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Let's Go Workers!
Working isn’t just some random musical; it is the core of what makes America – the United States of America!
Collective bargaining got kicked in the pants on this day, June 23, 1947, when the Senate overrode President Truman’s veto of the Taft- Hartley Act.
Let’s stop here and allow me to provide a pedestrian explanation of how we got here.
Here We Go
The reasons behind the winning were many. I’d argue why the North won are; we had God on our side, state nationalism is self-destructive, and finally, we had industry.
Whereas the South had a free labor system. Well, not so much as free; white men still paid to have black women, men, and children work their lands. One could argue they were paid in beatings. But not me; I would not argue that.
The South loved their uniqueness. Each state was unique. However, such hubris led to ideas like this - the militia from Georgia would refuse to be sent to Virginia to fight because the war situation was so unique to Georgia's great and only state, and they certainly wouldn’t leave. It’s a thought process that is self–destructive.
On the other hand, the North benefited from the First Industrial Revolution, making all kinds of stuff. Mostly money, which bought other stuff. Like supplies. Supplies were then given to armies, which in turn killed other armies who didn't have supplies. Like God intended.
That’s an okay explanation of how war works.
Back to Industry
Fast forward through the Reconstruction and industry making money means workers are working. Come to the turn of the 20th century, America is humming. We are building stuff. Most people had jobs. The Second Industrial Revolution, the one that brought us electricity, oil, and the telephone, not only connected the country, it made it hugely prosperous.
Around 1914, the revolution was gathering its stuff and making the rounds to say goodbye. This is when we begin to see tensions rise and the government create systems to balance the forces between business and workers.
Now, there have always been strikes. However, usually, strikes were resolved by business owners paying guys to go over and beat the strikers until they get back to work. You know, go with what works.
Puns intended here, okay?
Let’s Try and Fix This
By the time The Great Depression rolled along, whatever the government had tried wasn't working. So, in 1935, FDR signed into law the Wagner Act. It created the National Labor Relations Board and extended the power of unions to collectively bargain with businesses on benefits.
Now striking didn’t stop. Negotiation got better. That, of course, upset certain people. People with money. Remember, we learned, money can be used to buy things, like influence. Influence to change the playing field, not completely all the way back, but at least takes it in that direction.
This is Not Fixing It
This brings us to the Taft-Hartley Act. It was named after Senator Bob Taft, whose father was a former president and chief justice of the United States, and Congressman Fred Hartley, who has a similar name to the Bishop who founded my high school.
The Taft-Hartley Act was meant to gut the Wagner Act, and gut it, it did. This is right around the beginning of the Cold War. People were running around calling each other communists, so everyone is freaking out. Republicans took control of both chambers in 1946 and passed this law in 1947.
Truman vetoed this bill, but his Republican counterparts carried the day. The biggest takeaway?
The implementation of Right-to-Work laws.
When it comes to collective bargaining, Right-to-Work laws are like weeds that spring up in unique places like South Carolina, South Dakota, and South Arizona. Did you know that Tennessee is unique and, therefore, the unique people who live there need Right-to-Work laws – mostly to protect them from communism?
The governments throughout the South all agreed that their uniqueness needed to be recognized. By the 1950s, our country was filled with dandelions, and the people holding the weed-be-gone were considered Marxist, socialist boogeymen.
Right-to-Work means if you work for a company that has a union, you don’t have to join that union. However, you get the benefits of whatever scraps the union can muster because unions function when each actually unique individual doesn't act on that self-interest.
Taft-Hartley also limited the ways unions could protest, along with how it can be recognized. Before, if most workers wanted to form a union, they could simply sign a card declaring their intention. Taft- Hartley forces unions to navigate the process with meetings, hearings, and other nonsense usually reserved for people who pass such laws in the first place.
The law allows businesses to hold anti-union meetings. What a huge advantage to the people who control capital! If employers can constantly bombard people with the evils of unionization, the most likely outcome would seem to be, don’t join one.
Finally, Taft-Hartley states that independent contractors are not employees and therefore can't be union members. Today, you see these arguments being played out in court today with gig workers and their rideshare and delivery services overlords.
Look, not all unions are the same. There are productive unions, and they are unions that wake up every morning and cause nothing but gridlock. However, the premise of unions and their overall effectiveness in building and maintaining the middle class is evident.
For the past 70 years, we have been unable or most likely, unwilling to overturn many of the harmful aspects of this law. The last time a coordinated effort was made was the Employee Free Choice Act of 2009 that went down like a sweet muffin.
A Little Nugget
I saw the other day a job posting for the professional basketball team, the Denver Nuggets. They were looking for a worker to run their social media accounts. They would pay this person like $3 a day in a city where the average rent is over $1,600.
In comparison, the lowest-paid Nugget player makes just over $270,000. The owner of the Nuggets is worth $8 billion.
Professional athletes have unions, but people who pick up your burritos or take you to get burritos or tell people how great the Denver Nuggets are on the internet machine do not.
Unions, in their beginnings, got us the five-day workweek and the end of child labor. Now you can't afford housing and need to work extra jobs.
There’s something wrong with that. We have Taft-Hartley to blame. Until we recognize the uniqueness of unions and their collective bargaining power to lift wages from those who control the capital, we will continue to see these trends.
What's your favorite nonunion shop? I swear whoever owns Door Dash is sending their kids to whatever college they want to because of me.