Home / General / Harris Aftermath

Harris Aftermath


Mostly, this is a good rundown of reactions to the Harris decision. In particular the piece by Eileen Boris and Jennifer Klein and the Joshua Freeman essay get at one key issue–that the work of women and especially poor women is consistently undervalued in our society.

From Boris and Klein:

So why do the Court’s conservatives advance an argument that is out of step with historical, economic and social reality? Part of the reason certainly lies with the nature of the work: domestic tasks done by women in the location of the home, unrecognized as a place of waged labor. Additionally, the labor has been devalued and dismissed because of the stigmatization attached to the work of poor women of color, the legacy of slavery and discrimination. In this context, Harris v. Quinn becomes a direct assault on the livelihood of some of the nation’s lowest paid workers. It is part of the right’s war on women, its demonization of public employees and battle against the union idea.

And from Freeman:

Instead, Harris is an extension of a different tradition in American labor law, the denial of rights to workers in industries dominated by female and non-white workers. Far from universal, the major New Deal labor laws—the National Labor Relations Act, the Social Security Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act—explicitly excluded particular occupations, including farm work and domestic labor, which had large numbers of female, African-American and Mexican-American workers. While some racially and sexually biased exclusions were later eliminated, Harris effectively extends this history of discrimination.

I do have to take exception to Jane McAlevey’s article because unlike the historians quoted above, it pushes ideology over analysis as to the real problem at hand in the decision. For McAlevey the problem is not enough internal democracy in modern unions. While I don’t dispute this is a weakness of the American labor movement (although aren’t European unions even more bureaucratic and top-down than American unions? European unions are certainly far larger and more integrated into corporate decision-making than in the US), I fail to see what it has to do with the Harris decision or how pushing more internal democracy unions will to do to influence the Supreme Court. Unfortunately this sort of ideologically charged critique is far more common in left-labor circles than it should be, not because those making it are wrong exactly but because it gets in the way of understanding the real reasons labor is in trouble that are far more persuasive than blaming it on Big Labor. But it’s at lot easier to whip your enemies in the labor movement than deal with the major structural problems causing labor’s decline like capital mobility, the organized conservative movement, and the growth of the business lobby after the Powell Memo.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • Derelict

    So why do the Court’s conservatives advance an argument that is out of step with historical, economic and social reality?

    Ooh! Ooh! I know! Pick me!

    Because they’re conservatives, that’s why!

    • DrDick

      Standing athwart history screaming, “STOP!!!”

  • Vance Maverick

    Nit — “keep” issue should be “key” or “deep” (or both!).

  • Anonymous

    If the court had ruled the other way next up would have been forcing stay at home mothers and fathers into the child care union and home schooling parents into the teachers union. In the Communist Manifesto Marx called for the abolition of the family that’s what this case was about.

    • It was the abolition of apple pie that went too far.

    • Orpho

      Yeah, I totally remember that part! Where he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

      And when those filthy family-focused capitalists came up to him, and he said, “While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.”

      And then he kicked all the capitalists out of the temple. Marx was a really fun guy. I hear his followers lived with everything in common except their wives.

    • DrDick

      Somebody dose not have a mommy and a daddy and has a sad, so he wants to take it out on those of us who had a normal childhood.

  • Linnaeus

    This seems to dovetail well with Corey Robin’s analysis of conservatism as an ideology geared in particular to maintaining private areas of power. Recognizing the home as a place of work that is often both poorly paid and gendered implies possible remedies that threaten to intrude into realms of power that conservatives are committed to defending.

  • Bruce Vail

    McAlevey’s comments don’t place idealogy over analysis, they merely offer an alternative way for unions to operate, one that might be more successful than the current model.

    I’m surprised that you would chastise anybody for recognizing the brutal truth: A lot of labor’s most grievous wounds are self-inflicted.

    • I actually strongly disagree with that. I don’t think the problem is self-inflicted wounds. I think that labor hasn’t always done the best job but the real issues are out of their control.

      • DocAmazing

        I agree that most of the problems are not labor’s doing or under labor’s control, but the issue of unionization of home health workers has a sad history with organized labor. Here in California, it was one of the things that led to the UHW/SEIU-NUHW split: Andy Stern cut deals that shafted those trying to organize home-health workers, and Sal Roselli stood up.

      • Bruce Vail

        It may be true that, as a historical reality, the odds are stacked against labor union success. But as an organizer, McAlevey is looking for ways to succeed in spite of the odds. I don’t pretend to have the silver bullet answer, but, jeezus god, what we’re doing now isn’t working!

        • Yeah, I certainly don’t disagree with that.

  • It is part of the right’s war on women, its demonization of public employees and battle against the union idea.

    Authoritarianism needs to constantly punch down or a few things might happen:

    1. The unwashed masses (the 99%, but especially women, browns, under privileged) that God has chosen to disfavor, might think they have some dignity and then think they can pass tax increases on the 1% and spend money to better society,

    2. #1 means less money for the authoritarians – that’s unpossible.

    3. You have to keep punching to stay in shape. Otherwise you won’t be able to put down the mini-revolts as they arise from time-to-time. And pretty soon you’re at #1 worrying about #2 constantly.

    Constantly class warfare – it’s the rich/privileged white man’s burden. Do you think the Koch Bros, Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas are happy having to do this continuously?

  • shah8

    Let’s just say that I disagree with the role of ideology here, and agree with Bruce Vail and DocAmazing. Ideology is how we make the mechanics of what we do, what we’re for or against, etc, comprehensible to the people we have to convince to contribute time and labor. You sentiment leads to the emasculation of any reason to be sympathetic to unions, never mind making them more appealing. More than that, trying to propose ideologically attractive views and means of labor unions does not prevent understanding the broader issues affecting workers. And it does not prevent the need to join together under some flag or another in order to think together and work on the big stuff, which implies a pretty big cart that’s gotta go before the horse. In general, liberalism, in the big English L sense, constitutes a broad, atomizing current that seeks to shake apart consensus, which is how the invidious circumstances got started and perpetuated.

    • But the question at play here is why the Harris decision happened and what it means. These other issues are basically irrelevant to answering that question.

      • shah8

        Okay, took the time to read Mcalevey section, which I should have done that first before shooting off the hip…

        McAlevey isn’t making an ideological argument per se. He’s essentially making a pragmatic (with or without quotes as you feel) critique of mid-90’s union leadership and underlying the lack of attention to the union members they already have with an ideology that unions promote workplace democracy. From here, I think I see what your point actually is, in the sense that it seems like he already had this big idea and is being a big hedgehog about it in the context of recent Supreme Court moves. Would more “workplace democracy” actually have helped if they started it up in the ’90s? Ehh… I don’t really think so. Most of the really bad bargains happened a lot earlier than the ’90s, and couldn’t be undone by anything unions then could do. More than that, without closed shops, there is no service that McAlevey’s vision of union activism that can get people to donate. At the end of the day, a worthwhile union has to be able to control the workplace, one way or another. We’re more likely to see partnerships with criminal groups work better than anything legal. Of course, that’s because there’s a war on the lower classes going on, and it pretty much *is* that you’ll have to actually and literally fight and very illegally so, or wait until the political world collapses around you as the lack of demand pops the upper class bubble.

  • Doggy Daddy

    So why do the Court’s conservatives advance an argument that is out of step with historical, economic and social reality?

    Is ‘historical, economic and social reality’ really the standard you wish to use? If so, you could’ve kissed off a lot a court rulings you like.

    Brown v Board of Education comes to mind right off the bat. Another might be Roe V Wade.

    Still want to use this (dumbass)?

It is main inner container footer text