FROM THE WEB
Net Briefs 04-09
Card Check History
Bruce E. Levine
Oscar Winning Hope
Feminism & War
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Card Check, FDR, and Right-Wing History
The Obama administration will face stiff opposition to the pro-union "Card Check" legislation he promised to support, known officially as the Employee Free Choice Act. Opponents have launched a campaign that highlights the lack of union democracy, corruption, union bosses, and street thugs—all wrapped into a frame of coercive "Big Labor" versus individual rights.
The anti-labor campaign is a component of the broader strategy by the Republican Party and frenetic conservative commentators to paint a picture in which Obama appears to be leading the country down the road to socialism, tyranny, and financial ruin—just like FDR. To counter this, it helps to know some history of labor legislation, especially the Wagner Act and the Taft-Hartley Act.
Right-wing ideologues view the Administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a failed experiment in socialism. Some assert that it was a form of National Socialism, aka Fascism. Ultra-conservative institutions portray the National Labor Relations Act passed in 1935 as a wholesale attack on the free enterprise system. They spent the next ten years mobilizing support to gut portions of the protections granted to workers and unions; and they succeeded in this by passing the Taft-Hartley legislation in 1947.
Wagner Act of 1935
The National Labor Relations Act, (often called the Wagner Act to honor Senator Robert R. Wagner of New York), sought to ensure that working people had the right "to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid and protection."
As one government summary explains, "In order to enforce and maintain those rights, the act included provision for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to arbitrate deadlocked labor-management disputes, guarantee democratic union elections, and penalize unfair labor practices by employers."
Immediately upon passage of the National Labor Relations Act, business and political conservatives sought legislation to undercut union organizing, especially in the period 1938-1941. According to labor historian Gilbert J. Gall, "Lobbyists of the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argued that Congress should change the law to prohibit 'coercion from any source.'" They obviously hoped that such a clause would function as a mandatory open ship provision under statutory interpretation, making it impossible for unions to obtain union security through bargaining." At the time, opposition to these proposed employer-friendly laws aimed at weakening unions and worker's rights came from both Republicans and Democrats.
Ultraconservatives remained undaunted. On Labor Day 1941, with the U.S. entry into World War II seemingly inevitable and just weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor, an editorial appeared in the Dallas Morning News: "[T]he greatest crisis that confronts the nation today," wrote editor William B. Ruggles, "is the domestic issue of the right to work as a member of a labor union, if the individual wishes, or without membership in a union if he elects." This editorial, titled "Magna Carta," coined the term "right to work."
During the war years, right-to-work legislation went nowhere on the federal level and the focus shifted to the state level where a variety of legislative battles were waged. In the "period from 1938 to 1944 numerous states passed harsh and sometimes punitive laws restricting union behavior" and "some of the laws simply aimed to harass unions," observes Gall. There was a major emphasis on restricting union security arrangements and regulations concerning picketing or strikes, although "much of this state anti-union legislation proved unconstitutional."
After World War II and the death of President Roosevelt, however, ultraconservatives developed plans to "roll back" the economic fairness and social justice policies of the Roosevelt administration. Along with a strategy to unweave the government social safety net were parallel plans to discourage workers from joining labor unions. "Right-to-Work" legislation returned on the federal level and headed to Congress
The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947
Rollback of the New Deal was the specific aim of ultraconservatives, but they pursued a broader agenda as they fanned fears of a domestic communist threat to justify not only crushing the labor movement, but pushing back the alleged socialist social engineering and big government created by FDR's New Deal. They also launched a public campaign to expose socialist and communist subversives in Hollywood, the State Department, and U.S. universities.
The drive to gut the Wagner Act coincided with the turmoil created in the shift from a wartime economy and the return of veterans to peacetime work. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, after WWII there was "a massive if peaceful wave of strikes. Unions sought to make what they considered well-deserved gains after enduring wage freezes imposed during the war. Workers were also prodded by the sharp inflation, fueled by pent-up consumer demand, that followed the lifting of wartime price restrictions. Strike followed upon strike in such important sectors as railroads, coal, steel, autos and oil.... The strike wave mobilized widespread anti-union sentiment which soon made itself felt in the federal government."
The Taft-Hartley Act was primarily a series of pro-management amendments to the Wagner Act. The National Association of Manufacturers still considers the passage of Taft-Hartley one of its crowning achievements. In its written history, the group brags "NAM played a leading role in the 1947 enactment, overriding President Harry Truman's veto of the Taft-Hartley Act, which served to level the playing field in labor relations."
Actually, Taft-Hartley gave employers the advantage. Since then, anti-union employers have developed a variety of methods to harass, intimidate, and fire workers seeking the protection of a union contract. The Card Check plan heading for a Congressional vote this year seeks to restore the rights of workers outlined in 1937 by the U.S. Supreme Court: "Employees have as clear a right to organize and select their representatives for lawful purposes as (a company) has to organize its business and select its own officers and agents. Discrimination and coercion to prevent the free exercise of the right of employees to self-organization and representation is a proper subject for condemnation by competent legislative authority. Long ago, we stated the reason for labor organizations. We said that they were organized out of necessities of the situation, that a single employee was helpless in dealing with an employer...."
It's easy to find flaws in labor unions and union bureaucrats, but Card Check is one struggle where we should not be on the sidelines.
Chip Berlet is senior analyst at Political Research Associates. This article and others in this series will also be available at the PRA website www.publiceye.org. Last month's Z Magazine article on this topic is available here, http://www.zcommunications.org/zmag/viewArticle/20741.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.