Commentary

The labor movement, backed by a clear majority of the public, has made enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) a central issue in the 2008 elections. (At the Democratic National Convention in Denver hundreds of union delegates were running around explaining to other delegates why restoration of the right of workers to form unions is the first step in turning around the American economy.)

Right now workers who try to form a union are up against employers who coerce, harass, intimidate and fire them. “Elections,” in which workers vote “yes” or “no” for union representation are held on company property after a long period during which workers have been forced to attend anti-union propaganda sessions. The union is not allowed in and has to reach workers outside the workplace.

Heavily funded right-wing outfits are rearing their ugly heads now all over the country, trying to turn back the growing support for the EFCA and they are attacking congressional and Senatorial candidates who support the bill.

One TV ad shows a union leader who looks like the stereotypical gangster barging into a voting booth and telling a worker who is in there that he can’t vote in secret. The gangster-type “union leader” hands him a card and tells him to make his choice while a bunch of people standing nearby look on.

The ad is co-sponsored by the so called “Coalition for a Democratic Workplace.”

This attack on the EFCA is as absurd as it is hypocritical.

To begin with, in any democracy, when people join an organization they usually do so by filling out a form, a card or an application printed by the group they want to join. When the company you work for joined the Chamber of Commerce in your town there was no election. You did not have the right to force the boss to attend a meeting at which workers had a chance to propagandize with him about how bad the Chamber of Commerce is. Democracy means that when you want to join an organization you should be able to sign up and join. No one has the right to force you to wait months or more so they can have a chance to talk or scare you out of doing it.

If the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace was really interested in pursuing the noble goal of democracy on the job there are numerous ways they could do it.

They could insist, for example, that before your company decides to move to Mexico and lay everybody off it must put the issue up for a vote by the entire workforce. They might also insist that employers allow workers to vote on whether raises should come every six months, rather than every year or whether the health insurance deductibles they pay should be raised or lowered.

The companies, of course, are not interested in workplace democracy. Those decisions, they tell us, are company decisions and are none of our business.

Workers know that most workplaces are dictatorships where democracy stops as you enter the door. Any country in the world run like most companies in the U.S. would be high on the list of countries sanctioned for human rights violations. The rights that the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace are concerned about are the rights of the boss to stop workers from freely choosing to form or join a union.

They believe the bosses have the right to threaten that they will close down if the workers unionize.

They believe bosses have the right to corner workers individually or to herd them into a room where they scare them into voting against a union.

They believe bosses have the right to fire people who want a union.

The reasons we must back the EFCA, however, go beyond even these issues of our human, civil and democratic rights.

The economy grows and profits grow but wages stagnate or even go down.

This is the direct result of the attacks on the labor movement and the fact that smaller percentages of the workforce are now unionized than 30 years ago.

The EFCA is the first step in reversing this trend. If the trend is not reversed we could well see an America with a few super-rich on the top and the 90 percent majority living in absolute poverty. It’s the stuff of depressing futuristic science fiction films and we can’t let it happen.

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