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Boycott Indiana

11.01.2012
 
Pages: 1234

By David Hoffman

Boycott Indiana. 46330.jpegThe late civil rights activist Malcolm X once said, "I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing.  I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation.  I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don't think it will be based on the color of the skin . . ."

Yet, despite this hope that the oppressed will rise up against their oppressors, American workers continually elect politicians who ruthlessly undermine the rights of labor, and America continues to call itself a democracy even though corporate plutocrats and lobbyists have more political power than the voters.

Why does this reality persist?  The answer can be found in the words of another martyred civil rights activist, Stephen Biko:  "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."

American workers, through a political "divide-and-conquer" strategy, are constantly being duped into acting not only against their economic self-interests, but against the economic interests of the entire nation.  And no political party is more adept at exploiting this strategy than the Republican Party (GOP). 

The GOP cajoled so many members of the middle-class to loath the poor and ignore the "corporate welfare" distributed to the rich that the middle-class is now disappearing into the ranks of the poor; it exacerbates racial fears to turn whites against African-Americans and Hispanics, and African-Americans and Hispanics against each other; it turns men against women, "white collar" workers against "blue collar" workers, and non-union workers against union workers.

According to a recent article by Harold Meyerson, Editor-at-Large of American Prospect, the GOP "jihad" against workers has stripped the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) of its power to make labor-related decisions, because the GOP refuses to confirm nominees to this board while Obama is president.  This has reduced the number of board members from five to three.  Since the "Supreme Court ruled last year that if the board's membership fell to just two it would no longer have the power to issue [labor-related] rulings," the GOP member of the NLRB, Brian Hayes, can now eviscerate any potential ruling he disagrees with by simply threatening to resign.

In other words, a majority of one. 

[UPDATE, 1/5/12:  Shortly after this article was written and submitted for publication, President Obama used the Congressional Recess to appoint three new members to the NLRB, bringing the total number of board members to five.  These appointments included a replacement for one board member whose term recently expired.  Had these appointments not been made, the NLRB board would have been reduced to two members, which would have nullified its decision-making powers, as described above].

But this war on labor is not new, nor should it be surprising.  When all the theoretical pontifications about the benefits of capitalism are recognized for the shams they are, one reality emerges:  Capitalism is simply a system where the rich and powerful demand the maximum amount of work and productivity from labor, while providing the minimum amount of pay and benefits in return.

There is no institution in America-religious, educational, or cultural-that is not driven by profit, and even though many of these institutions publicly trumpet their "altruism," "ethics," and "respect for workers' rights," such principles privately wax and wane, and sometimes disappear completely, if they impede the quest for profits.

But perhaps no American institution has demonstrated more contempt for workers than its legal system.  A system that was originally intended to protect minority rights against "the tyranny of the majority" has, throughout much of American history, protected only one minority:  the minority of the people with the majority of the money.

In fact, one of the first significant pieces of federal legislation designed to restrain corporate power, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, was immediately exploited by the courts to thwart unionization efforts.  When the Clayton Act was passed a few years later to prevent this exploitation, the United States Supreme Court neutered it by instituting a two-prong legal "test" that was virtually impossible for those seeking union representation to satisfy.  And, in the now infamous Lochner case (1905), the Supreme Court decreed that a law intended to protect the health of bakers by limiting their work hours was unconstitutional because it interfered "with the right and liberty of the individual to contract."

Although the reasoning underpinning Lochner appears ridiculous by today's standards, given the unequal bargaining power between bakers and their employers, its residual inequities linger in the form of an egregious and atavistic legal doctrine known as "at-will" employment. 

"At-will" employment contends that an employee serves at the will of the employer, and that either can sever the relationship at any time, for any reason, good or bad, or for no reason at all.

Pages: 1234
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