Actual Enforcement Of Actual Laws Is It Possible

Dave Johnson

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is back to work, and for the first time in years has started doing its job. This is a shock to anti-government corporate conservatives, and teaches a lesson about just why they are anti-government. A functioning government in a democracy protects the interests of citizens and employees and keeps wealthy and powerful interests from holding the rest of us hostage and just taking what they want.

The background: The NLRB has started to come back to life. It is engaging in legal action against Boeing and is threatening to sue Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah for anti-union activities. It has been a very long time since the NLRB was staffed up, willing and able to do its job protecting working people. Boeing is opening an assembly line in anti-union North Carolina, publicly and repeatedly saying they are doing so because of union efforts to gain raises and benefits as assembly plants in Washington State. Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah have passed anti-union laws that are in conflict with the country’s laws that spell out labor rights.

The law: Retaliating against workers for union activities is against the law. It is illegal to threaten workers in order to avoid a strike. It is illegal to fire or intimidate employees for organizing a union.

It has been so long since this agency did its job that most of us — especially corporate conservatives — took it for granted that laws to protect workers from anti-union activities had just somehow gone away.

Why did NLRB file to enforce the law in the case of Boeing? The NLRB’s acting general counsel Lafe Solomon was interviewed by the NY Times last month, saying it was a simple matter of enforcing the law, given the evidence,

Mr. Solomon, who has worked for board members of both parties, said this case was straightforward: Boeing had retaliated against workers for exercising their federally protected right to strike. “They had a consistent message that they were doing this to punish their employees for having struck and having the power to strike in the future,” he said. “I can’t not issue a complaint in the face of such evidence.”

Given the evidence — Boeing executives publicly said they were opening the assembly line in North Carolina in retaliation against the union, and to intimidate the union — the now-functioning NLRB had no choice but to follow the law and take action against Boeing.

Mr. Solomon has also released this statement,

“… there is nothing remarkable or unprecedented about the complaint issued against the Boeing Company… The complaint involves matters of fact and law that are not unique to this case, and it was issued only after a thorough investigation in the field, a further careful review by our attorneys in Washington … Only then did I authorize the complaint alleging that certain statements and decisions by Boeing officials were discriminatory under our statute.”

Who Is The Boss?

But that’s only the law, and in recent years rule of law has been a forgotten, quaint concept when it comes to companies vs labor rights. Conservatives just can’t believe that the government would DARE tell businesses they have to follow the law! So they are not happy, and is trying to explain to government just who the boss is:

Democracy provides workers with safety protections and fair wages. We fought so hard to build and maintain this democratic society so that We, the People could share the benefits. We passed laws allowing union organizing, as a balance to the immense power of corporations and wealth. We passed laws prohibiting companies from telling workers, “Work for what we give you or don’t eat.”

And for a time this built our prosperity. But we let the protections slip, and allowed companies to cross borders to escape the protections democracy offers — to non-democratic countries like China where workers have few rights, where pay is low, environmental protections practically non-existent. Companies locating manufacturing in places like have huge cost advantages over companies located in democracies that respect and protect the rights of citizens.

That is a worldview with We, the People as boss in this country. But the Wall Street Journal explains who they think the boss is supposed to be,

“Boeing management did what it judged to be best for its shareholders and customers and looked elsewhere. … As Boeing chief Jim McNerney noted on a conference call at the time, the company couldn’t have “strikes happening every three to four years.” and calls Boeing’s threats against unions a “reasonable business decision.”

Two Worldviews: Democracy and Plutocracy

There are two contrasting worldviews at work here: democracy and plutocracy.

One side of this talks about the country as being here for all of us, equally, with all of us having a duty to watch out for and protect each other. This is the country of democracy and citizens with rights and dignity. This happens to be the America that was founded with a Constitution that begins, “We, the People.”

The other side sees the only legitimate government as those with the power and wealth, where regular people are “the help” who have to be kept in line, under control, made to behave, made to work for what they can get. Government is understood by these forces as an impediment to taking whatever they want, from whomever they want to take it. This is the side that uses money and lots and lots and lots of propaganda to get what it wants.

The NLRB enforcement is late and little, considering how far things have been moved and how bad things have gotten. But it is a beginning, and it is solidly on the side of working people. Government and law exist to protect us, and it is good to see some functioning government and law-enforcement again.

Did someone say law enforcement? Hey, let’s talk about Wall Street and those banks…

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