Thomas Frank, in today’s Wall Street Journal, charges that opposition to card check legislation manifests “great, yawning” hypocrisy:
What offends, rather, is the threat that card check poses to democracy itself. This is not a battle over something low and ugly like money. This is a fight for principle, for the American Way. It is about the sacredness of the secret ballot, about every individual’s right to express him or herself freely in elections at work.
Actually, those seem like pretty important considerations to me. The threat of union intimidation is very real; hasn’t Frank seen On the Waterfront? But he has what he evidently considers a devastating counterargument:
But why stop there? The business community has opportunities every day to stand up for a “democratic workplace.” Why don’t the Chamber’s member companies just let their workers vote whenever management wants to increase the deductible on their health insurance? Why doesn’t the Employee Freedom Action Committee run indignant TV commercials every time a company moves a factory overseas without first consulting its work force? Where’s the right to vote on the job when companies decide — as they do year after year — to hold the line on wages?
Let’s extend this to voting in general. We think it’s important to democracy that people be able to cast a secret ballot. Countries in which that’s impossible have elections in which the ruling party wins 98% of the vote. It’s no argument at all against that to observe that people aren’t allowed to elect Supreme Court Justices or Secretaries of State. There’s no hypocrisy in favoring secret ballots in elections but maintaining that some matters are not proper matters for voters to decide.
Ah, but employers intimidate and coerce people too, Frank charges.
Nor do most big employers really have anything against intimidation and coercion during elections. These are the everyday tools of what is politely called “union avoidance,” and companies routinely use them when their employees try to organize: Threats to move the operation abroad if the union wins the election; compulsory meetings to listen to anti-union propaganda; termination for select pro-union employees.
Only the last of these counts as coercion in my book.
These practices are so well known that they have been the subject of reports by Human Rights Watch.
Oooh! That’s the group that rails against capital punishment, corporal punishment in schools, and complains that illegal immigrants have a right to government-funded health care and abortions. I’m convinced!
They have been scrutinized by academics and quantified with scientific precision, most notably in a 2000 study written by Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University and submitted to the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission.
So it’s not peer-reviewed. Not many of her publications are.
But it’s more than the hypocrisy that should concern us, and it’s even more than the ongoing violation of people’s rights, human or civil. The destruction of the labor movement by tactics like these is a big part of the reason why wage-earners no longer rise as the economy grows, and why some day soon we will speak of the great middle-class nation in the past tense.
This is a common meme on the left–one which relies, as far as I can see, on the use of misleading statistics, and which is plainly contradicted by most people’s everyday experiences. I have no doubt that, in Manhattan, the middle class is disappearing. It can’t afford to live there. But how does Frank explain the vast, rapidly growing suburbs of Albuquerque, Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Raleigh, and Tucson? How does he explain that the size of the average house is now about 2500 square feet? Much of the country is a sea of abounding affluence. If the middle class is disappearing there, it’s because they’re moving up.