Friday, May 21, 2010

Lemming Tracks: Taft-Hartley 14(b), or 'Who Needs a Secret Ballot?'

Offline, I ran into scuttlebutt that there's another attempt to repeal Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act in the works. I'm not surprised. What with rampant literacy among the labor force, Internet connections and Wi-Fi hotspots even in small town America - the masses are getting downright uppity.

Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act isn't something you hear about every day: It's a disturbing bit of good sense that allows states to opt for 'open shops.' That's a workplace where you don't (brace yourself) have to belong to a union.

Labor Unions, Oppressor Classes, and the Information Age

I think labor unions made sense, sort of, more than a century ago. That was an age when corsets were tight, horses were everywhere, and ideas like "oppressed proletariat" and "oppressor classes" made a little more sense, when applied to the American economy.

I've belonged to a labor union, myself. Of necessity; since the rules were that I didn't get the job if I didn't join. I've also been "oppressed" something fierce for most of my working life, in non-union shops. Can't say that I've minded keeping what was left of my paycheck after the taxman got his cut.

Taft-Hartley: Minions Got Rights

Taft-Hartley Section 14(b) is something of a thorn in the paw for organized labor in America, and the union leaders have turned their not-inconsiderable resources to the task of getting rid of that pesky bit of legislation before:

"Potential Repeal of Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act"
The Ohio Labor Lawyers (December 17, 2008)

"A longstanding target of labor unions has been Section 14(b) of the Tart-Hartley Act (a 1947 amendment to the National Labor Relations Act), which is the so-called Right to Work laws and bars workers from being forced to join labor unions. Specifically, in the 22 states that have enacted this law, when a union contract is signed, employees decide whether they want to join the union and pay dues; those that do not pay dues work under the same conditions as those that pay dues. Understandably, Right to Work states have significantly lower unionization rates than do other states...."

Not being forced to pay union dues? Not having the big boys check to see if I voted the 'right' way? Sounds like anarchy. Or oppression. Or, maybe, freedom.

I pick: "freedom."

Like I said, I think organized labor made a little sense - in the 19th century, when quite a few folks in the 'laboring class' didn't have a very broad education: and many were immigrants with very little working knowledge of how American economics and law worked.

That was then. This is the 21st century. Gas lamps have given way to LEDs, and 'the workers' have almost as much access to information as anybody else. I'm pretty sure that some of the 'working class' would just as soon pay someone in a suit to do their thinking for them, and tell them how to vote. Life is a little easier when you put your frontal cortex in 'sleep' mode.

Let Members of the Working Class Think For Themselves?!

But, judging from how many folks stay away from unions when they're not forced to join - my guess is that more folks at my end of the economic spectrum are willing to think for themselves than our 'betters' believe. (more about me and 'the masses' at "Lemming Tracks: Lower Middle Class and Loving It" (December 14, 2009))
  • "Labor Unions"
    Social History, History Department at the University of San Diego

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