Labor Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader: This Is the Best Time for Americans to Unionize

A rare unionizing opportunity has arisen in Big Box and retail chains, but it won't last long.
[Fibonacci Blue / CC BY 2.0]

By Ralph Nader

This is the most opportune time for millions of workers in Big Box retail stores and fast-food outlets to form unions. McDonald’s, Walmart, Amazon, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, and other giant chains are having trouble finding enough workers. Some of these companies are even paying signing bonuses and upping low pay.

Chalk it up to the pandemic’s dislocations when millions of workers left their jobs, and many have not yet returned. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) see the opportunity of a lifetime, but are they putting enough organizing resources into this effort?

For over four decades, unions of all kinds in the corporate economy have been in decline. Only six percent of private sector workers are now in unions. However, polls are showing a high favorability level for unions, following worker heroics on behalf of Covid-19 victims.

The House of Representatives has passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act – opposed by the Republican corporatists – but Senate prospects are dim due to the same GOP corporatists. Why the Senate Democrats are not regularly holding hearings on the plights of non-union working families can only be answered by Majority Leader, Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York.

Since Reagan took office in January 1981, organized labor has been battered by numerous forces. These include (1) the eight years of Ronald Reagan, Union-buster-in-chief, owning the White House, (2) ever greater exportation of jobs propelled by large companies abandoning the U.S. for communist and fascist dictatorships abroad with their legions of serf labor, and (3) growing automations of the workplace. Mediocre leadership of many unions has not helped either.

Younger people in these giant retail outlets have little knowledge of how unions saved the working classes in the 20th century from many of the cruelest treatments by corporate capitalism. Current union educational efforts are filling some of this gap of why, how, and where to form a union – though not with the intensity of the late union leaders Tony Mazzocchi and Harry Kelber. Mr. Kelber was the greatest writer of popular “how to” pamphlets for workers seeking unions. (See: laboreducator.org).

While the big retailers may sporadically fill worker gaps with one-time economic incentives, they are still run by the same old union busting bosses with their union busting, pricey law firms and consultants.

Their mantra – crush any tiny unionizing effort at any store, no matter its costs. A few weeks ago, Dollar General, with over 7,000 stores nationwide, crushed such an effort in a Dollar General store in Winsted, Connecticut. They sent in five “consultants” to stay in the store at a stunning $2700 each a day, according to a long page-one article in the Washington Post. These and other corporate intimidators sometimes outnumbered the six employees during the unionizing drive, until the unionists narrowly lost the vote to the other frightened employees. One employee was dismissed for being pro-union but reinstated for the vote.

There are major strikes by workers at John Deere, Kellogg, and some other large manufacturing firms. Right now, however, the big battle that should be joined is with Big Retail, where the jobs making burgers or coffee cannot be exported.

The takeaway from all this is threefold.

First, the Democratic Party should scale up its enthusiasm and backing of these valiant workers, right down to the local Democratic Party committees.

Second, same is true for the AFL-CIO which can provide stronger backup of the federation’s member unions and press the Biden Administration to strongly enforce labor laws that are routinely, says the AFL-CIO website, violated by companies with impunity.

Third, consumers and their organizations should elevate their support for paid sick leave, adequate healthcare, safe working conditions, and fair wages; if not for solidarity, then for safely served food. Consumers should not want to see hard-pressed, sick workers having to serve them, to pay bills.

For labor, this is a briefly open window in history. Robotics and surplus labor will soon be closing it. Unions need to move at unaccustomed and rapid speeds now!

15 comments

  1. How is it as a paid subscriber I cannot see Comments without my writing a comment? Patience on this is
    running thin.

  2. First we need some real unions, not the current ‘company unions’. If you look closely, in all of today’s labor ‘actions’, there is a conflict between the official union and the workers. The end result ends up being the workers being forced by the union to accept far, far less than what they were asking for … while the union claims this setback as a ‘victory’.

    Two examples. In the John Deere strike, go read the official statement by the union after the contract was rejected by a massive margin. It says that the union will be meeting with management to discuss the next steps. What it very plainly does not say is anything about meeting with the workers to make sure the negotiaters know what the workers want and will vote in favor of. That says volumes about the current reality. The union leaders work with company management …. the union leaders do not work with the workers.

    Just recently, an email leaked out of Kellogg’s management describing how management was working with the unions to force through a deal that only plays a shell game moving money between pots, while gloating of the fact that the workers will get nothing. The fact that the union starves the workers into submission by pitiful strike pay is mentioned approvingly by this manager.

    Step one, American workers need real, bottom-to-top run unions that actually represent them. They do not have this in America today. Today’s union bosses are just a department of the corporation’s Human Resources division.

  3. People, don’t fix the salaries, correct the purchasing power of the money you choose to use. There is no law that says you must use debt (legal tender) to conduct your trades so why do you persist at being your own worst enemy by stoking the flames of inflation ?

    It’s perfect legally to use market gold (and silver) in support of greater buying power and the fueling of real economic growth. Once the fixed price peg on bullion was dissolved (1971) and the pricing was handed over to the marketplace, the POTUS then went another step to reinstate the legal ownership and use of gold to residents of the USA. Have doubts ? Check the history with attention to Dec 31, 1974.

    It looks like everyone just fell asleep, or didn’t notice or didn’t care. I think you’ll care enough now to wake up and seize your opportunity because we can’t reverse inflation with more of the same.

    Gold is debt-free money that now uses real-time market prices to measure the scalable trading value. Let the value of the dollar and gold rise together in monetary symbiosis. Better days ahead but that’s strictly up to the marketplace.

    https://www.usgoldbureau.com/gold-confiscation

    1. Yeah, okay Mr. Goldbug, I’ll hop down to the basement vault and get some gold before I hit the grocery store.

    2. Better days ahead? You probably said that, along with a lot of other marketeers, back in 2007. Sounds like you’re experiencing some of Mr. Greenspan’s irrational exuberance.

  4. And the Dems have also contributed opposing unions. I was in Seattle when unions marched to oppose NAFTA….very organized opposition. Pres Bill Clinton was in a fancy hotel signing onto NAFTA just up the hill from the marching union members opposing it.

  5. Americans seem against solidarity, unless they are the rich corporations , Chambers of Commerce and other unions for the powerful against the rest. The individualist behavior of the citizens of the USA, along with the devotion to the military and “defense” ie attacks on designated enemies, makes the problem of unions for workers very difficult to solve. The hatred of socialism, perhaps reducing in recent years, many be an important factor. Other “democratic nations” find it normal.

  6. Nader is wrong—self interested greedy unions did zero for “workers”; it was the patrician FDR that produced some safety valves for the ruling class. this successfully ended syndicalism in the USA excepting fringe IWW and ILWU, now irrelevant.
    The essential American nature, antagonism, militates against unions, loyalty, solidarity, except among the most privileged occupation—the AMA. As character has degraded, best documented by Marxists, Christopher Lasch —The Culture of Narcissism, Richard Sennett–The Corrosion of Character, Hidden Injuries of Class, Fall of the Public Man, etc and narcissism has increased—passivity, nihilism, insecurity—Konrath, Twenge, Campbell now informs the US landscape…the devolution is examined by Zygmunt Bauman, Alan Bloom (The closing of the American Mind), Neil Postman, Mark Bauerlein (The Dumbest Generation), Susan Jacoby (The age of American Unreason)….the observations made by Philip Slater, David Riesman, Geoffrey Gorer, Gary Cross, etc demonstrate that americans are more passive apathetic, less prepared for adulthood. Unions cannot save an empire on the verge of c collapse

  7. Yes, the only reason the Dem Party supports unions is to corral workers into their Party. Once a Corporate union has been set up, it absolutely favors management over workers. It has to be workers themselves who control the union, not the bureaucrats who are controlled by the Corporation. The only reason the Dems support unionization is to control workers and tamp down real worker solidarity.

  8. Ralph sounds desperate to resurrect corpses. With 6% of the private sector in unions, and the public sector not far behind, moving at “unaccustomed and rapid speeds” to unionize workers seems like a race to the bottom if unions don’t move in different directions beyond being junior partners to bizzness as usual. And if independent people’s parties don’t complement more radicalized rank-and-file labor movements, the corporatist Democrats with which established unionism has been partners in crime will continue right with the other wing of the capitalist class to make sure a politics of the working class stays forever dead and buried.

    More militant memory of social revolution is needed beyond the defensive if not self-defeating unionism of simply saving working people from the “cruelest treatments of corporate capitalism,” as if human life is not to be lived in slavery: “The earth is for all the people. That is the demand. The machinery of production and distribution for all the people. That is the demand. The collective ownership and control of industry and its democratic management in the interest of all the people. That is the demand. The elimination of rent, interest, profit and the production of wealth to satisfy the wants of all the people. That is the demand. Cooperative industry in which all shall work together in harmony as the basis of a new social order, a higher civilization, a real republic. That is the demand. The end of class struggles and class rule, of master and slave, or ignorance and vice, of poverty and shame, of cruelty and crime — the birth of freedom, the dawn of Brotherhood, the beginning of MAN. That is the demand.” (Eugene Debs)

    If such vision and commitment sounds unrealistic, recognize the reality of the present “window of history” is not favoring workers in any industry but a 4th industrial revolution and Great Reset out to irreversibly enslave humanity to the machinery of production and profit. The automation and roboticization of all resources of life, including labor, is the endgame of the global capitalist coup now in motion under cover of the false flag pandemic, pretending to be the cause of our accelerated immiseration and oppression.

    At the very least, we need to save ourselves from the ‘cure’ of genetic modification and biodigital incorporation into the internet of things and bodies which the “masters of mankind” (Adam Smith) have planned for final victory of their “vile maxim” of all for themselves, and nothing for us. But if this alone doesn’t require revolutionary vision and commitment, what does?

  9. Though neither ‘the Goldbug’ or Nader mentioned it… maybe unions & gold coins actually do share a couple of features ?

    They each are imbued w/ value (or not ) at the fleeting whim of us interested onlookers.
    Neither are guaranteed ‘winners’ or last forever but that doesn’t discourage a practical person like Nader who has alertly lived a risky life & also knows that unions can be created ( minted ? 🙂 entirely from scratch if one isn’t impressed by the already existing options !

    In that sense , today’s over supply of sleep-walking labor unions only emphatically illustrates the timely opportunity we have to freshly fashion a bunch of brand new ones ! ( craft-brewed unions !)

    – J. Joslin ( IBEW Local # 58, Detroit- near Canada )

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