Are you feelin the love yet?

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Commentary

My fellow workers — are you feeling the love? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers have called for a march on Washington in support of workers’ rights! Has the class struggle ended? Or is it still about the money?

Let’s look at the facts.

The day after Valentine’s Day, the Chamber issued a press release announcing the march. The Chamber, which represents thousands of businesses and bosses, is apparently worried sick that the Employee Free Choice Act, which has gathered the support of a majority of members of the House of Representatives, will eliminate workers’ right to “a secret ballot election.”

The Chamber’s activity is not an actual march out there in the cold, but rather a “virtual” march. That is, from the comfort of their home offices, boss marchers can “weigh in” with congressional offices on this issue.

With the virtual march, members of Congress and the press won’t see guys in custom tailored suits converging on Capitol Hill in their chauffeur-driven limos and corporate jets. On the contrary, the Chamber’s promotional e-mail for the “march” makes it easy for the boss marchers to obscure their identities. “Pick your gender, pick your clothing, pick your hair color,” it urges. The web site will actually create a virtual you with all traces of your corporate self-interest gone.

Posing as workers to gain credibility is nothing new for the business lobby. Back in March 2001, the Washington Post outed the National Association of Manufacturers, which had issued a memo instructing its lobbyists how to dress for a Republican rally in support of the Bush tax cut plan. “Appear to be real worker types,” read the memo, adding, “We plan to have hard hats for people to wear. Other groups are providing waiters/waitresses, and other types of workers.” (No doubt real waiter/waitresses in D.C. that day noted a surge of stingy “dressed-down” tippers after the rally.)

While bosses pretending to be workers are pretending to march on Washington pretending to be in favor of workers’ rights, across the nation thousands of real workers — the ones who make your cable TV light up, who comfort and care for you when you’re sick and scared in the hospital, who build the roof over your head and, yes, pour that cup of coffee — have been going public at hearings and massive rallies. Telling their own real stories, they are exposing how the virtual marchers, while claiming to defend democracy, have hijacked the secret ballot process they are pretending to defend.

The same folks who are “marching” for workers’ rights to elections pour billions of dollars every year into rigging these elections. They hold back nothing — from jack-booted security guards to legal eagles to psychological warfare experts. By the time the workers actually get to vote, they have seen their leaders fired, their plant scheduled for shutdown and tensions on the job raised to a red alert level. A woman who worked at a Comcast call center explained to me, “By the time we actually got to vote, the company had made it clear the issue was not ‘union or no union’ — they made us feel like we were voting on whether we would have a job or not.”

The deformed “election” process the bosses are protecting maximizes their rights, not those of the workers!

A reasonable person might ask why employers are involved in the decision of a group of workers to form a union in the first place? After all, you don’t see us butting into the business of the Chamber of Commerce, telling them when and where they can meet together, what they can talk about and lobby for.

But employers have a strong incentive to butt into our business. The $4 billion spent on union busting pays off big time. Union workers, who can join forces to bargain collectively with their employers, on average make nearly $10,000 a year more than nonunion workers. With over 100,000,000 wage earners in the workforce, there’s more than a trillion dollars at stake for employers. It’s more than worth it for employers to spend a few billion to throw an election or lobby Congress for the right to do so.

So, as we suspected, the Chamber of Commerce is not turning over a new leaf. Just as it deploys its army of 300 lobbyists, lawyers and think tankers to pressure Congress to hold down the minimum wage, relieve employers of responsibility for safe working conditions and gut the Family and Medical Leave Act, its opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act has nothing to do with workers’ rights. It’s all about the money.

The Employee Free Choice Act doesn’t fix all problems with U.S. labor law. The bosses will still be able to butt in when they should be butting out of the workers’ business, but it’s a damn good start.

So, no, we’re not feeling the love. But with Congress poised to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, we are feeling the power!

rwood @ pww.org