Employee Energy – LA Progressive

America has busted unions

Imagine a world where workers have real power. In this world, workers are paid a living wage, are protected by a strong union, and have enough political leverage to ensure that Congress passes worker-friendly laws. Corporations cannot treat them like robots and leave communities to find cheaper labor elsewhere. It is a world of low inequality where workers have a greater share of the fruits of their labor.

That world is America in the 1950s.

This world was far from perfect. Blacks and women were still second class citizens. The windows of opportunity were still small or locked. Therefore, it is not enough to simply travel back in time. We have to build on and expand on that.

In the past 40 years this world has been dismantled. The voice of the workers was constantly drowned out by the voice of the big corporations, both in the workplace and on the national political stage.

This massive shift in power was not the result of “free market forces” but rather political decisions. Now is the time to make the political choice to strengthen the voice of all workers.

Start with one of the greatest sources of working class power: the unions. Every worker in America has the right to join a union without interference from their employer – a hard-won victory for which workers have shed blood. But American corporations have broken up unions to prevent workers from organizing.

In Bessemer, Alabama, for example, Amazon used all the tricks of the anti-union playbook to prevent its predominantly black workforce from forming the first Amazon union.

I wish I could report that the Clinton and Obama administrations reformed labor laws to make it harder for companies to destroy unions.

Most anti-union tactics are illegal, but the penalty is so ridiculously small that it is just the business cost of a billion dollar company like Amazon.

In addition, thanks to decades of lobbying by large companies, 28 states now have so-called “rights to work” laws on their books. These laws prohibit unions from charging contributions from non-union workers, although non-union workers continue to benefit from these union agreements. Obviously, this makes it difficult for workers to organize.

Companies also mistakenly classify their employees as self-employed contractors and part-time workers, so that workers are not eligible for unemployment insurance, compensation, or minimum wages, and do not have the right to form a union.

And corporations are waging political battles to keep employees off the books: Uber, Lyft, and other gig firms have spent $ 200 million to pass Proposition 22 in California and free them from a state labor law that cracks down on misclassification.

It’s a vicious circle: corporations crush their workers to protect company bottom line, and then use their increased profits to advocate policies that allow them to keep crushing their workers – and prevent workers from being in the workplace as well have a voice in our democracy.

This vicious circle began in the 1980s when corporate robbers ushered in the era of “shareholder capitalism,” which gave shareholders priority over the interests of other stakeholders.

They bought enough stock to take control of the company and then cut costs by cutting payrolls, breaking unions, and leaving their home communities for cheaper places – all to maximize stock value. General Electric’s CEO at the time, Jack Welch, drove these steps forward: In his first four years as CEO, a full quarter of GE’s workforce was laid off.

The Reagan administration helped block laws to contain these hostile takeovers and refused to lift a finger to enforce antitrust laws that some of them could have prevented.

I wish I could report that the Clinton and Obama administrations reformed labor laws to make it harder for companies to destroy unions. But either because Bill Clinton and Barack Obama lacked the political clout or did not want to use the political capital, the fact is that neither of the two presidents went ahead.

The result of these political decisions? Corporate profits have skyrocketed and wages are stagnating.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. We can turn the tide by making new political choices that restore the voice and centrality of American workers.

The most important thing is now before us: It is called the Organization Protection Act.

The PRO Act was passed in March with bipartisan support in the House of Representatives and is the toughest labor law reform in a generation.

It prevents the misclassification of full-time workers, prohibits companies from harassing or intimidating workers who want to form a union, prohibits employers from replacing workers on strike with non-union workers, and increases penalties for violating existing labor laws, among other provisions, empower workers.

In addition to the PRO Act, American companies must be restructured so that workers have a say at all levels. At the top, that means one voice on the company’s executive boards. In many European countries, employee representation has been shown to boost wages, skills and business investment in communities.

At the local level, we should facilitate the creation of worker-owned cooperatives that have been shown to increase profits, wages and worker satisfaction.

And our trade and foreign policy can focus on American workers without falling into the kind of xenophobia and nativism that Donald Trump promoted.


It will not be easy to reverse 40 years of shareholder capitalism. But remember, you, the working people of America, far outweigh corporate executives and big investors. Together you can change the rules and build a world where workers have real power.

Robert Reich

Reposted with the kind permission of Robert Reich’s blog.

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