The program for a supermajority

by John Quiggin on October 21, 2008

As the odds shorten on an Obama victory, the undoubted enthusiasm for Obama is tempered by doubts that a new Democratic Administration, even backed up by strong majorities in both houses of Congress, will really change that much.

However, there’s a case for a much more optimistic view. Given a supermajority in the Senate, or even a win that’s near enough, with some RINO support to override Republican filibusters, some widely respected analysts are predicting marvellous things from Obama including:

* Medicare for all
* Serious financial reregulation
* Union rights
* Ending tax cuts for the rich
* A green ‘revolution’
* Voting rights for all, including DC

In the light of the lame record of the last congress, and of the Democratic Congresses in the 90s, this might seem unlikely. But an article I’ve just read points to a string of quite radical measures passed by the House in the last Congress and blocked only by the filibuster. Furthermore, as the writer observes the conversion of Southern Democrats into Republicans since the 90s means that most Democrats will hold the line on issues like health care.

All in all, it’s given me more cause for optimism than anything I’ve read for a while.

The catch is, of course, that it’s an editorial in the Wall Street Journal aimed at scaring Republican readers into going to the polls. But, for all that, the analysis seems plausible enough in the light of the complete ideological collapse we’ve observed in the past few weeks. If Bush and Paulson can nationalize the banks[1], surely single-payer health care and voting rights aren’t beyond an Obama Administration.

fn1. I know, I know, it isn’t really nationalisation, let alone socialism. But it’s close enough that Paulson fought it to the bitter end, and everyone on his side recognised it as a massive defeat for their ideas.

{ 75 comments }

1

Lex 10.21.08 at 11:15 am

Hmm. Could the collapse of the ideological hegemony of the Republicans really have reached the point where Democrats might actually consider doing the things that their opponents are afraid they might do? Or are we more likely to see a UK 1997 situation, where in the face of a totally discredited outgoing Tory administration, the first thing a Labour government decides to do is… nothing? [At least, nothing the Tories might shout at them for.]

2

John Quiggin 10.21.08 at 11:51 am

The Tories were discredited as a party, but Thatcher was seen to have won the battle of ideas. Even before the current crisis, that was no longer true for the Republicans, I think, and it certainly isn’t true now.

3

DivGuy 10.21.08 at 11:51 am

Obama’s running on a pretty clear set of policies. I don’t see why, if given massive majorities in Congress, he won’t work to enact them, and I don’t see the party collapsing – Reid and Pelosi are good at cracking the whip when they choose to do so.

I expect the goals to be:

-major stimulus package focused on infrastructure and jobs
-negotiation of 16-month Iraq withdrawal plan
-progressive tax plan, cuts to 95% and raises to the rich and corporations
-climate change plan, possibly packaged with stimulus as “green jobs”
-health care reform, not single payer but the creation of national risk pooling (and insurance regulation) for the uninsured that opens the door to single payer if people like it

Then you get the other stuff:

-card check
-financial regulation (if there’s one thing on this list I’m skeptical about getting done, it’s this one)
-education reform (early childhood funding, teacher salaries and accountability)
-raise the minimum wage to $9.50 and index to inflation
-Ledbetter Act, equal pay for equal work

Much of this is already practically written at this point. Health care is the really big one – if we can get that passed, it’s never going to be repealed, and it will be the first real expansion of the welfare state since LBJ.

(LBJ, by the way, is my analogy for this election. Check out what the 89th Congress achieved, and just how little of it has been rolled back. I honestly think it can be done, if we can get the Senate.)

4

DivGuy 10.21.08 at 11:54 am

I don’t know how I crossed out “16 month”. I think that’s the basic withdrawal plan, and Obama can do a lot of that negotiation without Congress.

5

Nick 10.21.08 at 12:09 pm

Lex, Labour in 1997 perceived themselves as having a fiscal credibility problem & therefore pledged in advance no change to the outgoing Tory tax structures. At the time a leading pollster told me that Blair was of the view nothing in the first term should be done that would compromise the building of reassaurance for middle England that a Labour govt wasn’t going to murder them all in their beds – or at least raise the marginal rate of income tax by 1p; the second term would be the time for radical action. I put it to leading pollster that waiting that long to begin a programme of radical action suggested that what could be thought of as ‘radical’ after five years with your feet under the desk was really not very much at all. He did not disagree. The rest is history . . . .
Obama does not seem to me, from this side of the Atlantic, to be in any way the prisoner of cowardice and fear in the way that Blair was.

6

Slocum 10.21.08 at 12:29 pm

So is that a program intended to solidify the popularity of a Democratic supermajority or a list to ram through during the 2-year window before the mid-term elections? A way to build political capital? Or spend it all while they have the chance?

You didn’t number them, but I think that greater financial regulation and higher taxes for the rich are a given — I am sure those will happen almost immediately. Probably, too, a great deal of new government spending on alternative energy (which worries me not least because Obama’s record there is lousy — he’s been a major supporter of corn ethanol subsidies).

As for card check (which I assume is you mean by ‘union rights’), that’s too far left even for George McGovern. It was one thing to pass this legislation when a Bush veto was assured, but something else to pass it when it would certainly be signed into law. Even if the southern Democrats are gone, a Democratic super majority would still necessarily include a number of marginal members who won close elections in previously ‘red’ states and districts. These members, I suspect, will feel nervous being on record voting against secret ballot union elections and in favor of enabling union intimidation. This issue’s an odd one in that it is absolutely the biggest issue out there for organized labor but isn’t really on the radar screen yet for most other voters (it’s hardly an issue in the current campaign). If this passes, and unions don’t start twisting arms, tossing rocks through windows, and slashing tires to organize workers who have previously voted down unions in secret ballot elections — then there will be little effect. But if they do use those kinds of tactics, then the mid-term backlash could be intense. The obvious first targets would be the transplant auto factories in southern, right-to-work states where unions are not popular. It could get pretty ugly.

Which does raise a related issue though. Quite soon (as in a few weeks or months) the Detroit auto companies are probably going to go from chronically ill to code blue. GM and Chrysler are going to either merge (and then probably enter chapter 11 anyway) or they’re going to enter chapter 11 separately, but either way, they’re going to close more plants and cut jobs by the boat load. $25 billion in Federal money has already been allocated for the Detroit automakers (and their suppliers), but it’s nowhere near enough to save them. Would an Obama administration be willing to spend that vast sums it would take to rescue (or finance buyouts) of the remaining UAW jobs? And if so, would that really be popular anywhere but Michigan and Ohio?

As for statehood for DC — given the famously dysfunctional local politics of Washington, I can’t see that being a ‘achievement’ that marginal members would want to run on.

Medicare for all? No, I don’t think so. Obama didn’t go there in running against Hillary, he’s not going to do so once elected. No, ‘keeping your existing employer provided health plan’ will be a main component of any Obama health care plan.

Lastly, you don’t mention more trade restrictions, but that seems more likely than some of the other items on your list. It’s been a consistent theme of Democrats generally and Obama in both the primaries and general election campaigns, it at this point, new legal restrictions ‘outsourcing’ say, or on trade with China would probably be relatively popular.

7

Nick L 10.21.08 at 12:32 pm

Not to derail, but I think what Blair and to a large extent Brown had in mind for ‘radical action’ was only partially comprised of measures to secure social justice, the other element was relentless ‘reform’ of public services (i.e. the application of quasi-market discipline through targets, league tables etc).

As an outsider, I’ll be genuinely impressed if the Dems manage to get the shopping list of progressive measures outlined in the OP through. The right wing noise machine is as loud as ever (the absurdity of Obama, possibly the individual in the whole race with the strongest political links to the financial sector, as a socialist) and the US centre-left seems to be terrified of actually using political power to achieve their goals.

8

Ben Alpers 10.21.08 at 12:41 pm

The Tories were discredited as a party, but Thatcher was seen to have won the battle of ideas. Even before the current crisis, that was no longer true for the Republicans, I think, and it certainly isn’t true now.

Reagan “won” the battle of ideas as of 1993. Clinton was our Blair. Obama, if you must, is just our Gordon Brown. Nothing that Obama has in mind overturns Clintonian orthodoxies.

As for all the goodies that Congress has passed but the Senate filibustered: Congressional leaders can count votes in the Senate nearly as easily as Senators can. It’s easy to pass things that will likely not get through the other body, and would get vetoed if they somehow did.

9

Barry 10.21.08 at 12:52 pm

“…even for George McGovern.” IIRC, McGovern had a feud with the unions from way backin ’72.

10

Barry 10.21.08 at 1:07 pm

IMHO, political capital doesn’t keep well; in the 2010 election, the obvious question (which the GOP *will* be asking) will be ‘what have the Democrats done for *you*?’.

Also, we are in a bad recession, which will take a while to improve. For all of 2009-10, people will be suffering (not economists, more’s the pity). If the Obama administation and the ‘Democrats who control the government’ don’t do anything which people can perceive as bettering their situation, then the administration and Democratic Party is going to have p*ssed away any political capital.

11

hermit greg 10.21.08 at 1:20 pm

Kevin Drum has a similar discussion about the new legislative possibilities in Mother Jones this month.

12

cizgifilm 10.21.08 at 1:33 pm

Which does raise a related issue though. Quite soon (as in a few weeks or months) the Detroit auto companies are probably going to go from chronically ill to code blue. GM and Chrysler are going to either merge (and then probably enter chapter 11 anyway) or they’re going to enter chapter 11 separately, but either way, they’re going to close more plants and cut jobs by the boat load. $25 billion in Federal money has already been allocated for the Detroit automakers (and their suppliers), but it’s nowhere near enough to save them. Would an Obama administration be willing to spend that vast sums it would take to rescue (or finance buyouts) of the remaining UAW jobs? And if so, would that really be popular anywhere but Michigan and Ohio?what thanks

13

bob mcmanus 10.21.08 at 3:08 pm

It has been my prediction that after the final regional re-alignment of the parties in 2006, any additional Democratic gains in the House or Senate would be Blue Doggish, and while moving the ideological center of Congress marginally to the left, would move the Democratic Caucuses marginally to the right.

That might play out more like 1933 than 1964, and in exchange for the national liberal agenda getting enacted, the purple areas and center of the country will get a disproportionate amount of pork.

14

mpowell 10.21.08 at 3:14 pm

Responding partly to Slocum, political capital doesn’t really get ‘spent’ in quite the way that you are implying. If you are successful at passing legislation that is popularly received, it is as likely to increase your ability to do new stuff as much as anything else. But also, the important thing to emphasize here is the economy and the government response. The Dems will surely lose a few seats in 2010. But to establish a long term legacy of progressive governance, it is imperative that people perceive the government to be helping them economically in 2010, and more importantly, in 2012. Not that there is much on the agenda that would really threaten that, but I think increased taxes on the wealthy (note Slocum may disagree, but I would have thought that supply-side was well and discredited by now), good financial management and energy investment are the best bet for a popular Democratic party.

15

Slocum 10.21.08 at 3:26 pm

Responding partly to Slocum, political capital doesn’t really get ‘spent’ in quite the way that you are implying. If you are successful at passing legislation that is popularly received, it is as likely to increase your ability to do new stuff as much as anything else.

Oh sure — but there are things that Democratic interest groups want very badly but that would not be broadly popular. An obvious example would be gay marriage, which is why Obama is not in favor (an issue, along with the war on drugs, where Obama — and especially Biden — are to the right of us libertarians). I think statehood for DC and ‘card check’ probably also fall into this category of things that Democratic interest groups want but that most voters don’t. Democrats will probably be in a position to push these things through, but at the probable expense of losing political capital and elections to follow. The party as a whole might think it was worth it, but the vulnerable congress members probably wouldn’t.

Not that there is much on the agenda that would really threaten that, but I think increased taxes on the wealthy (note Slocum may disagree, but I would have thought that supply-side was well and discredited by now)

There’s a bit of difference between letting Bush tax cuts expire (which is likely to be popular enough) vs ‘uncapping’ FICA and ‘spreading the wealth’ which is a tougher sell.

16

Barry 10.21.08 at 3:45 pm

“There’s a bit of difference between letting Bush tax cuts expire (which is likely to be popular enough) vs ‘uncapping’ FICA and ‘spreading the wealth’ which is a tougher sell.”

I have a feeling that ‘spreading the wealth’ will be more popular during a deep recession, after an economic cycle in which most people lost ground, and during a time of trillion-dollar [1] Wall Street bailouts.

Barry

[1] It might not be a trillion dollars now, but it soon will be, especially assuming that the Bush bailout will pretty much be wasted.

17

mpowell 10.21.08 at 3:46 pm

On the issue of gay marriage, I expect Obama will leave that up to the states. On card check, I really don’t think that is a high salience issue. That’s one of the things Republicans can attack Dems with, but it really just substitutes for standard boilerplate “scary liberal” political rhetoric. The elections will be about other issues. On taxes, I think the issue is a lot more interesting. The Republicans will try to frame an increase on taxes on the rich in their favor, but so far Obama has stayed away from dangerous stuff like FICA expansion, which would increase taxes on the group making above $100K/year. This is a much larger group than the group making $250K plus, and I think if he sticks to bumping up the marginal rate on the top 1 or 2% of earners, he is on much safer ground. If Obama bumps rates on that group and the economy improves before the 2012 election, it will not hurt him in the election, even if the rates end up being higher than Reagan era rates (which still leaves a lot of room to 50s, 60s or 70s era rates).

18

mpowell 10.21.08 at 3:54 pm

I would hasten to add that the risk of not increasing taxes on the $100K to $250K group, is that you shortchange the economy. Deficit spending is great and all, but I think the economy will do even better if we can fund that spending through increased taxes on those who can afford to pay it. And it may not be optimal to solely locate that increased burden on the $250K plus group. This kind of reasoning assumes that one of the biggest risks over the next few years is the middle class not generating enough demand for the goods our economy is capable of generating. Shifting the tax burden up the chain will help, I think.

19

Slocum 10.21.08 at 4:07 pm

On card check, I really don’t think that is a high salience issue. That’s one of the things Republicans can attack Dems with, but it really just substitutes for standard boilerplate “scary liberal” political rhetoric. The elections will be about other issues.

I agree that it really hasn’t been, but I think that will change if it passes. If many workers experience more aggressive, election-free union organizing (or know people who do or even read first-person accounts), they’re going to start forming opinions very quickly–once passed and implemented, ‘card check’ wouldn’t be just a Republican talking point.

The Republicans will try to frame an increase on taxes on the rich in their favor, but so far Obama has stayed away from dangerous stuff like FICA expansion, which would increase taxes on the group making above $100K/year. This is a much larger group than the group making $250K plus, and I think if he sticks to bumping up the marginal rate on the top 1 or 2% of earners, he is on much safer ground.

Yes, but — there just aren’t that many taxpayers in that top 1-2% and so really not that much extra revenue there for the taking (at least with the kinds of non-punitive increases in marginal rates that are politically feasible and economically efficient). This is especially true of taxes that apply to wages rather than other sources of income. But also, in the U.S. there have been two concentrated regions where huge (potentially taxable) fortunes were being earned — Wall Street and Silicon Valley. And both of those (especially Wall Street) are likely to produce a lot less for Obama to tax in the next few years than they have been doing. Lefties can rejoice when they discover that the Gini coefficient in the U.S. has declined in the economic downturn, but…

Yes, Obama buys himself political cover by exempting incomes between $100K and $250K but at the expense of excluding the majority of his potential new source of revenue.

20

christian h. 10.21.08 at 4:12 pm

What Ben Alpers said. As I wrote here before, the Democrats will need some new excuse for not following through on their promises (promises which are by themselves already not at all far-reaching). I trust they’ll come up with one.

I’m thinking what will pass is:

1. Tax cuts for the “middle class”, that is, rich, but not super-rich people, probably combined with letting Bush tax cuts for the super-rich lapse. Maybe closing of the Hedge Fund tax loophole, but don’t hold your breath on that one.

2. Some kind of health-care reform going in the right direction, with passage ensured by buying off the insurance industry.

3. Lots of corporate welfare dressed up as climate policy, and an ineffective “cap-and-trade” program (b/c the market works miracles, as we all know).

4. More corporate welfare dubbed “economic stimulus plan”.

5. Eventual withdrawal from Iraq of some of the US forces there.

6. More killing in Afghanistan, an attack on Pakistan, and possibly Sudan and/or Iran.

I very much doubt card check will be passed. Some relief for labor organizing will likely occur simply by virtue of appointments to the NLRB that aren’t hard right.

21

geo 10.21.08 at 4:19 pm

Slocum, are you really unaware that card registration is a response to the near-total unwillingness of the National Labor Relations Board to enforce existing legal prohibitions against employer intimidation during union organizing campaigns?

22

Walt 10.21.08 at 4:33 pm

geo, of course he knows. He just hates unions. Or is paid to hate them on the Internet.

23

lemuel pitkin 10.21.08 at 4:48 pm

Christian H. and ben Alpers (whose comments I ussually admire) think that Obama won’t deliver any expansion of health coverage, increased tax progressivity, stronger labor law, or environmental regulation, expanded voting rights, or an end to the wars in Iraq and Afgahnistan. Evidently on everything except possibly “culture war” issues (and maybe gays have nothing to look forward to either; I don’t know) the only possibilities are the status quo or something worse.

And yet clearly progress has been made in all these areas in the not tooo distant past. So how did it happen?

Presumably, Christian and Ben would say, not through elections but through mass movements. So why should we assume there will be no mass politics over the next four or eight years? Are the prospects for such movements really no better following an Obama victory, with all the hopes it will raise? Is there any difference between how an Obama and a McCain administration would react to popular pressure, say for an end to the war or a real response to climate change? And finally, how will a preemptive concession of defeat by progressives help?

24

Slocum 10.21.08 at 4:53 pm

Slocum, are you really unaware that card registration is a response to the near-total unwillingness of the National Labor Relations Board to enforce existing legal prohibitions against employer intimidation during union organizing campaigns?

Yes, I’m aware that’s the argument — I just don’t buy it. I don’t believe the problem is ’employer intimiation’ rather it’s that employees, when they are free from union intimidation, too often make the ‘wrong’ decision that they’d rather not be union members after all, thank you very much. Unions don’t like workers being able to vote in secret because it makes them harder to…persuade. As it is, organizers get workers to sign cards (just to get the organizers off their backs), but then some of the workers who signed cards turn around and vote down the union on their secret ballot (and the organizers don’t even know whose tires to slash, so I can see why it’s very frustrating for them).

But once Obama is in office, he’ll be able to have a Democratic majority on the NLRB with a chairperson of Obama’s choice. That should solve any problems with NLRB enforcement, no?

Anyway the point here is not what I think about ‘card check’ but whether ‘card check’ is something that would prove popular and increase Democratic chances in elections to come. I doubt it, but there’s only one way to find out, I guess.

25

Harry 10.21.08 at 5:07 pm

slocum — its really hard to tell who is right here. If you ask around, however, it is easy to find a lot of employer intimidation of various kinds, especially in certain industries. (Anecdotally, I hear of it not just from talking with union organisers, but also, believe it or not, managers in firms that openly admit that they do this). Now, it is entirely possible that workers would vote against unionisation absent intimidation.

My guess is that you’re dead right that the Dems won’t go for card check, though. I doubt, too, that an Obama presidency will even beef up NLRB. I think that the Dems are much less left than the Wall Street Journal wishes they were.

26

DC 10.21.08 at 5:10 pm

Love the WSJ reference to the “coastal liberals who answer to the green elites” – I would have presumed it was the coastal greens who answered to the liberal elites, but there you go.

27

Steve LaBonne 10.21.08 at 5:13 pm

My guess is that you’re dead right that the Dems won’t go for card check, though. I doubt, too, that an Obama presidency will even beef up NLRB. I think that the Dems are much less left than the Wall Street Journal wishes they were.

I’ll take that bet. The unions have done excellent work for the party in this campaign and will, quite rightly, expect to be rewarded for it. I’ll be both shocked and angry if card check isn’t passed fairly quickly.

I won’t bother dealing with the asinine and debunked-many-times-over “arguments” against it. Conservatives are welcome to discuss this amongst themselves, and they’ll have plenty of leisure the next few years in which to do so.

28

geo 10.21.08 at 5:26 pm

Harry: its really hard to tell who is right here

No, it isn’t:

ACCORDING TO Stanford law professor William Gould, a former head of the NLRB, it takes an average of 802 days–more than two years–for the NLRB to resolve a disputed election. The NLRB’s 2005 annual report pointed out that 31,358 workers received back pay in 2005 because of illegal employer discrimination for activities protected under the NLRA.
The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Urban Economic Development released a study in December 2005 that found: 30 percent of employers fire pro-union workers during union organizing drives; 49 percent of employers threaten to close a work site when workers try to unionize; 82 percent of employers hire union-busting consultants to fight organizing drives; and 91 percent of employers force employees to attend anti-union one-on-one meetings with supervisors.

Cornell University scholar Kate Bronfenbrenner reported in a 2000 study that 52 percent of employers threaten to call immigration authorities during organizing drives that include undocumented workers.

If–despite the threats, intimidation and harassment–workers still vote to have a union in an NLRB election, there’s no guarantee they’ll get a first contract. In 2004, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which is responsible for mediating labor disputes for the NLRB, reported that 45 percent of employers never agree to a contract after workers form a union under the NLRB process.

http://socialistworker.org/2007-1/625/625_11_CardCheck.shtml

29

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 10.21.08 at 5:29 pm

Slocum, have you even met any union organisers? Ever? I think you’d be pleasantly surprised to find out they’re not drooling thugs. Or that most studies done on the subject suggest employer intimidation, subtle (though illegal) it may be, is a lot more prevalent than the kind of tyre-slashing hooliganism you suggest is endemic to the labour movement.

But, y’know, don’t want to disavow you of any of your prejudices there.

30

mpowell 10.21.08 at 5:55 pm

To follow on, I thin card check is more about practicality than principle. Even Slocum is willing to acknowledge this on some level. It’s about whether management intimidation is more of a problem than union intimidation. First, I really don’t know if Obama will go this route or not. On the second point, I believe that more Americans will be happy with card check than without, but I guess we’ll see. I don’t think it’s a guarantee one way or the other, at least.

31

Slocum 10.21.08 at 7:05 pm

Freshly Squeezed Cynic: Or that most studies done on the subject suggest employer intimidation, subtle (though illegal) it may be, is a lot more prevalent than the kind of tyre-slashing hooliganism you suggest is endemic to the labour movement.

That may be the case now, because secret ballots in union elections make it quite difficult for organizers to know who they need to be intimidate into voting the right way. But I believe that would change dramatically with card check. Similarly, there’s little intimidation involved in political elections due to the secret ballot. But if the secret ballot were eliminated, wouldn’t you expect political machines to attempt to bribe or intimidate people into voting in a particular way? I certainly would. In fact, I worry about the expansion of absentee ballots and vote-by-mail programs for just that reason.

mpowell: To follow on, I thin card check is more about practicality than principle. Even Slocum is willing to acknowledge this on some level. It’s about whether management intimidation is more of a problem than union intimidation.

No I don’t really agree it’s a question of which is the bigger problem. If management intimidation is a problem, then the solution should be targeted at that — with new rules or enforcement of existing rules — but NOT the elimination of democratic union elections with the obvious purpose of enabling union arm-twisting of individual workers.

32

J Thomas 10.21.08 at 7:09 pm

It’s about whether management intimidation is more of a problem than union intimidation.

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but when there are two competing problems and we don’t know which will be more of a problem in the future — when at any time either could become the worse problem — then I don’t like making a law that permanently favors one problem over the other.

Better to find separate solutions to the two problems, if that’s possible.

Or if not, a solution that’s easy to slide back and forth as needed. But who can you trust to decide which way it needs to be slid? Maybe the people it’s supposed to protect? If there was some way for them to choose … but would both sides try to punish them for choosing the wrong way?

I hate it when it’s two competing problems and we solve one at the expense of the other when the problems can react to our choice quicker than we can respond.

33

a 10.21.08 at 7:25 pm

I imagine the Supreme Court, which is still held by the Republicans, will be busy striking down laws as unconstitutional.

34

SamChevre 10.21.08 at 7:25 pm

It would be possible to get around the management intimidation by dramatically cutting the proportion of the workforce that needs to sign cards to have an election, and the permissible lag before an election. (Say, an election can be held if 10% of the workforce requests it,a nd must be held within 1 week.) I’d be in favor of both changes.

The history of unionization in the coal mining industry would lead me to think intimidation could be a real issue if the law wasn’t such as to make it impractical.

35

mpowell 10.21.08 at 7:43 pm


I don’t have a dog in this fight, but when there are two competing problems and we don’t know which will be more of a problem in the future—when at any time either could become the worse problem—then I don’t like making a law that permanently favors one problem over the other.

That’s great and all, but I don’t see a whole rush of pro labor ideas from the card check opponents. Moreover, we’re kind of stuck with either supporting or opposing what’s on the table, not what we wish was on the table.

36

geo 10.21.08 at 7:55 pm

Slocum: If management intimidation is a problem, then the solution should be targeted at that—with new rules or enforcement of existing rules

Yes, libertarians and Republicans are keenly concerned about this problem (if it exists, of course) and ardently in favor of enforcing already existing, democratically mandated rules, in this case and all others. Aren’t they?

37

John Quiggin 10.21.08 at 7:57 pm

“As for card check (which I assume is you mean by ‘union rights’),”

This isn’t my list it’s the WSJ’s. Rechecking, I see that the WSJ promises “union supremacy” which sounds even better, but the substantive proposal they refer to appears to be card check.

On your point about political capital, the political environment has grown steadily more favorable to unions as the implications for wages of the decline of unions (namely, decades of real wage stagnation) have become ever more apparent. I don’t think there’s much life left in libertarian logic-chopping on this score.

38

lemuel pitkin 10.21.08 at 8:20 pm

John Q. is right, of course. Increasing the number of workers in unions would be very good for those workers, and for our economy and society in general. Card-check is a means to that end; whether it fits with some ideal of workplace democracy is irrelevant.

(Personally, I wish unions were more interested in removing legal obstalces to orgnaizing, e.g. Taft-Hartley’s bans on boycotts and secondary strikes, rather than getting the government more involved as with card-check. Among other problems, the latter approach leaves you very vulnerable to the next anti-labor administration. But as mpowell says, the real question is whether you want to see stronger unions. If you do, card-check is what’s on offer.)

39

Ben Alpers 10.21.08 at 8:21 pm

Christian H. and ben Alpers (whose comments I ussually admire) think that Obama won’t deliver any expansion of health coverage, increased tax progressivity, stronger labor law, or environmental regulation, expanded voting rights, or an end to the wars in Iraq and Afgahnistan.

…Presumably, Christian and Ben would say, not through elections but through mass movements. So why should we assume there will be no mass politics over the next four or eight years? Are the prospects for such movements really no better following an Obama victory, with all the hopes it will raise? Is there any difference between how an Obama and a McCain administration would react to popular pressure, say for an end to the war or a real response to climate change? And finally, how will a preemptive concession of defeat by progressives help?

lp,

You drastically overestimate my cynicism!

I think that Obama is clearly the lesser evil here (which is why I’m voting for him and have sent money to his campaign), in part because I think that a McCain win would likely take the wind out of whatever small chance there is for a mass movement for change to coalesce. I also think that some of the items that you mention are real possibilities in an Obama administration: e.g., slightly greater tax progressivity, marginally stronger labor law, better environmental regulations, expansions to voting rights (insofar as they help the Democratic Party). I don’t expect any meaningful healthcare reform, nor an actual pullout from Iraq (though something sold as a pullout will likely happen). Obama has promised an escalation to the war on Afghanistan and I expect him to keep his word (though, just to be clear, McCain has promised the same policy, so we’re getting this one way or the other). I also anticipate that Obama would nominate better Supreme Court justices: pro-business, Breyer-style centrists instead of far-right Alito-style ideologues.

We currently have a center-right party and a far-right party in this country. It’s as silly to pretend that there’s no difference between them as it is to pretend that one of them is progressive.

40

Ben Alpers 10.21.08 at 8:21 pm

Ooops…that second paragraph was also quoting from lemuel pitkin and should have been in italics.

(Where’d preview go?!?)

41

Barry 10.21.08 at 8:29 pm

Folks, Slocum is just like Sebastian, who occasionally shows up to be anti-union, and whom is an admitted corporate lawyer. The only reason that I don’t yet believe that Slocum is also a corporate lawyer is that he’s not kicking out the volume of arguments, even cut-and-paste arguments.

Ignore him; it’s clear that he’ll be anti-labor until the day that he dies. It’s our problem to push things through *despite* people like him.

42

lemuel pitkin 10.21.08 at 8:37 pm

You drastically overestimate my cynicism!

Well that’s a relief. Your contributions to the whole Dem primary rules debate here and on Obsidian Wings and Lawyers, Guns and Money were so good, I was shocked to see you succumbing to the forces of Left Despair.

43

Slocum 10.21.08 at 8:46 pm

John Quiggin: On your point about political capital, the political environment has grown steadily more favorable to unions as the implications for wages of the decline of unions (namely, decades of real wage stagnation) have become ever more apparent. I don’t think there’s much life left in libertarian logic-chopping on this score.

But even if unions manage a resurgence in the private sector, they will still have very little power to raise wages here unless they can eliminate all the non-union competition within the U.S. (not an easy task in the anti-union South even with card-check) AND also low-cost competition from abroad (with new protectionist measures). Just one or the other won’t do it — they need both. If they get both, then yeah, they can go back to the good old days of forcing the rest of us to buy whatever crap they crank out at whatever price. But otherwise all they can really do is bleed their employers until they fail in competition with non-union and/or lower-cost foreign producers (see Detroit).

Maybe resurgent private-sector unionization combined with new trade barriers will be popular and propel Democrats to ever greater majorities, but my sense is the country as a whole has moved nowhere near that far to the left. But we’ll see.

lemuel pitkin: Increasing the number of workers in unions would be very good for those workers.

Oh yeah, definitely — it’s worked miracles for all the auto workers here in SE Michigan. If not for unions they might have ended up in the terrible straits that all those non-union Toyota, Honda, Nissan, BMW, etc workers now find themselves in down South.

44

geo 10.21.08 at 8:55 pm

the good old days of forcing the rest of us to buy whatever crap they crank out at whatever price

Poor rest of us. They were also the best years in American history for stable, equitably distributed economic growth and overall social welfare. Since 1980, the US has gradually devolved into an overworked, underpaid, at-risk society for the (very large) majority without substantial stock-market holdings. But at least workers aren’t being coerced into joining unions.

45

Uncle Kvetch 10.21.08 at 10:04 pm

We currently have a center-right party and a far-right party in this country. It’s as silly to pretend that there’s no difference between them as it is to pretend that one of them is progressive.

Very nicely put.

46

Uncle Kvetch 10.21.08 at 10:05 pm

Since 1980, the US has gradually devolved into an overworked, underpaid, at-risk society for the (very large) majority without substantial stock-market holdings.

Yes, but as Slocum will no doubt point out in the next 30 minutes, all us overworked, underpaid, at-risk folks in the majority now have really cool iPods, so it all balances out.

47

christian h. 10.21.08 at 11:54 pm

Left despair? There’s no left despair. There is, however, realism. Right now, it seems clear Obama is sufficiently preferable to vote for him where necessary. (Although his rhetoric on Afghanistan and Pakistan is highly disturbing.)

I am all for the mass movements, but they will not happen if people keep urging restraint to get Obama elected, give Obama time, not undermine the mid-term election effort, get Obama re-elected etc. In other words, as long as potential mass movement follow the UfPJ route, they simply will not materialize.

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Barry 10.22.08 at 12:07 am

Uncle Kvetch 10.21.08 at 10:05 pm

“Yes, but as Slocum will no doubt point out in the next 30 minutes, all us overworked, underpaid, at-risk folks in the majority now have really cool iPods, so it all balances out.”

I always love that sort of talk. But I’m really waiting for some right-winger to say that higher taxes on the rich are O.K.. because the rich have far kewler toys than they did 20 years ago.
I expect to be waiting for that for, ah, ever.

49

Steve LaBonne 10.22.08 at 12:38 am

christian h @ 47- as a left-liberal I share this frustration. But the situation is complicated by the fact that the Republicans have become so vile and dangerous that keeping them out of office simply has to be an overriding priority. If a saner conservative party were to take shape amidst the post-McCain wreckage, that would make it a lot easier- and less risky- to keep maximum pressure on Obama. But I’m not holding my breath.

50

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 10.22.08 at 10:11 am

Slocum:

“Similarly, there’s little intimidation involved in political elections due to the secret ballot.”

And of course, this means that the secret ballot prevents any intimidation of workers, ever! Ah, but wait, let’s go back to what geo said:

“The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Urban Economic Development released a study in December 2005 that found: 30 percent of employers fire pro-union workers during union organizing drives; 49 percent of employers threaten to close a work site when workers try to unionize; 82 percent of employers hire union-busting consultants to fight organizing drives; and 91 percent of employers force employees to attend anti-union one-on-one meetings with supervisors.”

The irony is delicious. The fact that you continue to compain about hypothetical, boogeyman intimidation from labour organisers whilst remaining quiet about the actual, wide-spread, illegal intimidation from employers is telling, crocodile tears about imaginary slashed tyres aside. To continue your comparison with the political arena, people are not in anything like a democratic situation when one political party can prevent the other from campaigning, bribe and threaten the voters, and force the voters to watch its’ propaganda, even if they can cast a secret ballot at the end of it.

Card check isn’t my preferred solution, but it’s the best one currently on the table and a step up from what is currently available. Perhaps I would take the anti-card check forces seriously if they were to actually suggest other ways to reduce the problem of employer intimidation, and campaign for these. But since those against anti-card check seem to be either reflexively anti-union or large commercial interests trying to protect their own interests, I suspect they’re fine with the rigged elections.

51

Slocum 10.22.08 at 11:24 am

geo: They were also the best years in American history for stable, equitably distributed economic growth and overall social welfare. Since 1980, the US has gradually devolved into an overworked, underpaid, at-risk society for the (very large) majority without substantial stock-market holdings.

Wow — that is complete, mind-boggling nonsense. And I meant complete, from top to bottom. 1980 was probably the low point in recent U.S. economic history. It was the era of the ‘misery index’. Remember that? Inflation + Unemployment. In 1980 it stood at an incredible 22%. Great times. The 1980s were the decade where virtually everybody was convinced that the U.S. was in permanent decline and would soon be overtaken by the Japanese. How could we possibly compete? Here’s a bit from the Amazon blurb for James Fallows’s More Like Us:

Rather than try to “outsacrifice the Japanese,” Americans can make the U.S. economy competitive again, Fallows urges, by tapping our native talent for disorder, constant change, mobility and entrepreneurial zeal. An Atlantic correspondent living in Japan and Malaysia since 1986, this former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter bolsters his thesis with firsthand comparisons of Asian societies and our own. His points are well-taken, if not particularly new. In the book’s anticlimactic, weakly argued second half, Fallows blames America’s stagnation on an “inappropriate, static, Confucian-style merit system”…

Once upon a time, less than 20 years ago, Americans were deeply worried about how to compete with the Japanese economic juggernaut and even Democrats from the Carter administration recognized the benefits of “disorder, constant change, mobility and entrepreneurial zeal”. But you tell kids that nowadays and they don’t believe it ;)

52

Lex 10.22.08 at 12:06 pm

Yeah, those kind of commentators were wrong then, and they’re wrong now, so?

53

Slocum 10.22.08 at 12:07 pm

And of course, this means that the secret ballot prevents any intimidation of workers, ever! Ah, but wait, let’s go back to what geo said:

“The University of Illinois at Chicago’s Center for Urban Economic Development released a study in December 2005 that found: 30 percent of employers fire pro-union workers during union organizing drives; 49 percent of employers threaten to close a work site when workers try to unionize; 82 percent of employers hire union-busting consultants to fight organizing drives; and 91 percent of employers force employees to attend anti-union one-on-one meetings with supervisors.”

Firing pro-union workers during organizing drives — yes, that should be punished. But the rest of it is mostly legit. Employers should be able to make the case against unionization before their employees. The higher costs, reduced flexibility, and adversarial relations associated with a union workforce, all things being equal, may well result in loss of market share and lower profits in comparison with competitors who don’t have these costs and, in the long term, may result in lower investment and the long-term decline of the company. Certainly it’s a common enough pattern in the U.S. So why shouldn’t employers be able to show employees a video, say, about the experiences of GM auto workers in Flint, MI vs Toyota workers in Georgetown, KY? The union, of course, can make its case as well. And then the employees get to vote (in secret), so neither union nor management can use their votes against them.

The irony is delicious. The fact that you continue to compain about hypothetical, boogeyman intimidation from labour organisers.

Just as secret ballots in political elections help prevent the ‘hypothetical bogeyman’ of vote buying and intimidation by political machines, secret ballots in union elections serve to prevent organizer intimidation. That the secret ballot works as intended is the main reason that we don’t have these problems — it’s bizarre to argue that because the problems are currently rare, we should therefore remove the protections. Would you also conclude that because you have not been the victim of the ‘hypothetical bogeyman’ of a burglar that you should remove the locks from all your doors and windows?

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J Thomas 10.22.08 at 12:07 pm

“I don’t like making a law that permanently favors one problem over the other.”

That’s great and all, but I don’t see a whole rush of pro labor ideas from the card check opponents.

Well, you wouldn’t, would you?

In an ideal world that still needed unions, I’d kind of like an annual secret-ballot vote for whether to start a union if there isn’t one, and an annual secret-ballot vote for whether to disband a union if there isn’t one. But that’s a lot of work, and who would we trust to run the ballotting? It used to be I thought the federal government would be trustworthy, but in recent years, no.

Moreover, we’re kind of stuck with either supporting or opposing what’s on the table, not what we wish was on the table.

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J Thomas 10.22.08 at 12:25 pm

Moreover, we’re kind of stuck with either supporting or opposing what’s on the table, not what we wish was on the table.

Well, that’s the problem right there, isn’t it?

Stalin famously said that it isn’t who votes that counts, it’s who counts the votes. I don’t care which choice the voters make if I get to choose the alternatives.

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lemuel pitkin 10.22.08 at 1:09 pm

Well, that’s the problem right there, isn’t it?

No, it’s just real life.

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J Thomas 10.22.08 at 1:22 pm

But even if unions manage a resurgence in the private sector, they will still have very little power to raise wages here unless they can eliminate all the non-union competition within the U.S. (not an easy task in the anti-union South even with card-check) AND also low-cost competition from abroad (with new protectionist measures). …. But otherwise all they can really do is bleed their employers until they fail in competition with non-union and/or lower-cost foreign producers (see Detroit).

I can see some validity to that point.

However, look at the other side of it. Traditionally steel companies and auto companies engaged in sharp practices wrt both labor and suppliers. The result was they wound up with suppliers who didn’t trust them, and with adversarial unions. They managed with that because they were all in the same boat, their competitors all had the same self-inflicted problems.

Non-union auto competitors in this country haven’t built up the bad blood (or the spilled blood) that the traditional automakers have. So they have an advantage, as long as they can keep it. It isn’t just that the South is anti-union, it’s also that southern auto-plant workers don’t yet feel they’ve been consistently cheated.

I figure, if only we had say 150 auto companies then we could get a free market solution. A few companies go broke, a few new companies start up, if you don’t like your job then look for one with a competitor. But we don’t have that. Without unions each big employer pretty much has a monopoly on jobs when bargaining with individual employees. Bad for employees, good for the monopolist. And get a union and it’s like two monopolies squabbling. There’s no free market at all.

So I’d like it to be easy to start unions, and easy to end them. A company whose workers believe it will take care of them, won’t have union troubles. A company that sees it’s likely to get a union has a warning to do better. Intimidating workers is not a good way to build trust and tends to result in long-lasting unions and eventual failure. The trouble is that unions are a big effort to start and organise and they wind up employing people, and there’s dislocation when one ends. The ex-union employees might be at risk too. OK, find ways to set them up cheaply and simply. Kind of like a union franchise.

And then sometimes when a new union starts that’s a signal that the CEO has managed very badly and should be fired. Get a new CEO, make peace with labor, the union dissolves, all is forgiven.

It might turn out that the possibility of unions is more helpful than the actuality of unions.

Better still if the corporations were all smaller and more numerous. Get free competition among numerous companies, for customers and for employees. Better to have many buyers and many sellers than two monopolies negotiating.

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J Thomas 10.22.08 at 1:30 pm

“Well, that’s the problem right there, isn’t it?”

No, it’s just real life.

Expand your timeframe. You can’t get an idea onto the table until somebody proposes it and others take it up.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

59

Barry 10.22.08 at 1:32 pm

57
J Thomas 10.22.08 at 1:22 pm

“Non-union auto competitors in this country haven’t built up the bad blood (or the spilled blood) that the traditional automakers have. So they have an advantage, as long as they can keep it. It isn’t just that the South is anti-union, it’s also that southern auto-plant workers don’t yet feel they’ve been consistently cheated.”

IIRC, polls consistently find a large minority, or a small majority of workers would like to unionize. As has been repeatedly pointed out in the comments, corporations have and use a lot of powerful tools to prevent unionization, or to destroy existing unions, with little fear of punishment. This means that most comments such as yours are (not deliberately) equivalent to a naive person pointing out that the ‘Republics’ in the USSR had not carried out public votes to secede, not had the countries of the Warsaw pact held plebicites on whether or not to remain in.

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MarkUp 10.22.08 at 2:13 pm

“So I’d like it to be easy to start unions, and easy to end them. A company whose workers believe it will take care of them, won’t have union troubles. A company that sees it’s likely to get a union has a warning to do better.”

That scenario creates just as many possible disincentives as it does incentives, depending of course on who gets to make and maintain [$$] the rules they play by. History favors the few with $$ rather than the many.

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J Thomas 10.22.08 at 2:58 pm

This means that most comments such as yours are (not deliberately) equivalent to a naive person pointing out that the ‘Republics’ in the USSR had not carried out public votes to secede, not had the countries of the Warsaw pact held plebicites on whether or not to remain in.

I apologise for switching realities on you. I claim that my suggestion should fit the other guy’s sense of what’s right and also fit your sense of what’s right.

The trouble is I don’t see how to make it practical. But I really like the idea of low-overhead union franchises. You decide to set up a union, you choose a franchiser, and they quick come in and show you how to set up a simple minimal structure that does what you need. Here’s how you set it up, here’s why it’s done that way, here’s the software, call us if you have problems or want to do it different.

History favors the few with $$ rather than the many.

Unfortunately true. I don’t see what to do about it, in general.

The romans set up tribunes with veto powers. I wonder whether something like that might help. Get random employees for relatively short times onto the board of directors, with veto powers? They might tend to view it as a lottery, come in at the right time and maybe get a big bribe. Or maybe not.

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Freshly Squeezed Cynic 10.22.08 at 3:08 pm

Slocum: Now you’re just reaching.

Firing pro-union workers during organizing drives—yes, that should be punished. But the rest of it is mostly legit. Employers should be able to make the case against unionization before their employees. The higher costs, reduced flexibility, and adversarial relations associated with a union workforce, all things being equal, may well result in loss of market share and lower profits in comparison with competitors who don’t have these costs and, in the long term, may result in lower investment and the long-term decline of the company. Certainly it’s a common enough pattern in the U.S. So why shouldn’t employers be able to show employees a video, say, about the experiences of GM auto workers in Flint, MI vs Toyota workers in Georgetown, KY?

The point, as has been repeatedly noted before, is not that it is a problem that employers get to campaign against a unionisation drive. It is the campaigning tactics used which abuse the employer’s power over the employee which is the problem. Threatening that their specific workplace will close if the employees join a union. And not just letting people watch anti-union campaign materials; making attendance at such events compulsory. So sayeth the libertarian; it’s ok to force someone to watch something as long as it’s anti-union.

The union, of course, can make its case as well.

No, it can’t. At least, nowhere near as effectively as the employer can. The employer can ban the union from campaigning in the workplace, pro-union workers can only campaign at designated times and places, and unions generally don’t get access to employee contact information (which would be important to, y’know, actually know who can get involved in the election) until days before the election. The gulf between the freedom the employer gets to campaign with and the draconian restrictions pro-union workers or the union itself face is astonishing.

And then the employees get to vote (in secret), so neither union nor management can use their votes against them.

And as I have noted before, it doesn’t matter how secret the ballots are if the campaign period itself places restrictions on one party’s ability to contact the voters, and is lax in dealing with the abuses of another. That’s not a level playing field in which to campaign. Any country that ran its’ legislative or presidential elections like that would be considered, rightly, a fraudulent democracy.

Just as secret ballots in political elections help prevent the ‘hypothetical bogeyman’ of vote buying and intimidation by political machines, secret ballots in union elections serve to prevent organizer intimidation. That the secret ballot works as intended is the main reason that we don’t have these problems—it’s bizarre to argue that because the problems are currently rare, we should therefore remove the protections. Would you also conclude that because you have not been the victim of the ‘hypothetical bogeyman’ of a burglar that you should remove the locks from all your doors and windows?

I don’t buy that the secret ballot in unionisation elections is the main reason we hear very little about organiser intimidation, for the simple reason that card check can currently be used to recognise a union in a workplace, although only if an employer agrees to recognise the results of the card check. Therefore, we can see if card check results in substantial organiser intimidation as compared to the secret ballot, since after all, you claim that it is the ability to cast a secret ballot, away from the prying eyes of the predatory union organiser, which prevents the slashed tyres and ugly threats you so dread. But there’s little organiser intimidation at all in the US, whether recognition drives take place under card check or secret ballot.

I keep calling your hypothetical a hypothetical because that’s all it is; it does not bear scruitiny once you look at the available evidence. The difference between a burglar and a brutish union organiser intimidating decent working folks is that only the former exist in substantial number outside of your head.

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Slocum 10.22.08 at 5:53 pm

So sayeth the libertarian; it’s ok to force someone to watch something as long as it’s anti-union.

Employers aren’t ‘forcing’ employees to watch, they’re paying them to watch. If I want to hire people to watch propaganda videos 40 hours a week, I no of no law nor moral that prevents me from doing so (and my video-watching employees are either to think that’s easy money or, alternately, that they’d rather do something else for a living).

Shockingly, employers often go much farther than just ‘forcing’ employees to watch videos. Sometimes they also ‘force’ workers to be in the office for certain defined hours and to do activities that are sometimes boring or even physically tiring. Really it differs little from slavery — but that’s the sad state of the world we find ourselves in.

I don’t buy that the secret ballot in unionisation elections is the main reason we hear very little about organiser intimidation, for the simple reason that card check can currently be used to recognise a union in a workplace, although only if an employer agrees to recognise the results of the card check. Therefore, we can see if card check results in substantial organiser intimidation as compared to the secret ballot…

Nonsense. Few employers (for obvious reasons) agree to recognize the results of the card check without an election. So employees have little reason to resist signing the cards (since they can always vote against unionization in the election). But if signing cards replaced the election instead of only authorizing an election, the dynamic would be very different.

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geo 10.22.08 at 7:55 pm

slocum @51:

Yes, the misery index. It doesn’t say much about the actual distribution of welfare, eg, of income and social supports, though, does it? I was basing my comment about “widely distributed” growth and social welfare on (what I took to be) these facts:

1) Median real wages between 1945 and 1973 for the bottom nine percentiles increased steadily.

2) Median real wages since 1980 for the bottom nine percentiles has been flat.

3) Medical, employment, and retirement security for the bottom nine percentiles has been drastically diminished since 1980 by what Jacob Hacker (and many others) call “The Great Risk Shift.”

4) Wealth and income inequality have increased drastically since 1980.

Whether these developments are directly related to decreasing unionization since 1980 is of course arguable … but not very, I’d say.

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Freshly Squeezed Cynic 10.22.08 at 10:06 pm

Employers aren’t ‘forcing’ employees to watch, they’re paying them to watch.

And so it’s bribery, then, and hardly the democratic wonderland you suggested was the case. I note you didn’t say anything about the differing campaign conditions, and your suggestions that it’s anything like a fair campaign have been quietly shelved.

Few employers (for obvious reasons) agree to recognize the results of the card check without an election.

You actually have no clue about what you’re talking about, do you? Around 375,000 workers joined AFL-CIO affiliated unions by use of card check, rather than using the NRLB election process, and surveys carried out suggested similar low levels of workers feeling “under pressure” to join a union under card check compared to NRLB election processes (social pressure, I might add, not tyre-slashing), but much lower levels of employer intimidation.

I think the internets term is “pwned.”

66

Glen Tomkins 10.23.08 at 3:10 am

The agenda will be set by the prosecutions

Both Obama and the Congressional leadership are almost certainly not interested in legal accountability for BushCo, partly out of the native timidity of the Democrat of the species, but largely out of concern that such prosecutions would overwhelm and overshadow their legislative agenda.

They will indeed. The corruption of the Republican machine these past eight years has been so systematic, has wormed its way so much into every corner of a federal government that itself reaches into every corner of American life, that the project of rooting it out would get out of hand once started.

But it’s no use trying to hold such legal action back out of concern that it will get out of hand once Obama starts it, because it will get out of hand anyway, with or without Obama. Yes, the Obama administration will find itself in control of the federal prosecutors and in custody of much of the evidence on 1/21/09. But it will not control all of the prosecutors. It will control only a small subset of the potential plaintiffs, and none of the potential whistleblowers. To keep the lid on legal pursuit of BushCo would require not just that the new adminstration simply do nothing — not sic its prosecutors on BushCo, and not push evidence of wrongdoing out to the public. The Obama administration would have to stonewall release of evidence to litigants as zealously as BushCo now does. It would have to threaten potential whistleblowers with retribution as harsh as BushCo now does. It would have to stiff Congressional investigations as arrogantly as BushCo now does.

None of that will happen. And because it won’t happen, because Obama will fail to lead a third Bush administration, the legal pursuit of BushCo will get started on 1/21/09, and will quickly overwhelm public life in this country. The best thing to do if you truly want a progressive agenda to move forward, if you want any sort of agenda to move forward in the next 4-8 years, is to push for a comprehensive and systematic approach to the de-Republicanization and de-lobbyfication of our public life, and push for it right from the outset, while there is still a chance to channel it away from the great potential for harm inherent in the situation if the new administration, and the Congressional leadership, come to be seen as even more a part of the corruption than they, especially the latter, actually are.

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J Thomas 10.23.08 at 3:36 am

Glen, are you responding to something in some other thread? It sounds like an interesting discussion.

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Glen Tomkins 10.23.08 at 5:31 pm

J Thomas,
No, I just think that it’s pointless to talk about the agenda progressives should enact as if we will be setting the agenda, as opposed to having the agenda set for us by the legal “de-leveraging” of the more extreme and extra-legal “investments” of the conservative movement and Republican machine. We either need to catch that wave, or be swept under with it. If we ignore it, or we will end up doing the latter by default, sort of like the Girondins got caught up with a sinking monarchy. That didn’t end very well for them.

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J Thomas 10.23.08 at 11:24 pm

I honestly hadn’t realized it would be an issue. Today I talked with my sister, who was a federal prosecutor in the Clinton years. She said we’ll have to just not prosecute anybody because otherwise it will interfere with the agenda. She talked about it in the voice she uses to tell her kids that she’s the adult and they’re the kids who don’t know what they’re talking about. I figured, why not just go ahead and prosecute but don’t make a big deal of it. But she said it couldn’t happen, that Obama can just tell the FBI and the Justice department not to do any action on those things and it won’t happen.

She was 100% sure that’s the way it will be and that’s the way it ought to be.

I dunno. Somehow it reminds me of the story of the ants and the grasshoppers. The ants have a lot of stuff stored, and the grasshoppers come in and say “We’re your new government and you have to keep busy working. So the ants work hard but the grasshoppers eat things faster than the ants can bring in more, and it seems like the grasshoppers are carrying some of it away to their secret bank accounts in the bahamas too. And then when there’s nothing left the grasshoppers say “OK, you’re the government now. Work hard and save, so there will be plenty for us when we come back.” And the grasshoppers go to the bahamas to wait.

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Brett Bellmore 10.24.08 at 12:42 am

“Statehood for D.C.”

Dream on: The vote for D.C.? Yeah, I can see that, unconstitutionally giving DC representation in Congress as though it were a state. I’m fully expecting a Democratic effort to semi-permanently entrench their party, and handing out seats to every territory and district that might vote Democratic would be an element of that.

But actual statehood would involve Congress ceding a lot of control, and they’re loath to do that. DC will remain second class, and vote ‘right’ if they know what’s good for them.

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John Quiggin 10.24.08 at 7:21 am

There’s no doubt about the depth of Republican opposition to Democracy. Thanks, Brett. Keep on sticking it to those “taxation without representation is tyranny” socialists.

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Steven Attewell 10.24.08 at 8:32 am

In regards to the card check issue, I’d just like to throw my two cents in: I’m a union organizer who operates in a card-check neutrality work site (the University of California). Here’s how my “intimidation” goes: I walk up to someone, usually in their office or after or before they go to work, I introduce myself, shake their hand, go into my shpiel about the union while I hand them a card and a pen, and try to convince them to join. Sometimes people tell me to sod off, sometimes people get very passive-aggressive and say they need time to think about it and never get back to you, but most time people join without much need for persuasion.

I have no power over the person I’m talking to. I can’t fire them, I can’t discipline them, I can’t reassign them, I can’t force them to talk to me. The boss does have that power. In that circumstance, why would I try to use violence and intimidation against someone whose confidence, trust, and support I’m trying to win? Actual intimidation from union organizers is extremely, extremely rare because it’s a toxic strategy – even if you get that person to sign a card, you aren’t going to get them to walk a picket line or phonebank or go to a membership meeting or anything like that; when the word gets out and it inevitably will, you’ll have destroyed all possibility of building a rapport with workers and any idea that the union is an institution that’s on their side. Not to say that it doesn’t happen ever, or that it has never happened, but it’s a dead-end strategy that only the most depraved individual would employ and any sane institution would condone. You’d more or less have to assume that unions were kamikaze institutions to think that they would embrace this as a major tool, given the hue blowback they would face and the damage to their interests.

However, just to address the democracy angle for a second: card-check is no less democratic than signing a ballot petition or registering to vote – both parts of the political process that involve one-on-one meetings with committed activists asking you to somewhat publicly declare yourself, without the expectation of privacy you get in the voting booth. Keep in mind that in all union workplaces, after the first certification election, you don’t have subsequent elections as each new worker decides to join the union – an organizer comes up to them and asks them to sign as card, just like under card-check neutrality. As it stands, we have something of a democracy paradox – if a majority of people sign cards saying they want a union, the employer can demand an election; after that election, the Bush NLRB has decided, a minority of workers can sign cards saying they want to invalidate the election, and a new election has to be held. Union elections tend to be as democratic as the 99% referendums you see in banana republics – for reasons already detailed above. People have tried and failed repeatedly to reform the elections process, but you’d really have to go back and repeal Taft-Hartley and subsequent labor law, especially provisions that allow employers to spend unlimited amounts of company money on anti-union campaigns, require employees to attend vote-no meetings, require employees to attend one-on-one meetings, bar union organizers from the premises during elections, “predict” that the plant will close if the vote is yes, and so on and so forth.

One sign of how fundamentally flawed the process is: in public surveys, 44% of private-sector workers say they would like to join a union. Less than 9% of private-sector workers belong to a union.

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Steven Attewell 10.24.08 at 8:40 am

Just one more thing:

Employers can and do force employees to attend anti-union meetings. It’s not just being paid to attend – people are ordered to attend by their bosses, and can be disciplined or fired for insubordination if they don’t.

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Brett Bellmore 10.24.08 at 11:13 am

What opposition to democracy? The Constitution is quite specific about Congress representing states, and the District was specifically intended to NOT be a state. There are solutions to those people not having a vote which don’t involve the creation of a pseudo-state that has representation but not the slightest measure of independence; Giving all but the Mall back to the appropriate states, (I assume they’d have to be bribed to take the land back.), REAL statehood, or some of the states changing their own laws to allow DC residents to vote in their elections.

I don’t expect them to be pursued, because none of them provide that optimal result of more Democratic votes in Congress, cast by people who are utterly dependent on the good will of Congress.

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J Thomas 10.24.08 at 12:51 pm

Brett, what is it that keeps the GOP from competing for those votes?

Is it that they’re all inherently crazed liberals?

Is it that the GOP has to be bad for poor people?

Is it that the GOP has to be bad for blacks?

All of your suggestions would benefit the Democratic Party while the GOP rejects DC voters. Give the land to virginia and maryland and those states get more Democratic voters. Any other state they vote in gets more Democratic voters. Make it a state and you get another Democratic state.

As long as the GOP abandons these people then any approach to letting them vote is bad for the GOP. You object to the one that’s on the table because it’s bad for the GOP, but so are all the others. The only thing that makes them better for you is that they aren’t actually being considered.

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