It has been said. “Those who do not heed the lessons of history, are destined to repeat them.”
During the mid-19th Century In the midst of our Industrial Revolution and transformation from an agrarian society to one of production, we saw tremendous strife between the capital industrialists and the workers. During the Great Southwest Railroad Strike of 1886, railroad baron Jay Gould announced, “I can pay one half of the working class to kill the other half.” Such a statement became reality when militia intervention put down a union strike and replaced strikers with strikebreakers. Our labor history is filled with bloodshed culminating in a rise in anarchist, socialist and communist influences. Not because workers hated the United States but rather, they knew they would never receive workplace justice or a living wage unless they took the means of production away from the industrialists.
By the 1930’s, the ruling industrialists realized if they did not give the workers some sense of justice, then there would be a revolution. The first labor legislation, The Norris-LaGuardia Act, arose from the industrialist’s anxiety. In its preamble the Act admits that it had aided the right of capital to consolidate itself and left the unions, members and those dependent on it, helpless to exercise their rights to negotiate the terms conditions of their employment free from the coercion of the employer. Norris-La Guardia was soon followed by the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, which provided a framework in which labor and management would steer its conflicts. First and foremost, workers would be free to engage in concerted activity and to choose the union of their choice to be their exclusive agent of bargaining without coercion. This act protected worker’s jobs should they need to go out on strike. Secondly, boycotts were legal, not handling “hot cargo” by union workers was also legal and the most effective tool in the union toolbox, the “sit down strike,” was legal until it became too effective.
The fact is, the playing field Labor has been forced to perform on, has been compromised. Labor organizing and collective bargaining protections have eroded. As shown in a recent union drive at an amazon facility in Alabama, corporations’ resort to harassing behavior to fight off union organizers. In this campaign, outside consulting companies sequestered employees in conference rooms to deliver anti-union propaganda, worker activists were fired for speaking on working conditions, and even convincing a city council to change the traffic light patterns to prevent workers from speaking to organizers.
This is not a political issue. It is a moral issue. Today we see unbridled capitalism buying everything. They have even embossed their corporate seal on our Constitution with “Citizens United.” We see corporations writing their own government regulations. And once again we see the rise of Social Democracy.
Some think Social Democracy is the same as Communism, it is not. They are trying to be a balance in a society that is not providing a basic living wage for so many. Social democrats are trying to ensure that every human being has the dignity to participate in and flourish in a society of economic, social, and racial justice.
We see religious leaders coming to the defense of workers and the erosion of their rights. The Catholic Church, from Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, in 1895. To Pope John Paul II’s Laborem exercens, “On Human Work” has consistently stood in for worker’s right to organize. In his 2020 Encyclical Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis criticized neoliberal economics saying, “Neoliberalism simply reproduces itself by resorting to the magic theories of “spillover” or “trickle” – without using the name – as the only solution to societal problems. There is little appreciation of the fact that the alleged “spillover” does not resolve the inequality that gives rise to new forms of violence threatening the fabric of society.”
So, what’s left to balance the scales of economic and social justice? We have tried the free market and that did not work to bring equilibrium to economic and social justice issues. Unrestricted capitalism only ensured deep roots for the power and wealth of monopolies and oligopolies to thrive. Today, Government intervention to break up the powerful companies has become sacrilegious to even suggest. The only answer left is the same answer I began with. history is repeating itself. Now is the time to let the Unions act as the balance in this economic and social scale. The Pro-Act asks nothing more than what the union organizers and capitalists requested in 1932. A fair playing field for labor and management to engage, with the rights and duties of equal citizenship. Let the workers, through their unions, be the balance for a society caught in a whirlwind.
By David Kowalski, Executive Director