Americans Are Raring for a Fight Against Corporate Power
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Last October, Home Depot cofounder Bernie Marcus blew a gasket, spewing outrage in all directions. "This is the demise of civilization," he exploded. "This is how a civilization disappears. I'm watching this happen and I don't believe it!"
Bernie's outburst came during an hour-long conference call with various other corporate executives and their political operatives. The purpose was to collect industry funds for a campaign to kill a piece of legislation called the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Yes, the spark that ignited Bernie's fury, the hellish horror that he insisted would produce America's Armageddon, was a simple labor bill, and he was demanding that the corporate powers rally to save civilization as they know it.
"As a shareholder, if I knew the CEO of the company wasn't doing anything on [EFCA]...I would sue the son of a bitch," he foamed. "If a retailer has not gotten involved in this...he should be shot. They should be thrown out of their goddamn jobs."
He didn't specify whether such traitorous executives should be shot first, then thrown out of their jobs, or vice-versa-- but you get the point: Corporate America is working up a feverish panic over the very notion of linking the term "employees" with the concept of free choice.
"It is a political nightmare and a public policy disaster," shrieked a PR flack for a corporate front group opposing this legislation. He even claims that top executives "are ready to riot in the street about it." Now that's exciting! I, for one, would pay to watch a horde of red-faced, Gucci-clad, CEOs rioting, wouldn't you?
Who needs it?
What EFCA does is to restore workers' freedom to organize themselves into unions so they can bargain with corporate chieftains for fairer wages and benefits. That's it. Wait, you might say, can't they do that now? Wasn't this settled back in the 1930s with collective bargaining laws and creation of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to protect worker rights?
Yes--and no. It's true that 75 years ago our country took a stand for promoting workplace democracy--a fundamental national principle that the great majority of Americans still embrace. But corporations are not democracies. They are hierarchical, secretive autocracies, and most have never taken to the idea that working families ought to have a say in how they are treated. Thus corporate executives and lobbyists have worked steadily and stealthily over the years to erode these democratic gains, pushing against them especially hard in the past couple of decades.
Indeed, since the Reagan years, there has been a pernicious campaign by corporate interests and their political enablers to spread the myth that unions themselves are archaic entities, no longer necessary or wanted. Sure, there was a need for workers to get organized back in the bad 01' Depression era, but that was so last century. As the corporatists might put it:
Hey, Bucko, we're all in a modern, global economy today, where we no longer have "workers," we have "associates," and we deal with each of them as independent units, giving America a flexible workforce so we can minimize labor costs and maximize shareholder value. Unions just get in the way of this, don't you see?
This line of self-serving Corporate Think was articulated last fall by John Engler, the former Michigan politician who's now chief lobbyist (and self-appointed labor theorist) for the National Association of Manufacturers. "In the sophisticated workplaces of the 21st century," he lectured, "you see management and labor often work closely together to beat the competition. When they're doing that, the need for unions is obviated."