To the Editors:
I liked Bob Master’s analysis in the Fall 2010 issue’s “Engaging with Democrats.” Nevertheless, I challenge one brief segment of it—the statement that reads: “With the spring 2010 recess appointments to the NLRB, there is hope of prolabor rule-making that might ease the way for organizing.”
I beg to differ—and have done so for over four decades. In 1968, as Southern Director of the ILGWU, I joined with leaders of other organizing unions (i.e., the Teamsters, Textile Workers, and IUD) in preparing testimony—for the House Labor Committee—that called for the abolition of the NLRB. Our “elders and betters” at the AFLCIO vetoed the idea.
The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is likewise fatally flawed. It does not challenge the federal ruling that the law’s prohibition of employer interference with workers’ free choice of a union was superseded by a company’s “free speech” right to hold captive audience meetings with “predictions” of shutting down or moving if the workers chose to unionize. (Shades of Citizens United!) Another federal judge undermined a worker’s “right to strike” by inventing an employer’s right to “permanently replace.” EFCA does not pretend to undo any of these setbacks and it “permits” a fine of up to $20,000 for repeated violations. (This sure will scare the shit out of Wal-Mart!) A Radio Shack store in Toronto, under a law which copied the Wagner Act word for word, was fined $100,000 in 1980—back when that was still real money.
Nor would EFCA eliminate the drawn-out process of NLRB administrative and appellate delays. In 1968 we filed an unfair labor practice charge, which we “won”—in 1981! The effectiveness of EFCA depends on its provision for first contract arbitration. Does anyone imagine that this Supreme Court will tolerate such infringement of private property rights? We don’t even impose a contract when the government bars workers from striking.
In the late 1960s, the Southeast Region of ILGWU abandoned all hope for the NLRB and organized with the awareness that without a credible threat of a strike, you don’t get a contract—which is what, after all, workers struggle and take risks for. They’re not fighting for paper recognition.
Master’s political insight into how we might change the electoral/legislative arena—through “massive working-class mobilization” and the devotion of “greater resources and energy to popular mobilization”—is right on. As we reexamine our approach to political reform, should we not rethink our organizing, union building, and survival strategies? How many union leaders (or lawyers) have considered the “labor reform” strategies of Thomas Geoghegan or have read Julius Getman’s Restoring the Power of Unions: It Takes a Movement? Might the City University of New York’s Murphy Institute, and its New Labor Forum, be the site for such a no-preconceptions review?
—Martin Morand, Professor Emeritus, Industrial & Labor Relations, Indiana University of Pennsylvania