One bit of legacy remaining from the reign of Bush II is a devastated National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Bush II, when not momentarily distracted by the need to faithfully execute instructions given him by the wealthy aristocrats that hired him, was invariably found drunk on the excesses of his class, those who in his own words are, “the Haves, and the Have Mores.” To Bush II, or for that matter to any members of his dynasty, the NLRB represents an annoying, petrified turd left in the way of getting the business of being wealthy done by that un-American, arch-socialist, FDR.
The NLRB is responsible for adjudicating labor disputes and union activity. Unions, for those of you who can’t remember what they are, used to be a big thing in America. Following America’s industrial revolution many Americans faced lives of waking Dickensonian nightmare. FDR’s labor reforms of the 1930s were an attempt to end over 40 years of struggle by America’s labor to get a Fair Deal, for which FDR gave labor a New Deal and labor gave itself strong unions.
Before American business was (almost, kinda, sorta) put in its place, there was child labor under the harshest conditions for children as young as six. Not to put too fine a point on it, some of the machinery was made with children’s smaller sizes in mind – not for the sake of enhancing the children’s access, but to save the need for allowing room for adults. Sometimes small boys were used to haul mine carts up shafts that were never intended to accommodate full-sized people.
Worker safety was entirely the workers’ responsibility, regardless of however intrinsically dangerous the conditions were. Upton Sinclair documented a story about someone in a packing plant who slipped on ice formed partly of blood dripping from animal carcasses and fell into the sausage fans along with the other meat. In those days, no one was required to put ingredients lists on their products, nor were they allowed to shut the machinery down for anything as minor as to extract the puréed remains of some dumb worker – probably a foreigner at that – without enough sense to keep his feet under him. We can only wonder what the Lithuanian content was in some of that cut-rate sausage they saved for the underclasses of America’s big cities.
Initially, worker revolts – strikes – were aimed at conservative goals like limiting work days to 10 hours and at requiring one day per week off. There was movement to keep children under 13 from having to do the worst of the work, and most workers figured they deserved one real break during the day to at least rest a bit, even if they didn’t really expect to be able to consistently afford to eat lunch.
We’ve come a long way since then, haven’t we? One more mark of it is an AFL-CIO promotion from a few years back with the tag line, “…from the people who brought you the weekend.” Our ancestors sacrificed their lives fighting pitiless, recalcitrant business for so many things we take for granted. In the days before formation of organizations like the NLRB, strikes stood a very real chance of turning bloody, with the National Guard called out several notable times to shoot people who had the audacity to think the long, brutal hours they worked really ought to make it possible for them to feed their families.
The NLRB serves a valuable purpose in keeping the conversation civilized between labor and those who exploit it. Here in our modern world we have orderly elections to decide whether we’re going to have unions or not, and what the terms of the contracts will be. If there are disputes, proper channels are pursued with lots of expensive lawyers plying their trade on behalf of all parties. In fact, the NLRB includes a whole General Counsel office that’s really nothing but lawyers just to make sure the rules of the game are clearly stated, well-known, and followed without prejudice by all. How nice.
Unfortunately, it seems all that doesn’t work well with modern American business planning, and the Republican Party ideology business keeps in thrall. President Obama has had to resort to recess appointments to keep the NLRB operating at minimal levels, up from the not even legal levels it was reduced to under Bush II.
One of the things business complains about today is that a relatively meddlesome recent NLRB ruling allows workplaces to unionize too quickly. Business feels it needs more time to propagandize, subtly threaten, and in general use the My Way or the Highway position they’ve assumed to subvert, coerce and insure that the blight of unionization is eradicated from the planet. Talk about the 99%! Look around you. If it really was a unified labor force – all of us – would there even be 1% to stand in opposition?
If business and their minions in the GOP really don’t like the NLRB, then maybe they should consider that there’s nothing about a strike that needs to ask permission. There’s nothing about the people who perform the labor that requires them to negotiate at all, really. In places like Argentina the workers have sometimes simply taken over the factories and kicked the supposed owners out. “Management,” “the bosses” – whatever you want to call them, have tricked the workers of the world into thinking that they work at the sufferance of business, when in fact it’s the other way around. We tolerate those who lead us, manage us, sit in the offices while we work on the shop floors, in the fields and everywhere else, only so long as they deserve it, and only so far as we choose. Or rather, that’s the way real justice would have it.
In a perfect world business and labor classes wouldn’t even exist. We’d realize that every one of us is a vital part of the world’s machinery. We’d know that any job we consider worth using a person’s time for entitles that person to every bit as much compensation as anyone else in the organization – an organization that in its complete expression includes everyone in the world now that our global economy has penetrated to the remotest huts and igloos on the planet. There would be no need for unions, because the many wouldn’t be exploited to make the excesses of the few possible.
Meanwhile, we have people ringing Wal-Mart cash registers for minimum wage, few, if any benefits and management that resorts to Doomsday resistance over a simple requirement for posting an official Notification of Employee Rights, while the Walton family, among the world’s top 20 billionaires, live in whatever luxury they choose, made possible by the labor they steal from the ones who work in their stores. Even worse, we have average, co-opted Americans suffocating under piles of literal junk that are the intended product of even worse exploitation in the third world – exploitation that every one of us Americans has some responsibility for.
What we need is a GLRB – a Global Labor Relations Board. Since the Masters of the Universe and other agents of capitalist self-destruction aren’t likely to implement noticeably egalitarian measures short of bloody global revolution and apocalypse, we need unions that span all the oceans and continents and include all workers by default, not just those that can be unbefuddled long enough to organize, and not just for their own benefit, but for the benefit of all workers everywhere.
Links directory (Really, visit them! The article text that the links link from is in parentheses at the end of each line. And yes, the music is commentary. The lyrics for all the tracks have their own links so you don’t miss any of that not always very subtle messaging.)
- truthout / Democracy Now! (Amy Goodman & William Gould) – Crippling the Right to Organize: GOP Inaction May Leave National Labor Relations Board Inoperable (devastated National Labor Relations Board)
- Wikipedia – National Labor Relations Board (The NLRB)
- New York Times – National Labor Relations Board (NLRB serves a valuable purpose)
- Politico (Tim Mak) – NLRB approves union election rule (recent NLRB ruling)
- National Labor Relations Board – Final Rule for Notification of Employee Rights (official Notification of Employee Rights)
- Smoosh – La Pump (YouTube – VickyDPi) (put in its place) Lyrics
- L7 – Cherry Bomb (YouTube – borntobemevideos) (worker revolts) Lyrics
- Marilyn Manson – You Spin Me Right Round (YouTube – MMfan126) (We’ve come a long way) Lyrics
- Tori Amos – Precious Things (YouTube – shubumpkin) (the people who perform the labor) Lyrics
- Bjork – Army of Me (YouTube – bjorkdotcom) (not just for their own benefit) Lyrics