America and Labor Unions

American labor has been maligned for generations in the US, whether from the private security forces of owners of capital, such as the infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency (still in operation today), or the brutality of Ludlow, Homestead, and Pullman massacres,  as well as the Haymarket Affair, and on and on, all sentenced to damnatio memoriae (See American Liberalism). The American working class has suffered enormous setbacks time and time again by an entrenched elite and its cozy relationship with political institutions and policymakers from both parliamentary parties. What the hell, USA?

American worker’s participation in labor unions is at record lows. As of 2016, labor union participation was at around 10%. During the New Deal, labor union participation peaked to around 35%. When taken from an international view, the participation of the workforce in labor unions nearly at the bottom of all industrialized countries and far below the top country, Finland, at a whopping 74%. This, however, is not due to the inherently capitalist culture of American workers, but instead a series of policies designed to destroy the bargaining power of labor.

After the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) by then-president Franklin Roosevelt, a large group of elites mobilized to pass the Labor Management Relations Act (Taft-Hartley Act), able to overcome even then-president Harry Truman’s veto of the bill. Taft-Hartley banned closed shop agreements and allowed states to regulate union shop and agency shop agreements. As a result, nearly half of American states, mostly in the south and middle of the country, have so-called “right-to-work” laws, which, despite their name, restrict the ability of labor unions to bargain by allowing non-union workers to benefit from union bargaining, therefore incentivizing workers not to pay dues.

This explains the incredible lack of rights of American workers in contrast to their international counterparts, particularly in the European Union. American workers do not have employer guaranteed vacation daysprotection from constant contact from employer during vacation, or employer-mandated paid parental leave (both parents). Even worse, only Americans suffer from at-will employment, a form of employment that allows an employer to fire an employee without “just cause”, a concept unknown outside the US.

American labor has no reason to trust the Democrats, many of whom voted for legislation opposed to worker’s rights as well as supporting many corporatist measures such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is not good news, but this can be changed. Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society were both favorable to workers and democratized American society. While it may not be a true parliamentary labor party in the global sense, the Democratic party is the most logical place for labor to find its place in politics. The most popular politician in American politics in 2017 was Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who claims to be a democratic socialist. There are ways to push labor party candidates on ballots, but only if there is large popular support.

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