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Jim Hightower
Jim Hightower
10 Feb 2016
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The basic problem facing the corporate and political powers that want you and me to swallow their Trans-… Read More.

3 Feb 2016
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The mantra of every Koch-headed, right-wing politico is that government should be run like a business, always … Read More.

27 Jan 2016
Take the Movement to the White House

At a recent dinner with my work team, I was reminded that I had said I wanted to travel less for work this … Read More.

Bringing a Bit of Fairness to the American Workplace


Unions. Who needs 'em? They're so passe, so 1930s.

This is the frantic argument being pushed by corporate lobbyists who're worried by the recent resurgence in union organizing, political punch and public support. Sure, say these corporatists, unions were needed back in the bad ol' Depression days, when rich executives and investors treated workers with all the respect that a Kleenex gets — use 'em up, toss 'em out.

But, hey, Bucko, that was last century! We're all in the modern global economy today, where cooperation — not confrontation — is the key. Workers are now called "associates," and we deal with each of them as individuals in a flexible workforce willing to help top executives cut labor costs. Unions just get in the way of this, don't you see?

This line of "thinking" was expressed a couple of weeks ago by John Engler, the former Michigan politician who's now chief lobbyist and noted labor theorist for the National Association of Manufacturers: "In the sophisticated workplaces of the 21st century, you see management and labor often work closely together to beat the competition. When they're doing that, the need for unions is obviated. And when management and unions are not working together, unions are not likely to succeed and not likely to survive."

What Professor Engler is telling us is that, ergo, ipso facto and ad absurdum, he's a gooberhead.

The need for unions is hardly obviated when worker productivity keeps rising, only to be rewarded by declining wages, elimination of health care benefits and cancellation of pensions. Meanwhile, downsizings and offshorings of American jobs are rampant, and part-time work is the new norm.

Yet, as CEOs energetically apply the ax to workers, they have lavished pay on themselves. It's a scream to hear corporate chieftains bemoan union wages while unabashedly paying themselves $10,000-an-hour, plus getting luxury-level bennies. Top execs are getting so rich they could afford to air-condition hell — and some ought to be setting some money aside for that project.

Not only are unions needed, there is a widespread yearning for them today.

A 2006 poll of the general public found that 68 percent of us believe that labor unions are necessary to protect working families. In that same year, a survey of workers by Peter D. Hart Research Associates found that 60 million Americans would join a union tomorrow if they could.

So, why don't they?

Because the rules have been deliberately rigged during the past 30 years by corporate lobbyists to make union organizing next to impossible. Want to organize your workplace? Of those who try, 20 percent get fired. If an organizing campaign is launched, union representatives are not allowed inside the business to talk to employees, but every employee can be forced to attend intimidating, one-on-one meetings with corporate supervisors who at least imply that supporting the union would be bad for their future at the company. And, even against these odds, if a majority of employees say "yes" to a union, the executives can simply ignore them, refusing to negotiate a contract.

Corporate interests are fond of saying that unions are dying, as though it's the passing of some old loved one whose time has simply come. Hogwash and horsehockey. This is no natural passing, but a roughhouse mugging by guys in Armani suits.

But their rigged game could be up. The Employee Free Choice Act would make union organizing campaigns more fair. If a majority of workers in an office, factory or other place sign cards to form a union, the corporation would have to recognize this reality and negotiate in good faith.

Corporate lobbyists, congressional Republicans and a handful of corporate Democrats are desperate to block this effort to provide a touch of economic democracy in our country. Incoming-President Barack Obama backed the Free Choice Act in his campaign — but will he now have the stuff to stand forcefully against the recalcitrant corporate powers and actually push for its enactment? This will be an early measure of how much of his "change agenda" is real.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at



3 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;..I was once a union steward on a job at General Motors in Lansing... One day, the governor, John Engler and a whole lot of impotent people came to have some sort of ceremony in regard to getting the job up and out of the ground with a lot of politics played to a good conclusion... Great banners were put up and nearly as quickly torn down by a vicious winter wind; and as soon as possible the crowd departed some where for drinks and eats out of the weather... The thing is that I threw away a lot of credibility with my men all but begging them to not go and show their bare butts to the governor... And it was not that I had any love of the guy...How could we??? It was obvious that he hated us, so we hated him...My respect was not for him, but for the electors of this state... And yet, I must protest that justice is the object of the union just as it is the object of the state and the whole nation... Some times union people get more than is just ...But there is nothing just about a group of any sort having to band together to have justice when that is why we have our whole government, and what we pay taxes for... Justice is our goal, the goal of this nation, and our right along with tranquility, general welfare, and a more perfect union.... Having unions for every possible purpose is not superior to the government fulfilling the promise it has made to the whole people... Do you see what has come of this country putting the desires of business and finance above the needs of the people??? We have been divided against ourselves on a thousand lines; but the problems we face are not the problems of our associations or unions... They are the problems of a people held captive by their government so they can be used, exploited, and some time killed by capital... I am not contented that there is a special place in hell for all those traitors in business suits... I wish they would all just go, so we can have the country promised to us in the constitution...Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Wed Jan 7, 2009 1:39 PM
Someone sent me an article urging me to support 'free choice' for workers in union representation elections.
Herewith my modest proposal in reply:
Should workers rely on the benevolence of their bosses to protect them and advance their interests?
Or should they have organizations -- whether unions or government agencies -- whose sole purpose
is to keep them safe and see that they get their fair share of the wealth they produce?
The record of private employers' concern for their workers' welfare is not good.
Throughout history -- and right now -- businesses and bosses have knowingly exposed
workers to deadly dangers without informing them or giving them any choice. Thousands
of workers and retirees from chemical plants, mines and many other industries are suffering slow
and agonizing death as a result of such exposure. Whenever such abuses are exposed (as they
are almost every day) business's inevitable response has been to deny, to lie, to use batteries of
lawyers to obfuscate the issue, even in exceptional cases to take extreme action up to and
including murder to conceal and perpetuate their utter indifference to anything except enhancing their profits.
Are some unions crooked? Sure. Are some union leaders as venal and corruptible as
the corporate bosses? Sure. Power corrupts, remember? So how can we best ensure
that the powerless -- the ordinary worker who wants only to support himself and his family in
reasonable safety -- has the best chance of doing so? Should he place his trust in
the corporate bosses? If not, then to whom and how?
I have a suggestion. Forget the unions and the ballots and the cards and all the other
paraphernalia. Instead let us require by law that at least 50% of every corporation's board of
directors be composed of workers freely chosen by secret ballot. (Elections
for those posts should be held anew every year to ensure that the representatives do
not themselves become vested interests.) This requirement should be retroactive;
existing corporations should be given up to ten years to come into compliance. Any
corporation that fails to comply shall have its corporate charter revoked. The law should
also make provision for unincorporated private businesses. In short, after a reasonable
period of time every profit-making institution shall be run by a partnership -- however
uncomfortable -- between its owners (or their hirelings, the executives) and those who do the work.
In that way two of the 'stakeholders' will be able to protect their interests.
As to the third 'stakeholder' -- the customer or client whom the business is supposed to serve --
I can think of only one way in which to protect him from possible harm: abolish by law all
'company secrets'. No more coverups of information such as the link between tobacco and
cancer or the fact that nicotine is addictive (both well known to producers for more than half
a century but consistently denied). No more suppression of studies showing that some product
or some ingredient is hazardous to health or safety.
Will this mean interfering with private industries' power to control their own affairs?
Will it mean more government regulation and control, with all the inevitable interference
with private businesses that entails?
Would that be a worthwhile tradeoff?
Would it be -- shudder -- 'socialism'?
Not quite. Private businesses would still be privately run. But there would be nannies --
both from government and from among the workers -- watching the bosses in their playpens to
ensure they didn't hurt anyone too much.
If the nannies do their jobs well, unions will probably wither away and disappear.
That should make the bosses happy, no? :-)
Comment: #2
Posted by: charles
Sun Jan 11, 2009 2:09 PM
Dear Jim, Iwas an 8yr Senior Ass-coiate of DELL Computer, now DELL, Inc. Wanna investigate a union bustin' union hating, scared-to-death workers would get it together past their lies Company? Try DELL, Inc. I don't care if they do come after me for telling the truth. Start in Tennesse, Lebanon and Nashville. Look at the false Tax Records for starters.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Peggi L Collins
Sun Jan 11, 2009 4:11 PM
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Mark Shields
Mark ShieldsUpdated 13 Feb 2016
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