By: Marcus Perriello | Our Voice Contributor
Everyone knows about the infamous Right-To-Work laws that exist in various states across the US. But many are still divided over their official purpose. In either case, the result of these laws has been the same: The complete and utter destruction of working class bargaining power through the criminalization of unions. While unions are not criminal entities under State or Federal law, they are effectively criminal entities under various Corporate laws, depending on the corporation in question.
While such corporate laws do conflict with federal laws regarding this issue, a corporation’s private property status prevents it from having to abide by the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause; a bit like the difference between being allowed to swear in public, and whether or not swearing is permitted in a private residence. What this artificial paradigm has done is effectively criminalize workers’ ability to negotiate for a bigger share of a company’s profits, leaving corporate shareholders and CEOs free to manipulate the distribution of the company profits as they see fit, and the workers having no choice but to live with the decisions made at the top. This is the real tyranny that continues to hold America back and puts workers’ lives in the hands of their employers.
This is a relationship where the lives of workers are not their own, but instead are just more dispensable tools in the corporate toolbox that can be used and thrown away when the Corporate board no longer sees retention of said workers as being profitable. When the critics of Capitalism talk about people being reduced to numbers, this is what they mean.
A human being is not viewed as a living, breathing organism with nutritional and material needs under Capitalism. Human beings under this system are seen as just cogs in the machine meant to contribute to increasing the profits of the Capitalist. The Capitalist can conveniently dispose of a worker without regard to that worker’s well-being once he/she believes the expense of that worker outweighs the profits that can be extracted from him/her.
This is the relationship that workers sign a contract for, the set of circumstances that they must agree to enter into if they wish to have any chance at all of having their needs met. While most people living under Capitalism may view this as normal, it is in reality a cruel and abusive form of coercion.
When an employer says “Your ass belongs to me”, that’s not an exaggeration. That contract that workers are made to sign upon being hired basically is a document that says you choose to waive all your legal rights as a worker – even in some cases as a citizen – and that you submit to becoming the “property” of the company you’re seeking to work for. It’s actually a carryover from the old days of Feudalism, where vassals and serfs had to swear an oath to their King, declaring their own subjectivity and status as the “property” of the King.
Once this contract is signed and made official, workers have none of the rights they have outside the workplace. In some cases, that waiver of rights extends beyond the workplace, as some employers reserve the right to dictate nearly every aspect of a worker’s life. Employers that monitor an employee’s activities such as their internet searches, blogs, online groups, even criminal history, can all be used against the employee at any time of the employer’s choosing and the worker literally has no legal recourse because of the systemic rigging of the nation’s Corporate and Labor laws in favor of corporate interests.
There are two historic Supreme Court cases that most heavily impacted the employer-employee relationship in the workplace. There was Lochner v. New York (1905), and West Coast Hotel Company v. Parrish (1937). These two landmark court cases marked the beginning and the end of what became known as The Lochner Era; a period in US history where workers were literally at the mercy of employers and were basically treated as slaves.
For some, this was the most prosperous age in American history because the concentration of wealth and power during this time represents everything they associate with The American Dream. For most people, this period represented an ideology and a series of cruel and inhumane practices that should never be allowed to happen again. Both of these court cases had their own ripple effect on the rest of the country as far as the power dynamic between employers and employees.
In the case of Lochner v. New York, the court’s decision emboldened employers to flex their muscles and operate with impunity as they used and abused their employees at their leisure. Due to the unprecedented wealth and income inequality at the time, this led to the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of the wealthy few (sound familiar?), and this made it next-to-impossible for abused workers to come forward, as the country was going through a Gilded Age, commonly known as “The Roaring 20s.”
As a result of this 1905 court ruling, things continued to fall apart for average people until the bubble finally burst on October 29, 1929. After 24 years of deregulation, and a string of Republican presidencies, the Stock Market crashed and led to what became The Great Depression (1929 – 1941). It was only after the attack on Pearl Harbor, in combination with The New Deal, that the country was able to finally work its way out of the Depression. Once Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected in 1932, the country had a grassroots movement the likes of which had not been seen since. Socialists, Communists, Labor leaders and Unions all working together to take down the very people and their institutions that had stripped the people of all that made them human.
The threat of death was ultimately what led FDR to bring the people’s case to his fellow plutocrats and made it clear that in the end, it was going to be either their wealth and power, or their heads through a guillotine. The Rich and Powerful grudgingly obliged and fortune finally smiled upon the average American. A period of prosperity for the average American known as the Golden Age of Economic Expansion (1945 – 1973) was an anomaly; a blip in the radar of an otherwise-unstable Capitalist system.
The most popular public policies like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the Minimum Wage, the 40-hour work week, the pension program, all made official through The New Deal. Subsequently, the Rich and Powerful spent the proceeding years from the time of FDR’s death in 1945 to the present working to undo everything that had been accomplished in The New Deal. And they have succeeded, admirably.
The conditions Americans live in today are in fact worse than what they had experienced during the Gilded Age of the 1920s. While the more popular public programs are still in effect, the Rich and Powerful are still working to get rid of them and force the American people back into subjugation. The sad part is that the Public is nowhere near as organized, motivated and determined as those working class coalitions of the 1930s were.
For the Rich and Powerful, Politics is a way of life and they use it to their full advantage by systemically placing themselves in positions where they can ascend to the top echelons of power on Wall Street and in Washington. This is not a strategy that working class Americans have tried to adopt. Now they are seeing their ability to live disappear before their very eyes as the Rich and Powerful continue to siphon away the means by which the people could mount a proper offensive and take power back. At this point, the working class public has almost nothing substantial with which to fight back against The Establishment. The Rich and Corporations are holding all the aces.
But what happens when the working class changes the game?
What if the working class were to stop trying to replace the pieces on the board, and simply replace the board? This is where using the two court rulings comes into play. The court ruled in the case of Lochner v. New York that basically any ruling in favor of the employee constituted unconstitutional interference from the State with a company’s “Right-To-Contract.”
This left employees wide open for acts of extortion, coercion and blackmail from employers. But under WCHC v. Parrish, the court ruled that employers had to take proper responsibility for the workers in their company because those workers were human beings and not property.
In both cases, and in the case of Right-To-Work laws, there is a loophole in the language that never gets discussed: If employers have a Right-To-Contract, by extension, so too do the workers. We see the use of contracts from employers as normal and accepted. But what if workers started approaching employers from the same angle, with their own contracts for the employer to sign?
Here’s where things will get dicey because this initiative would effectively be an attempt to flip the power dynamics of the workplace relationship. Power concedes nothing without a fight, and that’s a reality that working class Americans need to come to terms with if they want to be able to properly take back the power they once held close.
Part of how this can be done is with a cultural initiative to train workers in the art of making and negotiating contracts. This can be done both on the individual level, and on a group-oriented basis. Instead of having to sign contracts that surrender one’s rights and declares a worker as an employer’s property, workers can begin coming to employers and make it understood that it isn’t the worker who needs the employer, it’s the employer who needs the worker.
So, instead of agreeing to the terms “I will make money for you”, the understanding can be reciprocated with,”If you want my labor services to increase your profits, you will need to adhere to my terms and conditions. Otherwise, you won’t be able to make any profits at all and you’ll be out of business.” Not only is this a tactic of reverse psychology being employed, it’s also a stone cold fact. Without a healthy, thriving working class that has money to burn, the potential consumer base is minimized and that’s not good for business.
This kind of movement would not get very far, at first, as employers would almost certainly laugh job applicants right out of the interview. If these terms and conditions were stated as part of a resume or cover letter, they wouldn’t even be given consideration. But obtaining employment is not the object of this initiative. The object is to reverse the understanding of the working relationship, making it crystal clear that it is workers who need to be calling the shots and not the employers.
At a time when tens of millions of workers are out of work and businesses are either being consumed by larger competitors or closing permanently, realistically the working class has almost nothing left to lose. By adopting this philosophy and these methods, the working class can begin to take the economy back and potentially create a new one that is dominated by workers rather than wealthy employers and shareholders; one that is fertile breeding ground for worker co-ops and smaller businesses.
In order to create a more Socialist economy where the workers are the ones in charge, workers have to start recognizing the only way to take back power is by force, and this begins with recognizing that power belongs to the workers in the first place. Using the Right-To-Contract in this way starts shifting the social dynamic of the economy and it’s another way of moving in the direction of a general strike as employers continue to refuse to meet the demands of the working class.
Even though certain practices for workers like forming or joining unions and having union representation negotiate with employers is protected by federal law, employers often use State laws to muddy the waters and confuse people who are otherwise legally illiterate. This keeps working class people afraid to take employers on directly and keeps them thinking that they have no real power.
This Right-To-Contract initiative changes all of that.
All it takes is one small step of a worker drawing up his/her own contract, showing up to a job interview, and putting that contract front and center for the employer to read and sign. Otherwise, the worker can use the tools at their disposal, like social media, to reveal to the world just how selfish and callous said employer truly is and they can go so far as to organize a boycott of the employer.
This is how working class people can take their power back, and without the use of the Government. In addition to going after unscrupulous employers in this way, workers can also use this to go after politicians who side with employers and against workers. They can take this social contract to their local representatives and governors and make a similar case to them: “Either you do as we demand, or we will make certain your political career dies in the next election.”
This can be done not just by refusing to vote for the politician(s) in question, but by going after their corporate donors with boycotts, smear campaigns, public shaming, protests etc. Hit them where it hurts: Their bank accounts.