Union Boycotts and the Law (RE: Social Protectionism

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at yale.edu
Thu Mar 16 14:31:15 PST 2000

>On Behalf Of Rakesh Bhandari

> > Labor unions have held far larger rallies than Seattle
> demanding labor law
> > reform,
> Nathan, do note that you have failed to give a single example of
> disruptive protest on the scale of Seattle for the reform of domestic
> labor law that has been called for by the new Sweeney leadership for which
> you have been apologizing.

As numerous people on this forum have complained, the Sweeney rally in Seattle was hardly "disruptive." And I marched with 25,000 other unionists and supporters through the streets of Watsonville just a few years ago, which combined outrage at the conditions in the field with outrage at the labor law conditions under the state Labor Board governing field conditions. (BTW through the election of Gray Davis - bastard that he is on some other issues - the board has significantly improved.)

And while the actual national law has not been changed, electing Clinton did put in place a much better National Labor Relations Board, including William Gould as chairman, a man leftwing enough to bother writing for the NEW POLITICS roundtable on labor.

And of course, back in 1991, 250,000 union members and supporters rallied in the Solidarity march on Washington to demand labor law reform.

> As for the three time failure of domestic labor law reform, do you think
> Gore will ever threaten a filibuster on something very dear to the
> Republicans (say welfare cuts or capital gain tax exemptions or some such
> feed the rich thing) in order to get them to relent on US labor law
> reform?

Clinton shut down the government in 1995 in order to block legislation that included anti-labor "riders." He vetoed the TEAM Act. He passed executive orders barring companies that fired striking workers or violated labor law from getting federal contracts (overturned by the courts, but being partially revived now with more careful language. There are obviously areas where he could have done more for labor, but overcoming the GOP filibuster was not one of them.

You seem to imagine that there is anything that the GOP would trade off for labor law reform. There isn't. The last time the GOP was willing to make any kind of deal on labor law reform was in 1965 when they offered to trade labor law reform for a constitutional amendment to overturn the "one person, one vote" reapportionment decisions by the Supreme Court. To his credit, Meany and the AFL-CIO said no and the GOP filibustered the bill to death.

And this makes sense from the GOP and conservative viewpoint-- nothing they get out of government is more important to them than a weak labor movement.

It might be nice to have a President who would fight to the wall for labor law reform-- maybe we'll get one some day, but that is also irrelevant to your point of arguing that labor worries more about international labor rights than about domestice labor law.

I guarantee you, that for every staff person in the whole AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions working on international labor law issues, there are one hundred staff people working at the federal and state levels around domestic issues. And far more just doing the day-to-day organizing of workers that is ultimately needed for the power both to win in the workplace and at the ballot box. The hard reality is that labor law will not improve until labor unions expand their membership and gain greater economic and social clout, so that they can threaten GOP filibustering Senators. If they can't threaten those Senators with political extinction, no threat by Gore or any other Dem will be sufficient.

-- Nathan Newman

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