Card Check Comes Down to Picking Sides
by Nancy Scola, Thu Mar 01, 2007 at 11:28:55 AM EST
Update [2007-3-1 16:21:47 by Nancy Scola]: H.R. 800 just passed the House, 241-185.
Ezra's absolutely right. And the end of the day, the House vote on the Employee Free Choice Act comes down to simply, which side are you on?
It's a bit uncomfortable for me to frame things as "you're either with us or against us." But the more you dive into this fight, the more it's perfectly clear that those are the real terms of this debate. Opponents of card check -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers -- have been arguing for months that their opposition is based in the American worker's sacred right to a secret ballot. Card check means that the scary, sweat-inducing, union bosses will intimidate workers into doing something they don't want to do. The strength of an argument like that is that, on its face, it makes some sense. It's emotionally appealing. And you can send around funny cartoons to make your point:
But here's where you have to vigorously shake your head clear, and remember that today's debate on Capitol Hill over card check just isn't about those things. History and recent events leave no doubt that there are those among us who really don't like unions. There are national interests committed to ripping the heart out of the labor movement. They want, in the words of Grover Norquist, "to crush labor as a political entity" and eliminate unions. That's all that this debate is about. That's it. There are anti-union interest groups, union-busting law firms, there's an industry in this country of trying to cut the legs out from the labor movement. It's an undeniable part of the American political landscape. It has been as long as there have been unions.
From where I'm standing, the union movement is a fairly remarkable human experiment. In America alone, millions of people have harnessed the collective strengths of their co-workers to give them all better lives. Amazing, really. But when we got into the human experiment this big, we had to have know that nothing is going to work out perfectly. Especially when we're dealing with the economic lives of millions of human animals, there's something "wrong" that can be pointed out with every step taken. We've seen anti-union interests go after Davis-Bacon, suspending it after Hurricane Katrina. What's wrong with Davis-Bacon? It's racist. Federal employees have long been unionized, so why not allow 170,000 employees to keep their union rights as they get shifted over to the Department of Homeland Security? Puts America at risk.
In a perfect world, what would happen is that every American worker would be a fully-educated consumer about the risks and rewards of unionizing. Then the great god of employer-employee relations -- maybe even the NLRB -- would divine the collective will of workers and either hand them union cards or not. But that ain't gonna happen any time soon. H.R. 800 doesn't get us there. But politics is the art of the possible, and card check is a tool within our grasps that gets us several steps closer to that world. We're suckers if we let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Now, I acknowledge that I am sucking on the AFL-CIO teat on card check. They're paying me for my work around the legislatively prospects of the Employee Free Choice Act. Why would I do that? -- I'm not much of a joiner by nature. I don't really like big groups, and don't care much for party labels. I didn't much like presidential politics because I was uncomfortable subsuming my will to one single candidate like that. I agreed to ally myself with the AFL on this bill because I did some reading (including Thomas Geoghagen's book), talked to some folks, and came to two conclusions: 1) the labor movement has done a remarkable amount of good, helping to build the working and middle classes in America, and 2) I could take the route of keeping a polite distance from organized labor and their battles -- being supportive here and tut-tutting their missteps there. Or I could jump into the fight.
Sometimes in life you just have to pick a side.