In his response to Alyssa Cundari’s praise of the UNICCO labor victory, “Boss of Labor Disputes: The Market,” Jack Brown offers a “libertarian” perspective with a disturbingly myopic worldview. With a broad brush, he denounces “left-wing statism,” meaning government regulation, as a fundamental corruptor of society.
Mr. Brown’s logic concedes that workers should have the right to organize, but only if employers can easily dispose of them, no questions asked. What is absent from his analysis is any recognition of asymmetric power relations that coincide with the economic conditions, and thus exposes the hypocrisy of libertarian thought (in the pejorative sense of the word).
Most people agree that totalitarianism is extremely efficient (Mussolini made the trains run on time, etc.) In the US, however, we value democracy and individual liberty in the public realm and decry centralized state authority, from State Communism to Fascism. Why then, do we mindlessly accept a tyrannical system at the workplace?
Many UM students will soon graduate and begin their journey up the corporate ladder. They will spend half their waking hours under the authority of supervisors or senior executives. Their environment will be controlled, finely tuned to maximize efficiency. They will submit to orders, perhaps ethically questionable, which they will understandably because authority has leverage (ones income and livelihood) on their decisions.
In the public realm we have an institutional (though regrettably weak) democratic process by which grievances can be addressed with limited intimidation or coercion. In the corporate world, they have “suggestion boxes” or other token displays of concern for employees’ welfare. The supreme leader in this case is the “bottom line” and the mass of unaccountable shareholders that call the shots. Though often hierarchical in their own organization, labor unions are the only institutions that impose a form of worker representation and democracy in the corporate regiment.
Mr. Brown stridently rails against the National Labor Relations Board and their involvement in the dispute. He will be pleased to know that NLRB involvement in the formation of the union was exactly what STAND was campaigning against. The NLRB election system greatly favors the employer over the employees and we advocated for a majority sign-up system that would be independently tallied. The NLRB was only involved in proceedings against UNICCO for violations of the law. Surely UNICCO is beholden to the law.
All of human nature cannot be justly assessed through an economic lens. Taken to its logical conclusion, Mr. Brown’s dogmatic free-market ideology could justify twelve-hour workdays, elimination of weekends, censorship of political speech in the workplace, forced abortions if female workers were to become pregnant and finally, wages that plunge below the poverty line. This is not sensationalized theory, but a hidden reality. One need only look at US labor history as well as modern-day sweatshops littered throughout the world, ironically in countries with lax or ill-enforced regulation, or to use Mr. Brown’s dysphemism, “left-wing statism.”
Students Toward A New Democracy