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Kevin Drum’s Labor Contrarianism

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Very disappointing piece from Kevin Drum supporting Alan Haus’ call for unions that only negotiate wages and nothing else. Haus, an employment lawyer, is packaging old-school company unionism in new wrapping, calling for conservatives to be OK with highly paid workers so long as management controls everything else regarding work. He wants public-sector unionism destroyed and to strip collective bargaining law of everything not concerning wages. This kind of corporate hackery is not even worth my notice.

Far more disturbing is a major progressive writer, writing for Mother Jones for Christ’s sake, supporting this drivel. Is Drum just engaging in a Slate pitch joke here? I’d like to think so. Alas, no. His logic is basically, “well, unions are dying anyway so we have to try something.” And that something else is giving up a century of struggles to get theoretical power to bargain for wages. The problems with this are legion. A couple specific points:

1. Drum seems naive enough to believe that if unions were to give up all this power, corporations would then follow through and grant their workers higher wages. Is there any reason to believe corporations would bargain in good faith? No. Glad that leading liberal writers have a real deep understanding of how corporate power works in American politics here.

2. Unions are not exclusively, or even primarily, about wages. Wage rates are a piece of what they do. Unions also provide protection from getting fired without cause, push for workplace safety, give workers a voice in fighting sexual harassment, bargain for working hours, vacation time, sick leave, etc. Unions are working-class people’s leading voice in fighting for any number of pieces of progressive legislation. What’s worse is that Drum knows this, noting that the UMWA has done far more to fight for mine safety than any corporation or government agency. But I guess that’s worth just shrugging off!

3. Company unions are far from new in American history and they consistently have served to undermine worker rights, giving employees a facade of a voice on their job while allowing corporations to consolidate control over the workplace and maximize profit. Haus calls for, without directly using the term, the return of company unions, allowing corporations to set everything outside of wage rates. How can anyone who cares for worker rights think this is a good idea?

4. The title itself gets to the laughability of this whole notion–“Can Unions Be Saved By Making Them Weaker?” Well, maybe African-Americans should give back the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to make the movement stronger again! No doubt it would work!!! And I’m sure that repealing Roe would sure put a spark in the pro-choice movement!

Does Drum remain worth reading on labor issues if he continues parroting conservative writers? I think not. Sadly, he spreads these anti-union ideas in a publication named for one of America’s true labor radicals, who no doubt is not only spinning in her grave, but in classic Mary Jones fashion, is cursing a blue streak at Drum.

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