Since 1953, the percentage of unionized workers in the United States has
declined from 26 percent to less than 14 percent.
Yet, given the choice of joining a union or not, 48 percent of workers in
this country say they would join.
So, why isn't the number of unionized workers higher?
According to Peter Kellman, a member of the Program on Corporations, Law
and Democracy (POCLAD), getting a corporation to recognize a union is
effectively neither a right nor a protected activity.
If it were, then the 48 percent of the workforce would become union
members, elect officers and start negotiating in a heartbeat, Kellman
Americans have the right to strike, true.
But under a little known 1938 Supreme Court decision (NLRB v. Mackay),
corporations have the right to permanently replace those workers.
So, what right do workers have?
They have the right to quit.
The right to quit?
Well, remember slavery?
Slaves didn't have the right to quit. We do. So, it's a step up from
slavery, Kellman says.
Americans have little understanding of labor history, about the Knights of
Labor, about Norris-LaGuardia (labor's Magna Carta), about the "labor
amendment to the Constitution" (the 13th), about how the 14th Amendment
has been used to protect corporations as well as to protect African
Americans, and about how Taft-Hartley literally undid the protections
granted workers by Norris-LaGuardia.
Hoping to bridge the labor history gap, Kellman and POCLAD have published
a booklet -- Building Unions, Past, Present and Future.
The booklet is only 37 pages long -- short and sweet.
Kellman puts labor history squarely in the context of the growing
corporate power that has crushed unionism as a social force.
"We've gone from a period where working class organizations dealt with
broader issues, represented the community generally, to a situation where
the union institution now just represents workers in the workplace,"
Kellman told us recently.
Kellman opens a window on the history of the Knights of Labor.
We learn that the Knights of Labor was a union whose members believed that
the society should be run by consumer and producer cooperatives.
They believed that workers should exercise power through the ballot and
They believed in equal pay for equal work. They were integrated -- black
and white. They had about one million members in the United States in
1886. They were responsible for many changes, he reports.
They didn't organize just in the workplace. Anybody could belong as long
as you weren't part of the what the Knights called the "non-producing
class" -- people who obtained wealth through stock, for example. All
others were members of the working class or producing class.
They had assembly halls all over the place. In the state of Maine, they
had 120 assembly halls, Kellman says.
The booklet is a joy to read, and should be widely distributed.
As should a POCLAD poster titled "A Call to Defy Corporate Domination."
For those of your who know the work of POCLAD, the 500-word poster is a
neat summation of the group's work and beliefs.
Here are some nuggets:
Corporations are not persons.
They are not citizens.
They are legal fictions created in our names.
e the People have the authority to do more than beg their bosses to
behave a little less badly.
We can challenge illegitimate corporate authority.
We can strip corporations of Bill of Rights powers and Constitutional
e can oust public officials who enable corporations to trample human
rights and govern the earth. But we can't stop there.
Millions of people before us learned to escape their cultures of
They helped one another decolonize their minds. They analyzed historical
and constitutional barriers erected against democratic self-governance.
Then they built popular movements to contest the self-proclaimed divine
rights of predatory corporate masters.
Democracy can contest corporate domination. But democracy must be much
more than holding elections, or even redefining business.
Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched, we
cannot know ourselves.
We suggest buying as many of the booklets and posters as you can afford
and passing them around to friends and colleagues.
[The poster and booklet can both be ordered from: POCLAD, Box 246, S.
Yarmouth, Massachusetts 02664. web: www.poclad.org Building Unions
booklet: Single copies $8. 10 or more, $5 each. Postage/handling: one
copy, $2, 2-9 copies, 50 cents each, 10+ inquire for bulk rates. Defy
Corporate Domination Poster -- 1-9 posters, $8 each plus $3 postage and
handling. 10-24, $4 each plus $4 postage and handling. 25+, $2 each plus
$6 postage and handling.]
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The
Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common
Courage Press, 1999).
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman