Archive for November 2012
[T]he candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government upon vital questions, affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made, in ordinary litigation between parties, in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.
Abraham Lincoln, quoted in Larry Kramer, The People Themselves.
If “economics” is isolated from other aspects of social life, then the criterion for policymakers becomes the simple one of efficiency. Expenditure, and government policy generally, is to be viewed in terms of whether or not a program pays, whether it creates incentives for the private sector to expand output and employment. In a market economy [sic], government must depend on tax collection, and this in turn depends on the level of economic activity–which depends on the expectation of profit. In the economist’s view, if tax incentives can attract or retain business, they should be granted. The income redistribution effects [sic] of such policies may be regressive but this is simply an unavoidable consequence of a market economy: government can step in after production decisions are made and through tax expenditure policies rectify any damage that may have resulted. How much and what type of action it will take will be decided in the political arena.
Yet government, especially at the local level, in under constant pressure not to redistribute from the rich to the poor.
–William K. Tabb, The Long Default : New York City and the Urban Fiscal Crisis.
I’ve expressed skepticism about the possibility of federal labor law reform, the white whale of organized labor. Instead, I’ve suggested two alternate routes–first, the use of executive orders or other presidential policies to advance labor rights, and second, state level reforms. Obviously, any effort needs to find a way to make a case that goes beyond ‘this will be good for unions’. This is true even through non-union workers and society as a whole benefits from strong unions.
At Just Cause Reform (h/t Corey Robin), Rand Wilson offers a suggestion that meets that criteria and can be pursued at multiple levels–meaning it would not depend on getting a bill through the Senate.
What’s left to achieve that might inspire all workers—union and non-union alike?
“Employment security” could be the remaining frontier. A campaign to pass state laws requiring “just cause” before a worker is fired could also spur union growth, since one of the top reasons workers are afraid of organizing is the knowledge they are likely to be terminated.
Our existing laws have not diminished workers’ fears because the procedures are too uncertain and lengthy (two to three years at the Labor Board and another two years in the courts) to provide any assurance. Winning state “just cause” laws that allow cases to be decided quickly by arbitrators might give workers more confidence.
On the face of it, this proposal seems far more plausible then the alternatives.
Winning “just cause” legislation will certainly not be easy. But building a movement on a similar scale to the effort put behind EFCA would offer union activists an opportunity to champion an issue that would benefit all workers and also help union growth.
A “just cause” campaign could potentially engage working people at many levels. Short of state or federal legislation, local unions, central labor councils, and worker centers could seek to enforce a just cause standard through workers’ rights boards and community pressure.
I don’t see this as a magic bullet. But in terms of finding a way to turn back the tide, both for union rights (and density) and employee rights in general, this holds a lot of promise. I was drawn to the idea of just cause employment before, but thinking about it as labor law reform makes it even more appealing.
To allow the market mechanism to be the sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment, indeed, even of the amount and use of purchasing power, would result in the demolition of society. For the alleged commodity ‘labour power’ cannot be shoved about, used indiscriminately, or even left unused, without affecting also the human individual who happens to be the bearer of this particular commodity. In disposing of man’s labour power the system would, incidentally, dispose of the physical, psychological, and moral entity ‘man’ [sic] attached to that tag. Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as victims of acute social dislocation through vice, perversion, crime and starvation. Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed. Finally, the market administration of purchasing power would periodically liquidate business enterprise, for shortages and surfeits of money would prove as disastrous to business as floods and droughts in primitive society.
Karl Polanyi, quoted in David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism.