$20 million ... 'sold to the public as charity work in the service of human rights.'
July 1, 2012 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Mark Ames (of the eXile): The Left’s Big Sellout – How the ACLU and Human Rights Groups Quietly Exterminated Labor Rights (via naked capitalism)
Less than twenty years after Fred Koch fought to destroy labor rights through “Right To Work” laws, the executive director of the ACLU, Aryeh Neier—the same Aryeh Neier who later led Human Rights Watch— colluded with William Buckley to push the ACLU rightward against labor by getting the ACLU to represent big business and “Right To Work” laws, under the guise of “protecting free speech”—the same bullshit pretense always used by lawyers and advocates to help big business crush labor and democracy. This “free speech” pretense is the basis on which the ACLU currently supports the Citizens United decision, which effectively legalized the transformation of America into an oligarchy.
Mother Jones: Why Screwing Unions Screws the Entire Middle Class (print version)

Antiwar.com: Amnesty’s Shilling for US Wars (via Mondoweiss)

Salon: When Blue Collar Dreams Became Identity Politics

NY Times: Turning Our Backs on Unions', by Joe Nocera, on Timothy Noah's book The Great Divergence, reviewed by the NY Times and previously on MetaFilter

And a quick search for 'labor' on AmnestyUSA's website

this post inspired by this post
posted by the man of twists and turns (129 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite

 
The idea that groups like the ACLU and other human rights groups have fallen victim to the same manipulative propaganda war against labor rights doesn't surprise me in the least. Who has all the money? Those who don't want labor to have rights. What do they do with that money? They spend it continuously to make sure labor doesn't have those rights. Part of that is spent on think-tanking ways to turn those who should be labor allies against labor by finding reasons and methods of presenting those reasons to those allies which makes them think they are, indeed, working toward their desired ends rather than against them.

Propaganda, pure and simple.
posted by hippybear at 8:26 AM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, that's great! Another reason to drink whisky at 1145am EST.
posted by lalochezia at 8:36 AM on July 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


SOTTO VOCCE, BETWEEN GULPS Some EFFECTIVE alternatives, please?
posted by lalochezia at 8:37 AM on July 1, 2012


Vodka.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:39 AM on July 1, 2012 [16 favorites]


Who do I talk with to package my dollars with other people's dollars and have someone use these combined dollars to bribe these organizations to do good?
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:41 AM on July 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Little known fact, despite two years spent blasting the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision as terrible for the country, the AFL-CIO actually filed an amicus brief in support of Citizens United.

Of course, they didn't like that it applied to corporations too, but in general it is good that corporations have free speech. Glenn Greenwald is having an interesting discussion on that point on Twitter today.

If Congress passed a law tomorrow banning MSNBC -and the corp. that owns it- from commenting on the election,, would that be constitutional?

posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:41 AM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder sometimes if where unions went wrong was when they negotiated contracts with owners which covered every employee in a shop, rather than just their members.

If you don't have to pay union dues to reap the benefits of union contracts, then naturally you want to have "right to work" legislation in place so you aren't forced to pay dues to work in a union shop. But... if the unions had only negotiated for their membership rather than for an entire shop, then the workers would (I think) naturally want to have union membership in order to work under the terms of the union contract instead of what would obviously be a lesser offer for non-union workers.

Not sure exactly all the ramifications of that kind of approach, but it makes surface sense, anyway.
posted by hippybear at 8:47 AM on July 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


Did I just reinvent the very idea of an advocacy group? Do we now need lobby groups to lobby the lobby groups? This is a trend that is turtles all the way down. Corruption turtles. Turtle based societal collapse is what I am saying here. If we don't do something every activity will require bribery, a who-do-you-know layer of dusty grease slowing every societal mechanism, what we need to bring back is old time stolid humorless bureaucracy that don't put up with no fucking infinity lobby turtles.
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:48 AM on July 1, 2012 [28 favorites]


Hippybear- the faculty union I belong to in right to work Florida will only represent you in a grievance if you are a member of the union. They made this change two or three years ago.
posted by wittgenstein at 8:52 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


what we need to bring back is old time stolid humorless bureaucracy that don't put up with no fucking infinity lobby turtles.

What we need is public-only funding of elections, reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine in broadcast journalism (well, any news coverage, not just broadcast), and strict fencing of lobbyist activity which grants them voice but not undue power.
posted by hippybear at 8:53 AM on July 1, 2012 [15 favorites]


Wow, I didn't know all that about the ACLU. What a bummer. Are there any viable human rights organizations left that aren't corrupt as fuck?
posted by triggerfinger at 8:58 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Strict fencing? Yeah, that is what I mean when I say old time humorless bureaucracy.

"Hello, is the congressman in?"
"Are you a lobbying this evening, Mr. Slick?"
"Yes. Hey, you and the husband love Tennis don't you? I've got-"
"Sir, please fill out the form before you begin."
"I'm just being friendly!"
"Fill out the form, sir."
"But--"
"The Form, fill it out first, Mr. Slick."

Alternatively, if we just added 100x the representatives and 10x the congressmen to bring the ratio to civilians back to historical levels, then that would make lobbying a lot more expensive and difficult for at least for those active with the legislative branch.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:00 AM on July 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


If Congress passed a law tomorrow banning MSNBC -and the corp. that owns it- from commenting on the election,, would that be constitutional?

No because that's a bill of attainder and that's unconstitutional.
posted by Talez at 9:01 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


One law you could get bipartisan grass roots support for is demanding that congressmen stay in their district instead of lolling around DC with lobbyists. We can create a secure videoconferencing voting system and allow them to visit the capital every three months, but otherwise, their asses should be in their districts listening to their constituents.

This would also make it more difficult for them to conspire behind closed doors. I'd rather have more of their corruption possibly on record than not.
posted by deanklear at 9:11 AM on July 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


furiousxgeorge: The Citizens United decision, as I understand it, stated that spending money on issue advocacy should be treated as speech. I think can one reasonably draw a distinction between money spent to produce and distribute a message and the message itself.

I haven't gone through and looked at the context but he's begging the question somewhat by using a hypothetical restriction on speech, to comment on a case that many people see as about money.

I'd also suggest that until the equal time rules were dismantled, the US did view placing restrictions even on the speech of on corporations like MSNBC as wholly legitimate. The fairness doctrine constrained what a tv channel could say about an issue, and compelled them to speak about some issues.
posted by Grimgrin at 9:13 AM on July 1, 2012


From the comments in the article:

Has any one ever studied the boards of these groups? Inevitably, they get captured by corporatist neolib “centrists”.

It is a version of the same revolving door. Corporatist infiltration of useful idiots padding their resumes or following their watered down version of noblesse oblige service, accompanied by not a few actual agent provacateurs very much intent on diverting/destroying/coopting the organization.

Eventually the groups are toothless, and M Albright or T Friedman are keynoting their big events.
posted by lalochezia at 9:13 AM on July 1, 2012


If Congress passed a law tomorrow banning MSNBC -and the corp. that owns it- from commenting on the election,, would that be constitutional?

I'd like to see how a law could possibly be written that would apply to MSNBC's parent corporation and not FoxNews'. Something to do with how its former owner and still major stockholder GE has military contracts? Again, considering the interconnectedness of corporations these days, even that would probably end up affecting every corporation in the News business, even the New York Times.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:13 AM on July 1, 2012


If Congress passed a law tomorrow banning MSNBC -and the corp. that owns it- from commenting on the election,, would that be constitutional?

Much more importantly: Why would Congress ever do that?

Why would the press ever be formally censored when the owners of the major media corporations go to the same parties as those who would censor them? Why would they be censored when instead you can threaten loss of access to the press rooms? Why would would they when the threat to withdraw advertising revenue and corporate sponsorships is to threaten them with bankruptcy? The news is still a business, so why risk making nothing saying something when you can reliably make something saying nothing? As old Chesterton said: we do not need a censorship of the press. We have a censorship by the press.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:16 AM on July 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


Half-related to this and half to the ongoing Health Care debate, one of the biggest long-long-term mistakes organized labor in the U.S. made during its rise to prominence was making Health Insurance a job benefit, first for their members and then, through their lobbying of governments, for all workers (ultimately weakening their own value). Employment-based health care is totally ass-backwards and really only based on the principle now being driven home that Health (and often Life) is only for the "productive".
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:18 AM on July 1, 2012 [11 favorites]


The moneyed class has been waging a truthiness campaign against unions for a long time and, unfortunately, it has taken root with the American public. They have twisted facts to play on the American sense of fair play. The two biggest lies that have taken root:

1. Unions have an inordinate amount of power; they can actually destroy companies. Never mind that a union is dependent on the company. The truth is it's simply not in the union's interest to unduly hobble their employers. It's the typical excluded-middle argument. There's a lot of middle ground that's completely ignored.

2. Union pension obligations are destroying businesses. Maybe so, but in the overwhelming majority of the cases it's because management never fucking sufficiently funded the pension plans. Even so, unions have been successfully cast as the bad guys here.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:19 AM on July 1, 2012 [22 favorites]


The truth is it's simply not in the union's interest to unduly hobble their employers.

Funny, that's what Alan Greenspan says he used to think about banks: that their risk-taking would be limited by their fear of bankruptcy. Self-preservation, in other words.

For whatever reason, it didn't work with banks. Not with Bear, not with Lehman, not with Countrywide, not with Wachovia. And the idea that the unions won't loot their employers didn't work very well with the autoworkers at GM or Chrysler, either.

Greed blinds us to risk, whether we're unions or bankers.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 9:34 AM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Here's a handy cheat sheet I've come up with, for my own use: It's amazing how much clarity that gives.
posted by Malor at 9:34 AM on July 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh good grief.

The UAW looted GM and Chrysler?
posted by notyou at 9:41 AM on July 1, 2012 [18 favorites]


If Congress passed a law tomorrow banning MSNBC -and the corp. that owns it- from commenting on the election,, would that be constitutional?

But Congress could pass a law requiring the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was, in the Commission's view, honest, equitable and balanced. In fact, there used to just such a law called the "Fairness Doctrine" which was repealed in 1987.

If you take a step back from the politics, "campaign finance" as an issue looks a lot like health care: an industry where fixed/growing demands meets cartel economics (big media) to create massively inflating prices. From this perspective it's really about regulating the market for political advertising. This is the point at which libertarians sing in chorus: FREE SPEECH = FREE MARKET. But, of course, what exactly is a free market? A media industry dominated by a cartel of giant content/broadcasting conglomerates?

My point being that Congress has ample power entirely within the bounds of the "commerce clause" to regulate the media business in ways which would have profound impact on politics yet never mention politics explicitly. The various attempts at campaign finance laws are just rube-goldbergian attempts to restrict the demand for political advertising without setting prices or quotas, essentially neoliberal policies towards the ballooning political advertising market.

The problem with Ame's article (aside from a little sly misogyny when he contrasts the absence of labor rights to a presumed over-representation of women's rights) is that amounts to "special pleading." If some mythical lefitist were to take control of Human Rights Watch and place, say, labor rights and the right not to be obliterated from the sky by robot bombs, front and center on the agenda, would Ames really complain? The basic problem with groups like AI and HRW is that "human rights" is an inherently political idea. Different people have violently different notions about what actually constitutes a human right... but it's interesting to see evidence that AI has been captured by the libertarians.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:42 AM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]



If Congress passed a law tomorrow banning MSNBC -and the corp. that owns it- from commenting on the election,, would that be constitutional?


If Glenn Greenwald bought into the cynical reframing of the issue as money == speech, would this be my surprised face?
posted by ook at 9:42 AM on July 1, 2012


Slithy_Tove: "Funny, that's what Alan Greenspan says he used to think about banks: that their risk-taking would be limited by their fear of bankruptcy. Self-preservation, in other words."

Bankers don't care about self-preservation because no matter how poorly it goes for their bank, they're still never going to have to worry about where their food's coming from. (and then some.)

And of course, they end up just getting bailed out.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:42 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


And the idea that the unions won't loot their employers didn't work very well with the autoworkers at GM or Chrysler, either.

Cite? Especially considering the enormous givebacks the UAW has agreed to since the 80's, I'd say the idea that unions somehow "looted" GM or Chrysler is pure codswallop. The main thing that sunk GM and Chrysler was slow, inattentive, and incompetent management and poor product planning and engineering.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:43 AM on July 1, 2012 [22 favorites]


And the idea that the unions won't loot their employers didn't work very well with the autoworkers at GM or Chrysler, either.

Yeah, nevermind the fact that many other car companies (domestic and foreign) used as much if not more union labor and the decades of entrenched R&D towards poor fuel economy even in the midst of multiple energy crises, it's totally the fault of the same unions who have made pay and pension concessions for several years.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:45 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's a handy cheat sheet I've come up with, for my own use:

Is the entity in question defined by a piece of paper?
Pieces of paper don't have rights. Only people do.

It's amazing how much clarity that gives.


Right, so the MSNBC law would be fine, they have no rights to violate.

But Congress could pass a law requiring the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was, in the Commission's view, honest, equitable and balanced. In fact, there used to just such a law called the "Fairness Doctrine" which was repealed in 1987.

MSNBC is a cable network and does not use the public airwaves.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:46 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Human Rights Watch has actually done a lot of good work on labor rights (specifically collective bargaining rights/freedom of association, as well as workplace health and safety) in the past few years. I think the blog post mischaracterizes or misses this. Here are some examples:
HRW on Walmart (with link to PDF of full report from 2007).
HRW on European multinationals violating workers' freedom of association in the US.
HRW on the US meatpacking industry with a link at the bottom to PDF of full 2005 report.
HRW report from 2000 on workers' freedom of association in the US.

The author may be correct that Human Rights Watch doesn't list "labor" as a major issue on its website, but I think that over a decade of really solid investigative reports shows a commitment to understanding workers' rights as human rights, as laid out in the UN Declaration of human rights.

An interesting aside: Eleanor Roosevelt played a crucial role in getting freedom of association/collective bargaining into the UN Declaration.
posted by cushie at 9:47 AM on July 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


1. Unions have an inordinate amount of power; they can actually destroy companies. Never mind that a union is dependent on the company. The truth is it's simply not in the union's interest to unduly hobble their employers. It's the typical excluded-middle argument. There's a lot of middle ground that's completely ignored.

2. Union pension obligations are destroying businesses. Maybe so, but in the overwhelming majority of the cases it's because management never fucking sufficiently funded the pension plans. Even so, unions have been successfully cast as the bad guys here.


So not only are unions sheep, if they are failing, it's because the grownups have let them down?

If a union cannot destroy a company, it is effectively useless. If unions cannot foresee when problems with their pension plans looming, they are effectively leaderless. The two points you make inspire absolutely no confidence in the effectiveness of unions.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:50 AM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile you can all carry on enjoying your cruise where the waitstaff get +/- $400 a month and fired for protesting. Courtesy of Carnival
posted by adamvasco at 9:52 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


MSNBC is a cable network and does not use the public airwaves.

Yes, and part of the rationale for the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine was the supposed competition from "cable" had disrupted the broadcast TV cartel. My point is that, under the commerce doctrine, Congress could regulate mass media: cable/tv/internet in order to counter the domination by cartels or "natural monopolies" without even resorting to an explicit fairness doctrine e.g. it could break up the big media companies, severing content from transmission. It could make the law of the land what the cell phone companies most fear: becoming utility companies managing the pipes delivering content made by other people.

Yes, the internet too.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:54 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hippybear: I wonder sometimes if where unions went wrong was when they negotiated contracts with owners which covered every employee in a shop, rather than just their members.

Right off the top of my head, I see this pattern:

1. No raise for non-members.
2. Union dues = pay raise.
3. Hiring contract: union members only.
4. Non-members = no job in that plant.
5. Workers negociate from a position of power, using the general strike as fallback leverage.
6. Significant company rescources go into their legal department in order to deal with the union.
7. Stronger unions require more company rescources.
8. #6 & #7 work as a classic spiral. The larger the company, the larger, more complex, and comprehensive are the results of stagnated negotiations.
9. Items 1-4 tend to lock certain trades out of the job market. Workers must rely on government standards of safety, wage levels, and enforcement. The government bureaucracy will, or will not, adequately function in this area.
10. The labor force becomes divided between union and non-union workers.
11. Union needs are abstract: the requirements of the system supercede the needs of the individual member; compromises trend toward the expansion and preservation of the union.

It seems to me that the issue of workers' benefits resides more appropriately in the nature of the union's relationship to the company than the raw strength of the union itself. For example, the union might link workers more to the wealth of the company in, say, profit-sharing and other residual benefits, rather than in an adversarial mode. Other areas to look at could be worker housing, company sponsored medical care, and so on. Potential benefits linked to working for a large company could be multiplied this way.

Smaller companies might tag on to the union brotherhood's momentum, the parent union helping to take up the slack. The idea here is that the workers could have a stake in the success of the company, rather than having to struggle to gain decent wages and working conditions.

Just saying that the struggle between labor and management is not necessarily an unmitigated given. It can be reduced, maybe in some cases eliminated. Captialism comes in many flavors. In many ways, we continue to operate under the spell of 18th century notions of capitalism, where the companies drew from the rural countryside for workers, and had no interest in their well-being. Unions began to change that notion by pushing back.

Now its time for unions to change.
posted by mule98J at 10:03 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


So not only are unions sheep, if they are failing, it's because the grownups have let them down?

Your words, not mine; I didn't say anything fucking close to that.

If a union cannot destroy a company, it is effectively useless. If unions cannot foresee when problems with their pension plans looming, they are effectively leaderless. The two points you make inspire absolutely no confidence in the effectiveness of unions.

To what end would a union want to destroy a company? A union wants their employer to be successful, just not at the cost of total worker capitulation. Labor actions are the LAST THING EITHER SIDE WANTS. Once it becomes a war of attrition, labor generally loses.

Funding a pension plan is management's obligation. It's laid out in the labor CONTRACT. Grownups are expected to be responsible, no?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:04 AM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


One often hears the line about how right-wing voters have been duped on fringe issues into voting against their self-interest. It's interesting to consider this notion alongside the dynamic described in the article.
posted by cheburashka at 10:08 AM on July 1, 2012


Hippybear: I wonder sometimes if where unions went wrong was when they negotiated contracts with owners which covered every employee in a shop, rather than just their members.

Congratulations, you've discovered the "right-to work." It's why the South is a hotbed of unionism.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:08 AM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ames does a good job of showing how labor has slipped off what we think of as a civil rights or human rights agenda. On the other hand, he misses a lot of history going back to the 1960s and early 1970s when the New Left and the labor movement had a tenuous relationship at best. Some New Left theorizing definitely argued that students or minorities were more central to the process of historical change than the labor movement, but the labor movement also shot itself in the foot, as demonstrated by George Meany of the AFL-CIO's embrace of Nixon in 1972. (Meany never endorsed Nixon outright, but his refusal to endorse McGovern was widely seen as a de facto endorsement of Nixon.) Jefferson Cowie's Stayin' Alive: the 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class does a good job of detailing the relationship between labor and the New Left and how blame can be placed on both parties for not having a stronger relationship.
posted by jonp72 at 10:09 AM on July 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


Let's also be a little serious here, it is difficult to unionize a labor force primarily employed as middle managers, salesmen, go-betweens routinely told that they are unique and independent knowledge workers, firms unto themselves even, each unlike each other, sky's the limit.

With, let's say, old time coal mining, it was easy to look across and see that the guy coughing could be you tomorrow. You were all in it together, and after that collapse, Jed screaming for your name, you come out from behind and punch him in the shoulder, he and the rest curse at you over drinks, saying you scared the hell out of them, and just then, especially right then, it couldn't be understood any other way: you are all in this together. That evening, Jed has a coughing fit, and you get furious. Nobody is being paid enough to suffer this. You heard about the other mines doing something, you all get to planning. You have to go tell Jed's wife. Now it makes sense to take the risks, and struggle, that bullet taken was for Jed and the next guy.

Looking across the desk now, I see a Sales Analyst. He is paid more than me, I think, at least according to glassdoor.com, but I got a sociology degree and he has a major in business, so maybe I deserve my salary, maybe not. I don't really know what he does, it looks a lot like what I do, but he does a presentation every week and I just write reports people read. He always seems to be having a good time, and telecommutes every other day cause he is a natural salesman and charms the managers. He is cool enough at the bar, I guess, but how he talks about what I do, I don't think he understands, but I don't understand what he does either. It seems like the same job, and we both worked to our bones during that hell week back in November, but I dunno, maybe he deserves the higher pay, I have a sociology degree and he has a major in business.

And he looks back at me and he sees a CRM Analyst. He thinks: He is paid more than me, I think, at least according to salary.com, but he worked an internship at Google and this is my first job, so maybe he deserves the salary, maybe not. I don't really know what he does, it looks a lot like what I do, but he gets to just prepare reports, and I have to get up and present mine. He always seems to be having a good time, and is reading MetaFilter all day, but he is a hard worker, and they let him get away with it. He is cool enough at the bar, I guess, but how he talks about what I do, I don't think he understands, but I don't understand what he does either. It seems like the same job, and we both worked ourselves to death during that hell week back in November, but I dunno, maybe he deserves the higher pay, this is my first job, and he worked an internship at Google.

And the cashier at Target looks at the barista in the Starbucks, and the car salesman looks at the loan officer at the Wells Fargo, and the manager at the McDonalds looks at the manager at the Barnes & Noble, and the owners at the top look down on us all.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:12 AM on July 1, 2012 [52 favorites]


From the ACLU link:

Section 203 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 prohibits unions and corporations (both for-profit and non-profit) from engaging in “electioneering communications.” The legislative definition of an “electioneering communication” was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003 and then substantially narrowed by the Supreme Court in 2007. In scheduling this case for reargument, the Court specifically requested briefs on whether section 203 should now be struck down as facially unconstitutional. The ACLU has consistently taken the position that section 203 is facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment because it permits the suppression of core political speech, and our amicus brief takes that position again.

They are indeed arguing in favor of free speech, which is apparently "bullshit" according to be people claiming to represent the left? Nowhere do they support free speech being equated with financial donations, which is the issue people who are paying attention to the facts rather than grinding some weird ax have with Citizens United.

Yawn. Gonna go get breakfast now.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:13 AM on July 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


My point is that, under the commerce doctrine, Congress could regulate mass media: cable/tv/internet in order to counter the domination by cartels or "natural monopolies"

I'm not clear how you figure this will accomplish anything, or what you are even trying to accomplish with it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:15 AM on July 1, 2012



Now its time for unions to change.


After 30 years in work boots watching unions disintegrate, I know this is the only hope for working people. Lawyers, blogs, occupations, sing-alongs are mental masturbation for slaves.
posted by larry_darrell at 10:18 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


notyou and Thorzdad: the notorious jobs bank, in which as many as 12,000 union autoworkers were paid not to work, certainly qualifies as looting. So do salaries and benefits far beyond those of other workers, and other autoworkers in other car companies. So do restrictive work rules, which increase the number of employees a company must pay.

Sure, mediocre and unimaginative management was also to blame. But when Toyota and GM sell the same number of cars and Toyota makes a solid profit and GM takes a huge loss, then GM's costs are too high, and a large part of that can be traced to a union that abused its power.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 10:19 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The idea that groups like the ACLU and other human rights groups

The ACLU is not a "human rights group." It is a civil rights group. There can be a lot of overlap, but please don't conflate them. The ACLU is not a USA-specific version of Amnesty International.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:22 AM on July 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


My point is that, under the commerce doctrine, Congress could regulate mass media: cable/tv/internet in order to counter the domination by cartels or "natural monopolies"

And my point is that this is worrying that the hostages' throats will be slit when there are already guns against their heads.

Come on, people, priorities.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:23 AM on July 1, 2012


To what end would a union want to destroy a company? A union wants their employer to be successful, just not at the cost of total worker capitulation. Labor actions are the LAST THING EITHER SIDE WANTS. Once it becomes a war of attrition, labor generally loses.

Funding a pension plan is management's obligation. It's laid out in the labor CONTRACT. Grownups are expected to be responsible, no?


If a union doesn't have the power to destroy a company, as you said they didn't , they are powerless. If they are not privy to a company's inability to fund their pensions, they are brainless. You have laid out a scenario where unions haven't the bargaining chip to implement their desires, and abdicate responsibility for their pensions to incompetents. Falling back on "b-b-but it's in the contract..." means dick when the fund is dry. Grownups are expected to be responsible. Especially for themselves.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:24 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


the notorious jobs bank, in which as many as 12,000 union autoworkers were paid not to work, certainly qualifies as looting. So do salaries and benefits far beyond those of other workers, and other autoworkers in other car companies. So do restrictive work rules, which increase the number of employees a company must pay.

Sure, mediocre and unimaginative management was also to blame. But when Toyota and GM sell the same number of cars and Toyota makes a solid profit and GM takes a huge loss, then GM's costs are too high, and a large part of that can be traced to a union that abused its power.


1. The Cato Institute is probably not the best place to get impartial info.

2. You think people negotiating their pay in good faith with their employees is bad, and yet you have no problem with unilaterally proclaiming that they are overpaid?

3. The "jobs bank" was negotiated between labor and management to help the existing labor force while allowing management to make the assembly line more automated. Good solution? Probably not, but it was negotiated. As were all the contracts - two sides negotiated and agreed.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:29 AM on July 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


The ACLU is not a "human rights group." It is a civil rights group.

Actually, it's a civil liberties group, which I'm not sure is always the same thing as rights. Especially in how things are interpreted today. E.g., health care maybe ought to be a right, but people claim the liberty not to pay for other people's health care.
posted by hippybear at 10:31 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


If a union doesn't have the power to destroy a company, as you said they didn't , they are powerless.

I NEVER SAID they didn't have the power. I said that "burn it down and salt the earth" is an ignorant way to use that power, and everybody knows that.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:32 AM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Threatening to burn it down and salt the earth, however, is a valid tactic. Although it all gets pretty tricky when the bluff gets called, because now you need to douse yourself and your house in gasoline so that they believe you in the future, or at least, believe someone like you.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:35 AM on July 1, 2012


You said the idea that "Unions have an inordinate amount of power; they can actually destroy companies." was a lie.

The problem with this is that if they don't have this power, they have no real power. If they do have this power, then they absolutely need the wisdom that you, and presumably unions, write off as management's responsibility. Of course, if they do assume that responsibility and fail anyway, there's nobody left to point the finger at.

This is a very problematic situation for unions, don't you think?

The recurring theme I see around here is advocacy of unions as we wished they were. Less often is the admission of unions as they are, the entities that are as flawed as any other, and sometimes uniquely flawed like no other.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:48 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ooh, ooh, 2N2222, that gives me the segue I need to recommend everyone a great book!
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:50 AM on July 1, 2012


Obviously the solution to the whole problem with unions is to place the means of production and management of the businesses in the hands of those doing the work. Problem solved.
posted by hippybear at 10:55 AM on July 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


That is crazy, you can't do that. I mean, seriously, you cannot.

There is no way to unify organized actions and the organization of that action. In the end, action requires organization and allocation, which itself is an action that may also need to be organized and allocated. As much as we try to distribute the action of organization (e.g. stock market, kickstarter, democracy, bitcoin, gold standard, lottery) in the end there is still more organizing to do, such as organizing the distribution of the organization itself. This is why the road to communism is all blocked up by technocrats. And this is symmetrical, see the Objectivist dream of a society without labor or middle-men, an economy of pure calculation and Green Lantern-like architects building dreams with their dreams. It is not a coincidence that both sides imagine a future where automation replaces the labor of both organizer and organized, and our whims appear like kisses from angels.

What can be done is something infinitely more human: recognizing that there will never be capital without labor, and never labor without capital. A society that is honest with itself, and maybe even a government placed in-between this eternal tension, and not on one side or the other. How? I dunno, probably sortitionism combined with a universal standard livable income and no minimum wage or worker's rights.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:20 AM on July 1, 2012


One law you could get bipartisan grass roots support for is demanding that congressmen stay in their district instead of lolling around DC with lobbyists. We can create a secure videoconferencing voting system and allow them to visit the capital every three months, but otherwise, their asses should be in their districts listening to their constituents.

The effect of this would actually be to further polarize Congress and make it even more difficult to pass meaningful legislation. Representatives actually now spend a lot less time in Washington than they used to - they fly in on Monday night/Tuesday morning and fly out on Thursday night. And there's a lot of research showing that the less time legislators spend with each other, the less cooperation there is across party lines you get, and hence, crazy gridlock where it's impossible to get anything done.

Also, you know what? Making laws is their job. Their job is in Washington, not their district.
posted by lunasol at 11:39 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


As often with these contentious problems, it's complicated. As a leftist, of course, my sympathies are naturally with unions. But unions are organizations of people, and as any organization, it can have flaws. These days unions are so weak and cowed that talking about union abuses is like talking about extravagant profligacy by the very poor. But have unions ever been destructive? Sometimes, absolutely, yes.

The truth is it's simply not in the union's interest to unduly hobble their employers.

It may not be, but it happens. Any time there is a huge power imbalance, those in power go too far, often undermining their long-term interests. Including unions. I have seen it with my very own eyes - more on that later. My frame of reference is the film industry, both in Europe and in the U.S.. Back in the late 60's unions destroyed, for a time - and I use that term advisedly - the British film industry. Destroyed. Union rules were so restrictive and so abusively restrictive that they excluded young people from industry trades and an old guard held onto lucrative positions where they had a monopoly. Talent was wasted without opportunity. They further extorted producers with such unreasonable terms and abusive work rules, that only extremely privileged domestic producers had a hope of shooting anything of significance. Did that decimate independents, where real creativity was happening by young people? Sure, but the unions didn't give a fuck. Did it scare away a ton of foreign production? Sure, but the unions didn't give a fuck. Why? Because they could live extremely comfortably with the few large domestic producers who in turn didn't want competition from independents. That it destroyed the productive seed of the industry long-term - who cares, certainly not the unions. That it took the industry from a position of great vitality to dismal survival in just a few short years - unions didn't care. That it moved a lot of production out of Britain - unions didn't care. Of course, in time things had to change and did, but those were bleak years.

Now my own experiences. Back in the late 80's and early 90's I worked for an American production company and produced a few independent features in Europe, including Eastern Europe. When we arrived in Poland, it had just overthrown Communism, and the old film industry was frozen in time. We had to use their union labor. Now, I was not some exploitative capitalist producer who was bent on oppressing the worker. We paid extremely well - multiples of what they'd get from domestic productions. Yet, they had simply endless rules, which they could pull out at any time. Shooting a film is not like producing widgets in a factory. The sun does not cooperate with an 8 hour day. We pay overtime, of course, but that's nothing. We employ many times the number of people we actually need, because of union padding, but fine. But then the rules start impacting the quality of the product, and it's not even a matter of money. And then you understand why the quality of the films produced locally, from a technical point of view cannot compete with Western productions (especially sound). So you're left with paying a lot of money for inferior product. I can take the money aspect. But not the quality of product part. Goodbye. Yeah, we were going to do three productions there, but ended up doing one and doing the others elsewhere.

The situation with unions and Hollywood is complicated. But let me tell you: unions hate the little guy independents. Fuck SAG. Seriously, fuck 'em. They're in bed with the big productions who in turn also don't want independents - yes, I've dealt with this for years and know all about low-budget and ultra-low budget contracts - unless you're in the trenches, you don't know what the exact situation is. Yes, we need unions - including actors unions - but we need to also look at the big picture.

The big picture is that there are really 3 parties here - and I'm not talking film here, but in general. The Producers (or capital, if you wish). Unions (labor). And Society. Too much power for producers leads to intolerable exploitation - this obtains in the U.S. most of the time. Too much power with the unions leads to abuse, stagnation, decline and LACK OF INNOVATION. But even if there's a balance between labor and capital, it must still be seen in the context of the whole society, because certain cozy arrangements between capital and labor in a given industry or sector can really fuck with the public at large.

I rather think we need less of an adversarial approach, and something closer to the German model of management working very closely with unions. But in turn it has to be more than just about that specific company or industry, otherwise it could lead to the Japanese situation, where management and labor have an arrangement that works for them, but not for the country leading to stagnation.

Anyhow, this is a huge topic that could take whole tomes and I can't possibly even scratch the surface here. My only purpose with this post is to say: all organizations designed and run by human beings can be flawed, including unions. The Left makes a huge mistake fetishizing unions. Unions should be seen objectively as just one way in which we control the distribution of power in society. It should not be above criticism and change. Of course, when unions are so beat down as these days, it may seem churlish to even say a critical word, but we must see the complexity, otherwise we become mere partisans and problems can never be solved.
posted by VikingSword at 12:02 PM on July 1, 2012 [20 favorites]


Corporate lobbying doesn't cost money; it makes money. Just like advertising. That's why it's done. If it wasn't revenue-positive, corporations wouldn't do it.

Non-profit organizations often don't benefit from this principle, because their lobbying generally doesn't benefit them financially so much as advance their cause. In other words, the return on investment for their lobbying dollar is more likely to be negative.

When stated in these terms, it becomes clear that lobbying from non-profit organizations will rarely be capable of balancing the influence of corporate lobbying, even if they aren't already corrupt from the inside. The only solution is to alter congressional policy such that lobbying no longer brings a reliable return on investment.

Of course, given that many congressional seats are essentially permanent and the issue doesn't move voters to actively froth at the mouth like taxes or healthcare or The Gays, the only way to change congressional policy would be through lobbying...
posted by dephlogisticated at 12:02 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a bit silly to think that making lobbying more difficult and expensive would help the little guy. Remember that groups like the Chamber of Commerce, the NRA, or big corporate lobbies have virtually unlimited resources, and right now are spending just pennies of their budgets on lobbying. Taking the Congressmen out of Washington and sending them back home permanently would just make it exponentially harder for small lobbies to compete for time. You try setting up 200 field offices!
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 12:04 PM on July 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


The moneyed class has been waging a truthiness campaign against unions for a long time and, unfortunately, it has taken root with the American public.

Meanwhile, every last one of the painted mouthpieces disseminating this ongoing anti-union propaganda campaign are members of powerful unions themselves -- usually SAG-AFTRA, but maybe others (AEA, WGA) depending on their extracurriculars. What's more, every person who contributes to this campaign, from writers and editors to camera operators and sound mixers to the guys who mop the floor after the lights are off are also union members. Large broadcast facilities are union operations through and through, their infrastructures entirely dependent upon skilled organized labor.

And yet -- somehow! -- we never hear a peep about the evils of those particular gigantic trans-national unions.

As a former IATSE affiliate myself, I often wonder what the guy behind the camera thinks about the nightly union-bashing diatribes. And whether he ever has the urge to zoom in on that giant zit on the anchor's nose.
posted by milquetoast at 12:17 PM on July 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


The situation with unions and Hollywood is complicated. But let me tell you: unions hate the little guy independents. Fuck SAG. Seriously, fuck 'em. They're in bed with the big productions who in turn also don't want independents - yes, I've dealt with this for years and know all about low-budget and ultra-low budget contracts - unless you're in the trenches, you don't know what the exact situation is. Yes, we need unions - including actors unions - but we need to also look at the big picture.

This is so true. As a sound guy who learned his trade doing student and then indie films, I tried to join IATSE 3 times. 3 times. Every single time I got the same response:

- we can't procure work for you.
- I'm not asking you to. I want to pay dues and pass tests and be eligible to work on productions that have signed a contract with IATSE.
- Well, when you get hired on an IATSE shoot, come in and let us know.
- I can't get hired without a union card, even though I have an excellent reel and reputation.
- The producer could bring you in under Taft-Hartley.
- Why would they want to do that when you'll object, ask them why they don't hire an existing member, and generally give them the runaround?
- Not my problem.

Fuck IATSE.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:18 PM on July 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


The overbearing practices of some specific unions does not change the fact that unions in general are a very very good thing for everybody.
posted by kafziel at 12:43 PM on July 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Slithy_Tove: "And the idea that the unions won't loot their employers didn't work very well with the autoworkers at GM or Chrysler, either."

The difference being that there is a check on how much unions can get: Management. If management agrees to stupid deals, they're not doing their job, much the same as if regulators let banks do stupid deals that have risk out of proportion to the size of the institution.
posted by wierdo at 1:12 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


>That is crazy, you can't do that. I mean, seriously, you cannot.

There is no way to unify organized actions and the organization of that action.


It's not that there's no way; it may be that there's no reliably, sustainably efficient way, for an organization at a given scale and operating within a given context.

So, again, it comes down to trade-offs.
posted by darth_tedious at 1:19 PM on July 1, 2012


Slithy_Tove: "Sure, mediocre and unimaginative management was also to blame. But when Toyota and GM sell the same number of cars and Toyota makes a solid profit and GM takes a huge loss, then GM's costs are too high, and a large part of that can be traced to a union that abused its power."

Shame on me for not reading through the whole thread, but I seem to recall during the bailout discussions it came out that the foreign automakers' biggest advantage was that they hadn't been manufacturing in the US long enough to have any (meaningful) current retirement liability.

Also, it's mildly amusing how the jobs bank gets you all in a tizzy when white collar workers get that same benefit, called salary. Whether or not they actually have any work to do on a given day, they get paid. Funny, that.
posted by wierdo at 1:24 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Shame on me for not reading through the whole thread, but I seem to recall during the bailout discussions it came out that the foreign automakers' biggest advantage was that they hadn't been manufacturing in the US long enough to have any (meaningful) current retirement liability.

This isn't a union failing, except insofar as the unions let the employers get away with it: it is the intrinsic problem with employer-funded pensions, which are notoriously likely to implode and destroy both the company and their former employees' retirement plans. If the pension funds had been fully funded then the USAn manufacturers would have had no competitive disadvantage. Unfortunately, years of neglect meant that the companies were carrying an increasing burden as their liabilities mounted and the pool of contributors shrank. I think employer-funded pensions should be illegal; at the very least they ought to be fully funded and wholly independent.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:53 PM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


You said the idea that "Unions have an inordinate amount of power; they can actually destroy companies." was a lie.

OK. I get where you're coming from now. I wasn't as clear as I could have been. I was saying that that was the totality of the lie that is oft-repeated today. I was trying to say that that is all the way at the end of the spectrum; that the practical truth is way more nuanced.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:54 PM on July 1, 2012


Historically, remember, the union pension plans were floated first in earnest during a time of wage and price controls. The pensions were presented as a perk in the form of deferred wages. That they weren't fully funded makes them, in reality, a bait-and-switch; a fraud. NOT the unions' fault.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:00 PM on July 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


VikingSword:

I'd like to think there was a nicer, less adversarial approach, too. History shows us though (IMHO) that these are, by definition, adversarial positions. If organized labor is not the way to limit the absolute power of organized capital, then what is?

And why, as unions lose power in this country, are we having more and more of the same damned arguments and conversations we had in the 1910s, 20s and 30s, before unions won some recognition?

Unions aren't perfect, of course. I just can't picture a sensible alternative.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:12 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


in general it is good that corporations have free speech

This often gets stated as an obvious fact, but when looking at the effects, has granting the right of "free speech" to corporations been healthy for our democracy? I'm curious to know if there have been any good outcomes from Citizens United (that is, outcomes which benefit people other than those who bought said law).

For example, as a consequence of mostly eliminating the regulation of campaign contributions, we've had candidates on both sides get bid upon through a free-market mechanism. Is having our leadership, legal and justice system bought by a few wealthy interests (American or otherwise, no less) a good outcome?

If the ACLU equates money with free speech, where does that leave individual rights that get placed subordinate to corporate or monied interests, under the guise of protecting "civil liberties"? When the ACLU effectively helps replace a democracy with an oligarchy, has that lead to good outcomes for individual rights?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:16 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unions aren't perfect, of course. I just can't picture a sensible alternative.

Which is why no one (here) wants to eliminate unions, but anyone who has to deal with them regularly wants them to change.

But that said---among the many annoying things about this article is its assumption that the if the ACLU is taking a position the writer doesn't like, they simply must have been "bought off", rather than actually deciding this is a better policy for free speech (which is the ACLU's sole priority).
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:23 PM on July 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


this is a better policy for free speech (which is the ACLU's sole priority).

What? No.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:29 PM on July 1, 2012


I'd like to think there was a nicer, less adversarial approach, too. History shows us though (IMHO) that these are, by definition, adversarial positions. If organized labor is not the way to limit the absolute power of organized capital, then what is?

Yes, they are adversarial depending on the setup, but they don't have to be. You just have to align interests - by enlightenment (enlightened self-interest FTW!) - or you can control the divergent interests and resulting adversarial strife by passing laws. Unfortunately, we've undermined the laws - that's the fault of the third party in this conversation: Society. Because as I keep stressing, there are three parties here: capital, labor, society. Society can pass laws, and they can work well, or as Reagan on proved, laws can be undermined and lobbied away, but whose fault is that? It's the fault of the whole society - we have a democracy and we elect these people who pass these laws.

As to how it can work by aligning interests - see the German model. Though it needs to be pointed out, the German model also had a lot of help from laws and societal consensus.

From the link:

"Employees' representation in Germany has a binary structure: trade unions that set the framework for working conditions, such as collective wage agreements, for whole sectors or single companies, defining wage levels and working time on the one hand - and works councils ("Betriebsräte") that are elected by employees and represent their interests on company level. They shape and supervise the execution of the frameworks set by trade unions and laws in the company. German industrial relations are characterized by a high degree of employee participation up to co-determination in companies' boards ("Aufsichtsrat"), where trade unionists and works councils elected by employees have full voting rights. Local trade union representants are democratically elected by union members and formally largely autonomous. Central boards of directors ("Vorstand") are elected by delegatees.

Influence

Trade unions in Germany define themselves as being more than a "collective bargaining machine", but as important political player for social, economical and also environmental subjects, especially also for labor market policy and professional education.
[emph. mine, VS]

It's hardly perfect, but it's a start. And it shows that it can work. The problem is that if you have no brakes on pure adversity, it destroys social cohesion. It is bad for labor, yes. It is bad for the society, yes. But it is also bad for capital. It is bad all around. But why that happens anyway is a tragedy of the commons, or more generally that the short term interests of individual actors and entities are by nature not aligned with the long term interests of society even though that society is composed of those individual actors and entities - which is why you need to come in with rules to change the way the game is set up.
posted by VikingSword at 2:32 PM on July 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Why should corporations have free speech? They're imaginary entities. They have only the rights we choose to grant, they have nothing inherent whatsoever.

People have the right to free speech, but all political spending and all speech should funnel through individual people, not corporations. If nothing else, that ensures that ordinary people are competing on slightly more level ground with corporations, because corporations have gigantic tax advantages. Allowing them free speech gives them a much louder voice, with X number of dollars, than any other entity, because advertising is usually a deductible expense.

It means they don't pay tax on money they spend on politics, where ordinary people do. It strikes me that giving a piece of paper a 30%+ cost advantage in political speech over actual, breathing people will have.... suboptimal consequences.

I can't imagine a worse situation than the one we're ending up with, where pieces of paper have more rights than actual persons, standing there in the flesh.

I guess you could call them Überpeople.
posted by Malor at 2:34 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


More specific link to the German Co-determination structure of management and labor relations.

But really, we must always account for the third party in this - Society. Failure to do so is why Libertarians are not adults in this conversation.
posted by VikingSword at 2:47 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why should corporations have free speech? They're imaginary entities. They have only the rights we choose to grant, they have nothing inherent whatsoever.

So, for instance, if the government wanted to stop a filmmaker or author and a publishing company from making a movie or book criticizing the President they can stop that on the basis of the publishing company not having the right to free speech?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:47 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's all well and good to say in the abstract that only people have free speech, but to get from me to you this comment has to go through the metaphorical hands of probably half a dozen corporations.
posted by Pyry at 2:49 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, furiousxgeorge, because the actions of making the film that criticizes the President is being done by people, and people have rights.

Corporations can't take actions. They're pieces of paper.
posted by Malor at 2:51 PM on July 1, 2012


No, furiousxgeorge, because the actions of making the film that criticizes the President is being done by people, and people have rights.

So, if people formed a non-profit movie company and made a movie criticizing Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney and wanted to air it and advertise it, banning it would be a violation of free speech?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:58 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


but to get from me to you this comment has to go through the metaphorical hands of probably half a dozen corporations

No one would mistake anything you or I would say as the expression of official corporate policy ("voice") of Comcast, Time Warner, et al. Contrariwise, ISPs often do as much as possible to legally separate themselves from anything you do while connected to their networks.

That said, there's a difference between a government restricting a for-profit publisher from performing a for-profit business transaction and an individual from expressing an idea in a public forum.

This is not a novel concept. No one would call restricting Nike, for example, from doing false advertising an attack on free speech (other than Nike and its lawyers, of course). Certain types of commercial "speech" have long been restricted and few call those restrictions an attack on civil liberties.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:06 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


furiousxgeorge: So, if people formed a non-profit movie company and made a movie criticizing Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney and wanted to air it and advertise it, banning it would be a violation of free speech?

Their incorporation status is not relevant. The question simply does not bear on pieces of paper. Paper doesn't have rights.

In regard to commercial speech, should you be allowed to engage in false advertising? I'd say no, that you shouldn't be. And it doesn't matter if you're a person trying to tell lies about your product for personal gain, or if you're a corporation, because corporations don't actually exist. They are imaginary. And we can always imagine something different.

Repeating for emphasis: corporations are imaginary. They are completely fictional. We can tell a different story, if we like.
posted by Malor at 3:47 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


In other words: corporations can never take actions, only people can. Corporations can't really own properly, only people can. Corporations can't make decisions, only people can. It's just people, all the way down. When we even argue about corporations, we are arguing that He-Man should be able to own property, or that Wonder Woman has rights. Lynda Carter does, but Wonder Woman definitely doesn't qualify.

We may find the idea of corporate personhood to be a useful fiction, to try to separate investors from liability, but we have almost completely forgotten that it is fictional. We made it up, and it's screwing us up very badly now, so it's time to make up something different.
posted by Malor at 3:50 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lots of corporations rely on algorithms to allocate (some) resources and manage logistics and the like, and in those cases I would argue that there is no person to whom those decisions can be assigned.
posted by Pyry at 4:02 PM on July 1, 2012


So a group of people cannot form a non-profit association that would have any collective free speech rights?

Planned Parenthood, a non-profit piece of paper, can be censored off the Internet for example?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:06 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


furiousxgeorge: "So a group of people cannot form a non-profit association that would have any collective free speech rights?

Planned Parenthood, a non-profit piece of paper, can be censored off the Internet for example?
"

Agreed.

Glenn Greenwald believes that the solution is for public campaign financing to level the playing field, not for the government to limit free speech.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:40 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres put forward a pretty interesting campaign finance reform proposal, in which everyone is given $50 in vouchers from the Treasury to donate to whatever political cause, candidate, or party they desire. Up to $100 of personal money can also be contributed, and that's it.

The result would be the same or more money being used in elections as has been used before (around $6billion, based on voter participation in the 2004 election of 120million) (although with CU in effect, it's hard to tell anymore), and the elections could not be bought by those with more money simply because they gave more. Election funding would be much more democratic, as everyone would have money to give (and not necessarily out of their own pocket).

Of course, expecting campaign finance reform to happen is silly. Those in power don't want to change the power they have, and CFR is basically exactly that. Unless such a proposal comes in from outside somehow and gains enough momentum in the public to make Congress act against their own best interest in favor of public demand, it will never happen.
posted by hippybear at 5:04 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The government can't censor corporations, because corporations are imaginary. Corporations can't talk, so they can't be silenced.

Government can only censor people, because only people can engage in speech. There are many rationalizations they might use, including "regulating" fictional entities like corporations, but they're all bullshit.

Lots of corporations rely on algorithms to allocate (some) resources and manage logistics and the like, and in those cases I would argue that there is no person to whom those decisions can be assigned.

Programs are real; they are a pattern of bits that cause a real machine to take real actions. You can't dodge responsibility for something by blaming your tools. The CEO fundamentally delegated his decision making to a program, but he didn't, and can't, delegate the responsibility for the outcomes of those decisions.

Corporations aren't even that real. They are purely fictional entities.
posted by Malor at 5:08 PM on July 1, 2012


Malor, Yes or No, the Republicans can legally take down the Planned Parenthood websites.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:11 PM on July 1, 2012



Lots of corporations rely on algorithms to allocate (some) resources and manage logistics and the like, and in those cases I would argue that there is no person to whom those decisions can be assigned.


Except there is still a class of technicians who decide whether or not those algorithms are functioning 'appropriately,' and they are informed by other individuals who prepare reports on the effectiveness of those algorithms and propose new algorithms, and there are also of course the people who code those algorithms, and finally, the people who approved the algorithms and put them to work. But these aren't decision making devices, they are logic circuits and probability tables. In the end a somebody (probably a number of somebodies) at Amazon looks over the data pertaining to their sales, or shipping automation, or payroll systems, and decides. Maybe decides, you know what, I think the conditions have changed and it doesn't seem to be adapting appropriately, we should put some people on this to fix it. And if that was the wrong decision, guess what, you can't blame the knife for cutting you. Maybe the knife maker, or the guy who broke your wrist.

Just because the decision is about where millions of dollars of products are to be located nationally, and not where a single box or banner ad should go, does not make the decision any less about resource allocation. It does not make the decision any less a decision, in fact, it should make it more of a decision, the decision to put in place these revised protocols. Otherwise Admirals are not responsible for any battles, after all, they just ordered the fleet to move, they were just following protocols by listening, the Admiral never told them to fire a shot, never told anyone to die.
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:26 PM on July 1, 2012


Do you have one momentous bad decision on the part of a union leader, or a Democrat, or any political leader, when you look back at the complex ways that this all fell apart, and say, “This one was really bad.” Could you pick just one?

I think you pinpointed it already, and that’s the 1972 decision by organized labor, after all the convention rules changes (to open up to women and minorities), to destroy McGovern. Because that solidified a moment. It said, “We can’t work with the unions,” to the left, and to the women’s movement and the rest. It said organized labor is just about guys like George Meany, and Mayor Daley, it’s really the same monster, we can’t deal with them.
From the Salon link. I didn't read all of it before posting, it is quite good.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:50 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Glenn Greenwald believes that the solution is for public campaign financing to level the playing field

There's some evidence (can't recall the cite) that part of why Arizona has gone full derp ahead is that public financing really helped out fuckwit candidates who usually would have been weeded out when elites and activists wouldn't give them money.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:25 PM on July 1, 2012


There's some evidence (can't recall the cite) that part of why Arizona has gone full derp ahead is that public financing really helped out fuckwit candidates who usually would have been weeded out when elites and activists wouldn't give them money.

I'd like to se that evidence, actually.

I mean, if the point of representational government is to have people elected to represent their constituents... and if people who might have been too far to one side or the other or yet another to be elected in the past are getting elected.... the theory (at least in my mind) is that they, indeed, represent the interests of The People. So if they were getting shut out in the past, then the process then was LESS democratic than it is now.

Even if the state is going full derp (which I'm not sure it actually is, and I'm pretty sure a good portion of those elected recently have been more to do with tea party affiliation than anything), that's the will of the people, and I can get behind that.

As long as there are checks and balances in place to protect minorities from majority persecution (which obviously isn't the case in AZ), there's nothing wrong with having a supposedly derp majority.
posted by hippybear at 6:43 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The situation with unions and Hollywood is complicated.

The situation with unions period is complicated. I hate to paint all unions with the same broad brush because there are a few that take principled stands very consistently - to me, that means supporting (and working for) real universal single-payer healthcare, not just whatever Heritage Foundation brainchild corporate Democrats try to repackage as humanitarian reform; advocating for social justice issues that affect more than just their own members; and refusing to partner with the bosses because the union is afraid to fight and strike.

One consequence of the steady 30-year-plus propaganda war on unions that has turned much of the public against unions is that many union members and leaders are afraid, and doubt themselves. It is a problem.

There is corruption and unconscionable compromise to be found in more than a few unions. I cannot defend it. But I do believe that workers are better off with union representation, and workers generally are better off when there is a higher rate of unionization, because the overall trend will be to improve conditions. When unrepresented workers want to drag down the pay and benefits of others out of jealousy, everyone's standards are lowered.

The Left makes a huge mistake fetishizing unions.

I disagree. Without a voice for economic justice, there is no Left. We live largely at work, and our paychecks and benefits support our families away from work. Unions are our institutions for ensuring we have any power at all at work, and without real economic justice our ability to enjoy progress in the areas of indentity politics will be quite shallow.

Thank you for posting this. When I saw the Naked Capitalism piece I thought it deserved to be on the blue, but didn't get around to it myself. Well done.
posted by univac at 7:03 PM on July 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Malor, Yes or No, the Republicans can legally take down the Planned Parenthood websites.

Are you even getting anything I'm saying? Did any of this even vaguely register? How can you even ask that question?

Of course not. The people in Planned Parenthood have the right to have any site they want. But they have that right because they are people, not because they're in a corporation.

I think you just aren't realizing that corporations are fiction. I guess, for you, they are actually real things that you can point to and touch and interact with.
posted by Malor at 7:20 PM on July 1, 2012


Are you even getting anything I'm saying? Did any of this even vaguely register? How can you even ask that question?

Of course not. The people in Planned Parenthood have the right to have any site they want.


Okay. The people inside a non-profit organization called Citizens United wanted to make a movie criticizing a politician and the law legally prohibited them. So the Supreme Court decided those people had a right to free speech and overturned the law. A good decision.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:38 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The people inside a non-profit organization called Citizens United wanted to make a movie criticizing a politician and the law legally prohibited them. So the Supreme Court decided those people had a right to free speech and overturned the law.

I guess I'm left wondering... why is the decision named for the (as you assert fictional) entity Citizens United rather than named for the people inside that organization which brought the lawsuit?

You can't have it both ways. And insisting that something is in your opinion a fictional construct doesn't mean that the legal structure in the US agrees with you and acts accordingly.
posted by hippybear at 8:01 PM on July 1, 2012


Hrm. and I seem to have confused Malor and furiousxgeorge with how my comment is constructed.

But they seem to arguing the same point, so I'm okay with that.
posted by hippybear at 8:02 PM on July 1, 2012


...they seem to BE arguing...
posted by hippybear at 8:02 PM on July 1, 2012


I guess I'm left wondering... why is the decision named for the (as you assert fictional) entity Citizens United rather than named for the people inside that organization which brought the lawsuit?

Because they decided to organize themselves into a group called Citizens United. It makes no practical difference if you list their names or not. The important point is if they can be censored or not, all the piece of paper does is codify their cooperation. You can't censor the paper without censoring the people.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:12 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay. The people inside a non-profit organization called Citizens United wanted to make a movie criticizing a politician and the law legally prohibited them. So the Supreme Court decided those people had a right to free speech and overturned the law. A good decision.

No, because corporations are given huge tax advantages. Corporations mostly don't have to pay tax on money they spend on speech. People do. So given X dollars, the corporation will typically be at least 30% more effective than people.

A bad decision. A very, very bad decision. Pieces of paper do not have rights. And they especially don't have more rights than real people, who are still sharply limited in terms of what they can contribute.

A piece of paper has more freedom to contribute to causes its owners value than you do, and it doesn't have to pay tax on that money, to boot.

You should find this absolutely appalling.
posted by Malor at 8:18 PM on July 1, 2012


Okay, can you explain the difference to me between the piece of paper with "Planned Parenthood" written on it and the piece of paper with "Citizens United" written on it, because you have said one can be censored and one can't and I'm not clear why.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:21 PM on July 1, 2012


The people involved can and should be able to use personal money to say whatever the fuck they want. What some argue is that corporate money used for political campaigning should be restricted. There is no contradiction in that thinking.

I think we should go further and allow no politicking whatsoever from for-profit corporations and no donations to non-profits engaged in politicking either. Furthermore all politicking and lobbying expenditures should be required to be disclosed, no matter the source.
posted by wierdo at 8:32 PM on July 1, 2012


Neither have the right speak as corporations, because corporations are not people, and have no inherent rights. None. Zero. CORPORATIONS ARE FICTION.

Either entity can transfer money to individual people, who DO have rights, and who cannot be censored. And those individual people have to pay tax on their income, like everyone else, and can then buy as much speech as they want.

Voila, big business has no inherent advantage over people. If they want to engage in political speech, they can't. They can transfer money to individuals, paying normal tax burdens on that transfer. The recipients can then engage in all the speech they can afford, on the same tax basis as all other speakers.

All the benefits of cooperation, no special rights advantages that make corporations better than people.
posted by Malor at 8:38 PM on July 1, 2012


At this point, Malor, I'm starting to doubt whether you're describing reality as it exists, or as you wish it to exist.

Can you demonstrate that what you've said about corporations transferring their money to people who then spend it on speech is how it actually happens, rather than corporations spending money on speech as an entity?

Because I'm pretty sure that the latter happens a lot.
posted by hippybear at 8:41 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, the pro-life groups that have been boycotting corporations that fund Planned Parenthood (Adobe, AOL, Bank of America, Bayer, Chevron, Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden, Red Lobster, etc.), eBay (PayPal, etc.), Laureate Education, Midas, Nationwide (insurance), Nike, Select Comfort (Sleep Number bed), Southwest Airlines (Jet Blue, etc.), Starwood Hotels (Aloft, Element, Four Points, Le Méridien, Sheraton, St. Regis, W, Westin, etc.), Symantec, Wells Fargo, and Whole Foods.) for years would enjoy the side effect of doing away with corporate speech in favor of individual donations only, but I don't think it's a positive outcome.

Either entity can transfer money to individual people, who DO have rights, and who cannot be censored. And those individual people have to pay tax on their income, like everyone else, and can then buy as much speech as they want.

Okay, so what you meant to say when I asked if Republicans could legally take down the Planned Parenthood website and you said "No." what you meant was "Yes." Planned Parenthood has to pay an individual to put up their website for them?

I don't get it, why can't two people just take their money and spend it together under one banner? What if ten people formed a non-profit group and protested under that banner in a public square? Is it only legal if it isn't an organized group?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:49 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Chiming in:

Well, the pro-life groups that have been boycotting corporations that fund Planned Parenthood (...) for years would enjoy the side effect of doing away with corporate speech in favor of individual donations only, but I don't think it's a positive outcome.

Not speaking towards the constitutionality, morality or legislatibility of abortion, but if that would result in a more representative realization of people's desires, all the better.

I think Malor is trying to hammer home a viewpoint shift, such that we stop discussing corporations as actors, and reveal, as it were, the people behind the curtain. It hurts my brain a bit, though I think I support it as a rhetorical tool to scrape away at learned reactions we all have to this debate. If you accept that a corporation is a person, or even an independent entity capable of acting on its own, you've already ceded a lot of mental ground.

That being said, I also believe in emergent qualities of organizations of any variety to self-perpetuate and yield tangible results that any one individual couldn't tender, so maybe the fiction isn't quite so fictional; maybe there is something there after all, much like we're not people, we're just bundles of atoms.. man.
posted by twooster at 9:29 PM on July 1, 2012


It seems like, for Malor's system, individuals acting in concert as a corporation retain their rights as individuals, but corporations cannot exert individual rights on behalf of its component individuals. And the difference between when one is happening and when the other is happening is whether or not he likes the particular group - Planned Parenthood is individuals in concert, Citizens United is a corporation.
posted by kafziel at 9:40 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


kafziel, it is possible to write a law in such a way that allows corporations some of the rights that people have as a result of being people, and beyond. In fact, that's what the law does. Until some clerk added some text to a header in a book that wasn't actually in a Supreme Court decision, corporations were indisputably creations of the legislature and therefore subject to its whim, whatever that may have been. (so long as it did not infringe on the rights of individuals)

Do you not think the legislatures of the 50 states have the power to dissolve all state-chartered corporations tomorrow if they should decide to do so? Of course they could. I wouldn't recommend it, but it wouldn't impact anyone's Constitutional rights unless they also expropriated the shareholders' property.
posted by wierdo at 10:01 PM on July 1, 2012


Since when is the ACLU/Amnesty International supposed to care about labor rights? I bet NORML doesn't have a section on labor unions either.
posted by delmoi at 1:50 AM on July 2, 2012


Little known fact, despite two years spent blasting the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision as terrible for the country, the AFL-CIO actually filed an amicus brief in support of Citizens United.

That's because the AFL-CIO is a corporation. The same ruling that permitted business corporations to spend money on lobbying and campaigns also permitted union corporations to do the same things.

They don't give small amounts of money either. Five of the top ten and twelve of the top twenty lobbiers between 1989 and 2012 are labor unions. Also, fourteen of the top twenty contribute mostly to Democratics. Five are balanced, and one leans a bit Republican. So there's that too. More specifically, six of the top ten organizational donors to outside spending groups in the 2012 presidential election are labor unions.
posted by valkyryn at 6:20 AM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I rather think we need less of an adversarial approach, and something closer to the German model of management working very closely with unions.

Working with management like this? Or like all these?

Or did you mean working closely with management the way China's unions "work closely with management"?

Unions in Europe hold major national strikes when they have grievances. What do US unions need to do, in your opinion, to be friendlier with management?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:04 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, unions have been forced under modern law into the legal framework for corporations. But originally, they were just self-organized groups of workers. The fact that we've defined that form of association now in terms of the same legal structures we apply to companies doing business doesn't alter the fact that there are inherent difference in what these different kinds of associations are for and what their purposes are.

Do you really think the fact that the fate of corporations and unions in law have been yoked so closely together is purely accident? The think tanks have been planning this "bust political spending wide open for our side by selling it to the left as a boon for unions" scam for decades now. It's been the right wing think tanks making those arguments since the beginning.

Just remember: Citizens United overturned a system of campaign finance laws in Minnesota that had been on the books for 100 years! 100 years we couldn't be arsed to protect free speech properly, but now we see the light!

The entire current legal environment is a product of many years of successful lobbying on the part of pro-capital interests. And the fact that the idea of unions has been shoe-horned into the modern-day legal system in a way that in effect binds their legal rights and powers to the legal rights of the commercial entities to which they're supposed to serve as a counterbalance is not merely coincidental, but the result of many decades of very canny and cynical legal strategy.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:15 AM on July 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


If Corporations and Unions are identical and any law that applies to one must apply to the other, how is it that we have special restrictions on Union activity that don't apply to corporate activity?

And as this article points out, many of the constraints on union activity embodied in Right to Work laws would be crushing to organizations like the Chamber of Commerce if they were held to them, too.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:25 AM on July 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am not going around with you on the legal nature of the corporate entity. I have things to do today, and this is not a productive line of discourse for anyone. You've got your own beliefs about what corporations are and what they do, and while you're not exactly welcome to them, there isn't anything I can do about that.
posted by valkyryn at 7:29 AM on July 2, 2012


Well, you could at least acknowledge that unions actually have more restrictions than other corporations generally do on how they can organize and engage in speech.

We don't have to argue about what corporations are to acknowledge that.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:43 AM on July 2, 2012


Well, you could at least acknowledge that unions actually have more restrictions than other corporations generally do on how they can organize and engage in speech.

We don't have to argue about what corporations are to acknowledge that.


Yes, actually, we do. You think of "corporations" as having some content beyond "legally-created entity with the capacity to own property, contract, and litigate in its own name," which is pretty much the only content I assign to the concept. On that score, I see absolutely no difference between "corporations" and "labor unions" because they're the exact same thing. As long as you insist on that extra content, we can't have a conversation, because I adamantly refuse to accept those terms. I'm a lawyer, and if we're going to talk about what the law of corporations is, I'm not going to let you smuggle in normative assumptions about what you think the law of corporations ought to be.

However, the differences you point out don't have anything to do with unions as corporate entities. For example, the restrictions on the collecting of non-member dues has no analog in non-union corporations, so saying that union and non-union corporate entities are treated differently is kind of like saying insurance companies are treated differently than restaurants. In some ways, they are, and we'd expect them to be, because they do different things. But restaurants don't sell financial products designed to shift risk, so they aren't subject to regulation by state departments of insurance, and insurance companies don't sell food to the public, so they're not generally subject to regulation by county departments of health. However, with respect to things that pertain to their status as corporate entities, they're treated exactly the same way.

You're arguing that because I'm say that union and non-union corporations are both still corporations that I also have to say that they should all be subject to the same regulatory schemes in everything. It's just not true, and you ought to know it.

So no. We can't talk about these differences until you recognize that there's a distinction to be drawn between the law of corporations as such and the various regulatory schemes that apply to corporations depending on what kinds of activities they engage in.
posted by valkyryn at 7:59 AM on July 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


You think of "corporations" as having some content beyond "legally-created entity with the capacity to own property, contract, and litigate in its own name,"

No I don't.

You're completely mistaken.

That's all a corporation is. Which is why it makes no sense to say the law ought to be this way or that way in any absolute sense.

The rest of my argument is based on pragmatism and recognizing that, in fact, there are different kinds of ways of organizing entities under the law, and it's up to engaged citizens, lawmakers and everyone else to look at the practical effects of how the law functions.

The salient point is we can draw a bright, clean line between different kinds of legal organizations with different organizational aims.

Companies are not the same thing as public advocacy groups are not the same thing as unions. The law does not have to be so stupid and insensitive to reality as to pretend they are all the same thing and that the public interest is necessarily served by regulating them all as if they were identical and indistinguishable in law.

You're the one who seems to believe that the laws that apply to corporations are something more than a convenient legal fiction that should properly be dispensed with when, in fact, that fiction doesn't work out to be as convenient as advertised.

You're arguing that because I'm say that union and non-union corporations are both still corporations that I also have to say that they should all be subject to the same regulatory schemes in everything. It's just not true, and you ought to know it.

No, I'm saying campaign finance law in particular is an area where the distinctions matter and the law--and more importantly, the public interest it must serve--can't be held hostage by the implications of what everyone admits are recent legal fictions.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:03 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


FWIW, for-profit and commercial/private interest corporations are one such special case, and for the vast majority of world history, the law has provided for distinguishing those particular forms of collective organization from other kinds. With Citizens United and similar rulings, the law has taken a giant step backwards toward over-generalizing, and the result is, lawmakers have fewer tools at their disposal to protect the public interest against commercial abuses.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:08 AM on July 2, 2012


I'd be curious to know if corporate law, on a general level -- i.e., those laws that pertain to all types of corporations -- are skewed in benefit of one type of corporation or another? Is the game stacked from the start?

Obviously, on a basic level, a corporation is "just" a "legally-created entity with the capacity to own property, contract, and litigate in its own name" (though, of course, contracting and litigation must be performed through real-world emissaries, e.g., employees, vis Malor's hammering above; the inversion of control and responsibility embodied in the modern use of 'corporation' is interesting). However, this is a game of semantics: When we talk about corporations -- especially as a counterpoint to unions -- we generally mean corporations for-profit, with the singular and often legally enforceable aim of making money. Unions, when not corrupt or lazy, act as a counterbalance to that all-consuming goal.

If the basic laws that govern all "corporations" are shaped towards the needs and appropriate regulation of for-profit enterprises, then although the abstract definition is agreeable, the legal definition is not. I'd be curious to know if this is the case.

On preview, re saulgoodman: Agreed. Although there may be no reason to fear corporate speech in the form of money generally, there certainly appears to be good reason to fear it from for-profit corporations. The over-generalization that has occurred is a problem of creating the right foundation for the wrong structure.
posted by twooster at 9:18 AM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


No I don't.

You're completely mistaken.


Except that this:

The salient point is we can draw a bright, clean line between different kinds of legal organizations with different organizational aims.

...proves me right entirely. In terms of their legal organization, the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood, Goldman Sachs, and Wal-Mart are, as far as I can tell, exactly the same, or at least aren't different in any way that matters here. Some of those may be organized as non-profit or not-for-profit entities, but that only affects their tax status and isn't of any significant legal import concerning their legal status. So to say that they are "different kinds of legal organizations with different organizational aims" requires that there be some content for "corporation" that you're bringing into it that isn't actually there.

I say that there isn't any such line to be drawn.

for the vast majority of world history, the law has provided for distinguishing those particular forms of collective organization from other kinds.

No, it hasn't. Mostly because for the vast majority of world history, there was no legal recognition of collective organization to speak of.
posted by valkyryn at 3:31 PM on July 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Antiwar.com: Amnesty’s Shilling for US Wars

Occasionally it happens that some aspects of reality agree with US policy. Deal with it.
posted by Anything at 6:35 PM on July 2, 2012


as far as I can tell, exactly the same, or at least aren't different in any way that matters here.

Whoever gets to define what "matters here" wins every argument. It'd be nice if that were or could be just you and I, but it isn't. Fortunately, we used to have some legal practitioners who could--or at least, who allowed that it might just theoretically be possible to--to draw some meaningful legal distinctions between the Firefighters Local and Wal-Mart. They did useful things like creating different classes of corporations as defined by things like their profit-seeking status or affiliation with a trade group. And they actually created laws and jurisprudence that acknowledged these differences and attempted to deal with them, rather than hand-waving them away with some vaguely muttered cop out about "free speech, man..."

I think it's a shame that all that hard work has to go to waste now (as 100 years of good work in this area of law recently did in Minnesota) just because the current Supreme Court seems temperamentally incapable of drawing clear, legally useful distinctions.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:04 PM on July 2, 2012


No, it hasn't. Mostly because for the vast majority of world history, there was no legal recognition of collective organization to speak of.

Not a history major, huh?

The first proto-corporations were joint-stock companies, which date back to the 1200s. Trade guilds (which are arguably the predecessors of the modern trade unions) date back literally to the dark ages, and there are references to guilds even further back in antiquity.

In fact, this isn't even the first time in history ruling classes have tried to outlaw unions.
Trade unions and/or collective bargaining were outlawed from no later than the middle of the 14th century when the Ordinance of Labourers was enacted in the Kingdom of England. Union organizing would eventually be outlawed everywhere and remain so until the middle of the 19th century.
Back in the bad old days, the King of England didn't care much for labor unions either.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:14 PM on July 2, 2012


Don't you people have something better to do than argue in circles?
posted by dunkadunc at 8:21 PM on July 2, 2012


Not really. It's 11:30, the kids are asleep. Valkyrn's dead wrong. What could be more satisfying than trying to prove it? Besides, how else do you test a proposition than to see if it can be persuasively refuted?

If valkryn ever manages to land a substantive point, I'll grant it, believe me. But I'm still waiting for that to happen.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:29 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, it hasn't. Mostly because for the vast majority of world history, there was no legal recognition of collective organization to speak of.

Not a history major, huh?

The first proto-corporations were joint-stock companies, which date back to the 1200s


Yes, I was a history major. That's not the issue. The issue is that you suck at math. The 1200s are 800 years ago. Last I checked, the Sumerians were doing their thing at least 5000 years before that. Even if we were to date your point from the 1200s, we'd still be weighing 800 years of "modern" history with 5000 years before that. So your cheap-ass rhetorical point isn't even correct.

Okay, let's look at the merits, shall we? Next time you accuse me of failing to make a "substantive point," maybe you should read my f*cking words. I said "There was no legal recognition of collective organization to speak of." That is absolutely true. The fact that these things existed doesn't mean there was any legal category for them. People just did stuff. Indeed, there's a substantial body of archaic trust law which is devoted entirely to the problems with that, i.e., individuals holding title to property for the benefit of a group because the group didn't have any legal existence. I say again, for most of human history, organizations didn't own property in their own names, contract in their own names, or litigate in their own names.

And maybe let's look at this one:

it might just theoretically be possible to--to draw some meaningful legal distinctions between the Firefighters Local and Wal-Mart.

Could well be. But any such distinctions aren't part of the law of corporations. These distinctions are completely independent of any aspect of the various organizations corporate existence. In short: even if there is a difference between Wal-Mart and the AFL-CIO it isn't in the area of corporate law. Just like insurance companies and restaurants are subject to different kinds of regulation based on their activities, so are labor unions and megastores, but in neither case does the distinction have anything whatsoever to do with incorporation.

I went back and read my posts in this thread, and yeah, that's been what I've been saying the whole time. So you know what? I should have stuck to my original position of refusing to get into this with you. Again. Talking corporate law and history with you is f*cking useless. I'm out.
posted by valkyryn at 9:16 AM on July 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Utne Reader: The Past and Future of American Labor Workers
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:02 AM on July 4, 2012


Bill Moyers Essay: The Cowardly Lions of ‘Free Speech’. Bill opens this week’s show by explaining how last week’s Supreme Court decision not to reconsider Citizens United exposes the hoax that Citizens United was ever about “free” speech. In reality, Bill says, it’s about carpet bombing elections “with all the tonnage your rich paymasters want to buy.”
posted by homunculus at 3:25 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


homunculus:

That Bill Moyers video should be required viewing. For only the billionth time in his career, Mr. Moyers hits the nail on the head.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:01 AM on July 10, 2012


Counterpunch: Are you now, or have you ever been, an anti-Labor Leftist?
No one will commit to demanding endeavors like building a union and a labor movement unless principles worth fighting for underlie them. What are labor’s principles? What will leaders fight for, with every weapon at their disposal? If anyone can tell me, please do. Our labor leaders won’t wage war for national healthcare, the expansion of social security, or reform of our horrendous labor laws. The teachers’ unions won’t even go to the wall to end the insane testing of our children and the gutting of our public schools. Endless concessions, two-tier wage agreements, costly turf wars, limited internal democracy, little or no member education, labor-management cooperation, all of these actions (or inactions), engaged in by most of our unions, are poor excuses for principles. Not many workers are going to go all-out to win them.

Dissent magazine: Gitagate - Two Years After
Amnesty International is the world’s biggest human rights organization. Its prestige is enormous and its budget is larger than the budgets of some states. So it matters a lot which organizations Amnesty promotes as its partners; if they are not in fact reliable human rights groups, but pro-jihadi or other armed struggle organizations, not only Amnesty’s reputation but the moral authority of the entire human rights movement is on the line. For this reason, the story of Gita Sahgal’s 2010 battle with the leadership of Amnesty International—or Gitagate, as it was called around AI’s London office—should be better known outside the UK.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:51 AM on July 10, 2012


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