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Vox’s Mr. Block

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Mr. Block was a cartoon run in Industrial Workers of the World newspapers to depict a worker who was just too dumb and too suckered by the employer propaganda to join the union. Last week, Vox employees announced a union campaign. It didn’t take long for their own Mr. Block to make himself known.

This is a blockhead Mr. Block could look up to. There are so many problems here, starting with that this is the greatest encapsulation of elite liberal anti-unionism one can imagine. Moreover, one has to love a guy who calls out his own coworkers in tweets, saying they want a union because they are lazy. He must be a really great person to work with!

But let’s try to take the rest of this seriously, as someone who needs convincing to join the union. None of his arguments make any sense on the face of them. Let’s take what he says about Vox’s generosity as the gospel truth. Good for Vox ownership! But there’s no reason it will always be that way. Different leader, different situation. Without a union, you power at work is zero. You are dependent on the good nature of your bosses. A union provides you representation at the bargaining table for a contract. It provides you representation if you are disciplined on the job. It protects you from capricious firing. In a field where the hours of work are often far too long, a union can help set terms of work. Also, how do you know Vox is being generous? Could they be more so? How are their policies on pregnancy? Sexual harassment? How do we know that all employees are being treated fairly and that management is listening to their concerns? We can’t. Only a bargained contract can provide a baseline to work from to make these conditions more equitable. Even the laziness argument is ridiculous. Is it a bad thing that workers want to protect their free time? That writers want to live well-balanced lives? Of course it isn’t. Having boundaries on work life is an outright positive, including to the employer since the ultimate product is going to be better. There is no downside to forming a union, so long as Tom Ricketts doesn’t own your publication and decides to shut it down out of sheer meanness.

Lopez is either lying about workers he says want a union to protect their laziness or he is just slagging his co-workers he doesn’t like in public. He does not sound like a real nice guy. The idea that “I support unions in principle but not a union for me because unions make people lazy” is an unserious argument, to say the least. But these arguments are out there and need pushback. I don’t have a good sense how many Vox writers have publicly supported the union movement. I believe Dylan Matthews is strongly in favor of it, which is good given his prominence there.

Ezra Klein and the other leaders of Vox absolutely must accept this union, without resorting to NLRB processes. Any sort of resistance to this will seriously undermine the publication with its own readers. We certainly need to put pressure on this for recognition if it is necessary. I will be watching and writing about it.

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