I was drooling. "If the sun comes up in the morning, we're passing card check."

Updates a-comin' in this thread.

2:07: I'm at a session on "empowering workers," all about what the labor movement wants from the Democrats. Mary Beth Maxwell from American Rights at Work warms up the crowd with a "pop quiz" about unions and the right-wing movement to stop them. Which country did Human Rights Watch say was violating human rights in the labor force? (A)—the United States! (Fun fact: the Chinese Embassy is a 5-minute walk from here, and currently being protested by Free Tibet-ers) Another question:

How long did Domsey Trading workers have to wait for the National to provide compensation for being harassed, assaulted, and even fired for trying to form a union?

(a) 6 months
(b) 1 year
(c) 5 years
(d) 18 years

See if you can guess!

Next up is a representative from Change to Win, who makes a passionate appeal for passing card check. "There are lot of strategies for mobilizing support behind this," he says. "I… don't want to go into them all now, in this public setting. We just got three racketeering suits against us."

2:28: I'm not live-blogging as much as taking notes, but here's Stewart Acuff of the AFL-CIO on why the economy is in decline: "The root cause is that workers lost any ability to form unions and bargain effectively." Acuff's speaking style is very reliant on snapping his hands together and pulling them apart ("wages and work were" *snap* "decoupled!"), which convinces me of his arguments.

2:43: From Change to Win's man: "We had some just desserts from Bear Stearns. When they sold the company [Chairman] Jimmy Cayne's net worth dropped from $1.3 billion to $12 million. Now, $12 million isn't nothing, but it's not $1.3 billion." Ha, ha!

2:49: A questioner (who works for the Social Security Administration) asks if EFCA can really be passed if the Democrats don't get 60 Senate seats. Mary Beth Maxwell points out that the Act got some Republican votes. But: "It's a beginning, the sea change moment that shows we can turn this around, we can secure this right for millions of workers." From Change to Win's representative: "The reason we endorsed Obama is because we think that movement behind Obama gives us the opportunity to do that." He avers that we're a "long way" from federal workers getting the right to strike.

2:56: Hrm: Stewart Acuff points out that the enemies of labor are "recording everything we say." I look at my sturdy Olympus without shame. Acuff is winding us up, though: "I don't care who hears this: We're going to beat those anti-EFCA Republicans!" The Senate seats he wants to take: Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Virginia, Oregon, New Mexico, Mississippi and Kentucky. "Don't give up on the 60," he says. And about legislative strategy: "If we have to build a bridge somewhere to get it passed, then build the damn bridge! If we have to rename a highway after somebody, rename the highway!"

3:25: In the media room, I chatted a little with some liberal journalists and Phyllis Bennett, a radio personality and friend of Jeremiah Wright, about the Obama/Wright saga. Actually, they were talking, and I butted in, suggesting that the "God damn America" line has been misunderstood.

"That's not it," Bennett said. "It wasn't 'goddamn America,' the adjective. It was God DAMN America. He was using it as a verb."

I understood this, actually, but I was trying to point out how that and the CIA/AIDS Wright moments were being splattered across TV screens to damn everything Wright had said. One of the other reporters shook his head. "What we're doing right now, parsing this, that's exactly the problem. Why are we talking about this at all? Why is a cable news network discussing this for four hours at a time?"

One thing Obama's speech did: It made the interviews around the convention a little more pleasant. People grumbled about the amount of reporters asking about Wright yesterday, but today they're getting asked about Obama's awesome speech.

3:49: It's not part of the conference, but John Derbyshire loses me here.

Segregation was not "the law of the land" in the 1950s. It was the law in a minority of states.

And this is an important distinction because…? The deep South has land, you know.

NEXT: Gaining Ground

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  1. I can’t say I’ve ever really understood the Libertarian trenchancy against Labor Unions…people voluntarily associating to improve their negotiating power vis a vis employers. It, to me, almost seems like a natural outgrowth of market economics.

    Now professional unions on the other hand, fuck ’em. They don’t need unions. Cops, Teachers, etc.. All that does is reinforce the insular privileges of those groups.

  2. “I… don’t want to go into them all now, in this public setting. We just got three racketeering suits against us.”

    I have nothing to add – that’s just really funny.

  3. Last night I cracked bears with some members of the United Steelworkers . . .

    Bear-baiting and steelworkers, how could anyone have more fun any other way.

  4. I can’t say I’ve ever really understood the Libertarian trenchancy against Labor Unions…people voluntarily associating to improve their negotiating power vis a vis employers. It, to me, almost seems like a natural outgrowth of market economics.

    The problem is that unions are often NOT a voluntary association. For example, when I was 16 and wanted to get a job working at the local supermarket, I was told that I would have to have union dues taken out of my paycheck. While the job itself was acceptable, the forced union-membership was not. I was essentially told that I had to associate with the union, or I could not work.

    What is voluntary about that? Where is the “Free Choice” in it?

    I have no problem with employees forming a union, but if some employees don’t want to join and pay dues, they should not be denied the ability to work for a company because someone else wanted to have a union.

  5. I can’t say I’ve ever really understood the Libertarian trenchancy against Labor Unions.

    As long as unions are voluntary, and I’m free to reject membership and accept management’s terms as a free agent, then there’s nothing wrong with unions.

  6. “There are lot of strategies for mobilizing support behind this,” he says. “I… don’t want to go into them all now, in this public setting. We just got three racketeering suits against us.”

    F T W !

  7. What is voluntary about that? Where is the “Free Choice” in it?

    The same place as in every other working condition of that job – you can quit.

  8. Elemenope,

    I don’t have a problem with unions. I have a problem with the National Labor Relations Act.

  9. I have no problem with employees forming a union, but if some employees don’t want to join and pay dues, they should not be denied the ability to work for a company because someone else wanted to have a union.

    Closed shops only exist when employers sign contracts stipulating that that will be company policy. I think employers should respect the contracts they sign.

  10. Neanderthals never really died out. They formed unions and blended in.

  11. I think employers should respect the contracts they sign.

    Unions are nice lab experiments in the failings of majority rule. Even if a super-majority voted to impose a closed-shop, you are still seriously infringing the rights of the minority that voted against.

    I have absolutely no problem with voluntary associations and collective bargaining. And I fully understand the issue with free-riders. However, I cannot reconcile closed shops with a legal framework that should be protecting the rights of the minority.

  12. I support unions the same amount I support employers being able to fire anyone trying to organize one.

  13. The Taft-Hartley Act outlawed the closed shop in the United States in 1947, but permits the union shop, except in those states that have passed “right-to-work laws”, in which case even the union shop is illegal. An employer may not lawfully agree with a union to hire only union members; it may, on the other hand, agree to require employees to join the union or pay the equivalent of union dues to it after a set period of time.” — Wikipedia

    Under the union shop, there may be a freely bargained agreement (although unions assert pressure on companies to accept such agreements) between the company and the union, but no such express agreement exists between the employee and the company.

    Nonetheless, even this isn’t a huge problem, except that the rules as currently exist essentially force the employer to negotiate and accept at least some terms from a union organized by their employees. Is there freedom of contract here? Perhaps in regard to some terms, but the employer is not free to say, “No thanks, I don’t wish to deal with you anymore, I’ll hire someone else.”

    Basically, the employer agrees to these terms under duress, and then uses economic duress to impose those terms on unsuspecting hires.

  14. Basically, the employer agrees to these terms under duress, and then uses economic duress to impose those terms on unsuspecting hires.

    Bingo.
    And thereby infringing on the rights of free agents to agree to management’s terms of employment voluntarily.

  15. a “long way” from federal workers getting the right to strike.

    How could you tell if they were?

  16. My brother is an artist in a university town. He has a healthy disrespect for authority, but it totally dependent on government funding for his livelyhood. So he is the stereotypical far-left liberal.

    When he was just out of high school many years ago, he had a summer job at one of the local manufacturing businesses (small scale, but unionized). The union went out on strike a few weeks after he started working.

    He really needed the summer job, and crossed the picket line carrying a sign that said “scab power”. Wicked sense of humor even if he wasn’t all that bright.

  17. Last night I cracked beers with some members of the United Steelworkers who were funny and blunt about the election.

    I knew I was missing the real entertainment last night.

  18. I still want a reasonable explanation why companies can’t simply fire striking workers for failing to show up to work other than “because the feds said so”. If I don’t show up to work because I don’t like my pay terms, I get fired. Why are unions special?

  19. Q. I still want a reasonable explanation why companies can’t simply fire striking workers for failing to show up to work other than “because the feds said so”. If I don’t show up to work because I don’t like my pay terms, I get fired. Why are unions special?

    A. Socialism.

  20. UGH! I hate to side with the baby blue pinko, but joe basically has it right. The problem with Unions isn’t that you have to join them, because you don’t. Pretending you do, is just another form of saying “market failure”. And just as erroneous as whenever anyone tries paint market outcomes they don’t like as “failures”.

    The problem with unions is that they destroy wealth. They skim off their membership without providing any value in return. This is why the mafia is always the elephant in the union label underwear.

  21. Last night I cracked beers with some members of the United Steelworkers . . .

    Fixed without commentary, you can do better than that Dave.

  22. If we have to build a bridge somewhere to get it passed, then build the damn bridge! If we have to rename a highway after somebody, rename the highway!”

    If we have to drag the country into a socialist hellhole, drag the motherfucker!

  23. “If we have to build a bridge somewhere to get it passed, then build the damn bridge! If we have to rename a highway after somebody, rename the highway!”

    EWWWWWWWW They’re making sausage! 😛

  24. “If we have to rename a highway after somebody, rename the highway!”

    So easy, a caveman can do it.

  25. He avers that we’re a “long way” from federal workers getting the right to strike.

    *begins to fondle firearms*

  26. If unions are so bad, why are “libertarians” working overtime to assist them in their goals of increasing their membership and gaining even more PoliticalPower? There’s a reason why the major unions (like the SEIU) support MassiveIllegalImmigration and “reform”, and it’s not because they’re just swell people.

    The more immigration, the more money they’ll make and the more power they’ll have, and their beliefs are anything but libertarian. Yet, instead of trying to keep them from getting even more money and power, “libertarians” enable their corrupt quest. To help reify that for you, look into the campaigns – both for politicians and propositions – that the unions support. Nothing libertarian there, but some “libertarians” want to give them an even louder voice.

    Gosh, that’s odd.

  27. 2:56: Hrm: Stewart Acuff points out that the enemies of labor are “recording everything we say.” I look at my sturdy Olympus without shame. Acuff is winding us up, though: “I don’t care who hears this: We’re going to beat those anti-EFCA Republicans!”

    I sometimes have to wonder if these guys actually believe their own hype, or they’re just saying it because it’s expected of them.

  28. There’s a reason why the major unions (like the SEIU) support MassiveIllegalImmigration and “reform”, and it’s not because they’re just swell people.

    Deeeeeh tooooooked errrrrrrrrrrrrrr jrrrrrrbs!

  29. You know, I was very skeptical of unions. But if Lonewacko hates them, I’ll have to take another look.

  30. It’s not part of the conference, but John Derbyshire loses me…

    Awww what a pity. Just when I was starting to warm up to the Derb, he goes traipsing back into Redstateville.

  31. Whoa what a gethering of delusional idiots.

  32. Shame there wasn’t more content about global warming being a liberal conspiracy.

  33. Right now, my employer is in Asia looking for a plant to make our product “for the Asian market only.” He has made it clear, however, to top management, that if a union comes in here, then all production will eventually be outsourced to the Asian factory. His paternalistic attitude ends at the point of the union’s gun to his head.

  34. …why the economy is in decline: “The root cause is that workers lost any ability to form unions and bargain effectively.”

    non sequitur of the year (so far)?

  35. Now professional unions on the other hand, fuck ’em. They don’t need unions. Cops, Teachers, etc.. All that does is reinforce the insular privileges of those groups.

    You’ll have to explain how you can possibly create enforceable laws so that skilled professionals are unable to form unions, or their unions are weaker, but the less skilled are able to form stronger unions more easily.

    It seems to be rather the case everywhere that the unions of skilled employees are stronger, where they exist. (Naturally, they’re less replaceable.) Pilots’ unions are stronger than mechanics’ unions are stronger than luggage handlers’ unions. The AMA and other professional associations that act like unions in restricting competition (mostly through accreditation and licensing, aiding by laws giving them that power) also are very strong.

    On another note, I see you defend the union shop, joe, (although I think that workers in the South have done better without it than the Rust Belt workers in the Midwest with it) but will you defend card check? I think that the secret ballot is a tradition worth upholding. Union organizers fought for the secret ballot when employers retaliated by firing those who voted for the union. I find anyone who argues against secret ballots suspicious.

  36. BakedPenguin says: You know, I was very skeptical of unions. But if Lonewacko hates them, I’ll have to take another look.

    Actually, I’m not that opposed to them in concept. It’s the MobTies, and the support for IllegalImmigration, and the FarFarLeft nature, and the OccasionalThuggery. Since you do everything I tell you not to do, does that balance everything out for you?

  37. “If the sun comes up in the morning, we’re passing card check.”

    Because nothing is so un-American as the secret ballot!

  38. Forgive me for departing from the well-worn libertarian arguments regarding unions (which I generally agree with) to look at the specifics of the last pro-union policy: card check, instead of secret ballots.

    Unions claim that employers intimidate employees who want to form unions. Employers claim that unions intimidate employees who do not want to form unions. Which side has the better factual support here is an empirical question, which neither my personal experience nor any unbiased source offers any ready answer.

    But it seems beyond arguing that whatever intimidation may exist, an employee marking a secret, anonymous ballot is much more likely to express their true preferences, than one who has to make a choice publicly, such as via card check.

    That unions demand public card check, while employers prefer the secret ballot, seems practically an admission on the part of the unions that they are better at intimidation and expect to benefit a lot more of it.

    Aren’t they ashamed to make such an obvious admission? Can anybody defend this?

    Bonus Question: Why card-check, if it is such a fine, efficient idea, only to recognize unions, but not to derecognize them?

  39. I can’t say I’ve ever really understood the Libertarian trenchancy against Labor Unions…people voluntarily associating to improve their negotiating power vis a vis employers. It, to me, almost seems like a natural outgrowth of market economics.

    Certainly, insofar as the State does not mandate that employers or employees cooperate with the unions. The problem is that labor unions over the past eighty or so year–perhaps longer, I don’t know–have been bound up in attempts to coerce employers and replacement workers through either direct physical violence or the indirect violence of State control. By your comment, I can tell you would be surprised at the level of violence labor unions can dole out when they’re trying to attach themselves to an unwilling host.

  40. The amount of violence perpetrated by unions is historically dwarfed by the violence used by management, if you want to get technical about it. Can you name a union that hired pinkerton thugs? Or that used snipers?

  41. we expected to have a nominee by now,” he said.

    They wanted to Take Back America, but Hillary wouldn’t let go.

  42. DW, if Derbyshire loses you, you sure can’t find true North. “Law of the land” means all fifty states, not twelve states. You should have clarified “law of some land” and made sense.

    Unions have destroyed American competitiveness more than any other single economic problem.

    DannyK: How about that Union of Soviet Socialist Republics working for the “proletariat” and for a “Workers’ Paradise?” Get your head out of that anatomically impossible position.

  43. Pinkerton Thugs, eh, DannyK?

    Let’s set aside the issue that union supporters routinely cite to century-old events whenever they want to attack “anti-union violence”, rather suggesting that as of living memory there is very little of it. Unions meanwhile today continue to routinely injure and kill workers at picket lines.

    But even those century-old accounts of bloody labor battles seem to offer very little evidence of actual anti-union violence. Security hired by management, such as Pinkertons, rather are condemned for guarding private factories from violent labor mobs, expelling strikers who refused to leave, and protecting workers, often blacks, from lynching by union mobs, using except from individual aberations, no more violence than necessary. But apparently that is enough to call them “thugs.”

    But let me ask you this, DannyK: do you also consider those who protect the same rights with the same means when you might sympathize with the other side as “thugs.” For example, are abortion clinic guards who protect women seeking services from pro-life protesters “thugs” to you?

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