Therefore, corporate capital came to see itself as a “builder of the American dream,” something that can only be harmed by the state, and hence, corporate capital in America had no interest, culturally speaking, of compromising with the state or labor. Unlike Europe, the American corporation sees the state, while occasionally useful, as basically parasitic on the corporate structure and hence, to be avoided. But what makes Chapter 3 interesting is, not so much the “social question,” but rather the “political question.
” The political question revolves around the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, a major assault on organized labor vetoed by Truman, but overridden in House. Taft-Hartley was the single most important element to weaken labor solidarity and bargaining power. It is the “state” part of the state/civil rights coalition. In other words, the state stepped in first to weaken labor power, and then, suitably weakened, about a decade or so later, the “social question” developed and aimed its agenda not at labor, but at the state.
Management could only benefit by such as “fortuitous” alliance. What did the Taft-Hartley Act do? From pps 117 on, the Act becomes the centerpiece of this chapter. Its amendments to the pro-labor Wagner Act, the backbone of the worker’s democracy of the 1930s (it was passed in 1935), essentially nullified Wagner and introduced a new labor regime. Its basic provisions restricted union activity, banning many kinds of strikes and banned the idea of the closed shop, the concept that workers needed to join the union as a preliminary to employment.
The “right to work” mythos came from these provisions, permitting “free riders” to gain the benefits of union organizing without the possible risks of actually joining. This classic “free rider” problem alone permitted the increasing decline of unions and the gradual erosion of labor solidarity at the shop floor level. Slowly but surely, as the war ended and a new political universe developed under the Cold War and the developments of American social liberalism in the 1950s, a labor surplus developed.
It did not have its full effect until the 1970s (when real wages began to decline), but the Taft Hartley amendments began the process. Furthermore, the Taft Hartley Act removed all communists and militants from labor organizing. But even before this, the “union left” struggled with the concept of revolutionaries in the midst, fanatical in organization but dangerous to the long term health of the organization. The development of the Cold War gave management an excuse to remove this militant but unstable and violent part of the labor movement.
The author holds that these amendments “de-politicized” labor organizing in that the union was seen as more of a grievance committee rather than as an ideological force for worker democracy and labor control over business. Even more, Taft-Hartley banned the concept that came to be called “self help” (125). Unions were no longer autonomous entities, but could not perform any action without the consent of the state and management. Unions could not function as a state within a factory, and hence, lost their very powerful sense of solidarity.
They could not boycott the products of another factory where a strike was going on, and this in turn led to a decrease in “intra-craft” organization. At the same time, labor management (especially foremen and floor directors) were excluded from unions, eliminating the factory’s “labor aristocracy” from their formerly important role in labor agitation. Simple workers can be replaced, seasoned foremen could not be readily replaced, and hence, their elimination from labor bargaining was a major blow to unions (118).
Given all of this, by the 1960s, labor unions could be typified by unimaginative leadership and excessive bureaucratization, a resistance to technological change, debates over both the social and political questions, tightly restricted activities and areas of action, divisions over racial and sexual issues, a large increase in the number of available workers, and a legal structure clearly hostile to their existence that forbade regular activist contacts among industries and throughout the economies.
This could only lead to the ghettoization of the blue collar white male, today in 2009 the butt of endless Comedy Central jokes. If one is to add the question of unlimited immigration of low wage workers and the corrosive effect of globalization, then the miracle is that organized labor actually exists in any form at all. The CIO had an interest in raising the wages of southern workers (including southern blacks) so as to prevent northern and Midwestern firms from moving there as sort of a internal “third world.
” But ths was just a harbinger for things to come, where the actual third world opened up as globalization and “diversity talk” developed in the 1960s, where, as the final blow to labor, corporate capital could not only move to wherever the government and labor were most cooperative, but also had the United States Export Import bank to subsidize and insure overseas investments.
Ultimately, the state came into its own in 1964 not only in immigration reform, where low wage third world workers were given preference over high wage European ones, but also in developing the Johnson-ite “Great Society” programs that provided, or sought to provide, the same “fringe benefits” that the unions in their heyday sought to provide. Whether it was planned or not, the Great Society, globalization and the civil rights movements were three nails in the coffin of unionization, and the only two entities that truly benefitted are the state and corporate capitalism.
Unions in the 1960s basically began to perform duties as simply grievance committees over the simple issues of wages, hours and working conditions, a radical departure from their mission in the 1930s, as harbingers of a worker’s state, where democracy can be bought into the workplace and, while not running the factor, being a major partner in the running of the factory.