Repeal Taft-Hartley (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

Assuming that the US Presidential election is between Trump and Clinton (or, for that matter, Sanders) the voting bloc that’s most obviously up for grabs is that of working-class whites[^1]. Relative to expectations, working class whites have done worse under neoliberalism/market liberalism than almost any other group in the population. So, they ought to be more solid than ever against the right. But it’s easy for tribalists like Trump to blame migrants and minorities for the losses that working class whites have suffered.

What’s needed to turn this around, I think, is something, in Trump’s words “yuge”. My suggestion is repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act. Way back in 1948, Taft-Hartley prefigured anti-union laws that were passed throughout the English-speaking world[^2] from the 1970s and have spread even further since then. Its repeal would, at a minimum, be a huge symbolic step.

Would it be more than symbolic? The case for mere symbolism was presented (a little surprisingly for me) by Doug Macarey in Counterpunch

Yes, without Taft-Hartley there would be more national membership drives, more people being allowed to join unions, all of which would be a salutary, democratic effect of repeal, one that would benefit working people. But, arguably, the country is too “grown-up,” too cynical and world weary, to engage in radical industrial actions such as secondary strikes and boycotts, even if they were made legal.

With so many workers now invested in the stock market, and union expectations and identity having been profoundly warped over the last half-century, it would be hard to find a critical mass willing to engage in the more radical actions made available by repeal of Taft-Hartley.

This argument, presented in 2008, looks hopelessly dated now. Whatever could be said of the American electorate, and particularly the working class, no one today could argue that they are too “grown-up” to consider radical ideas. The question now is, what kind of radicalism they will embrace.

[^1]: This is a much abused term. Since class isn’t easily observable, it’s commonly used to refer to white people without a college degree, a group that includes Paris Hilton and Bill Gates. A further problem is that, regardless of education, Southern whites vote as an ethnic bloc, having switched their allegiance from Democrats to Republicans over the past 50 years or so. But, if we confine attention to non-Southern whites who work for a living at low or moderate wages, we still have a large group, and one whose votes can’t be taken for granted.
[^2]: I regularly get objections to commenting as a foreigner on US politics. But it ought to be obvious that the outcome of this election matters just as much to residents of client states like Australia as to US citizens who have a vote.

29 thoughts on “Repeal Taft-Hartley (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

  1. @hc
    Yes, and yet the push is still on to increase the power of business. IBM has Indian programmers here on 457 visas. One slip and they go back to India. They aren’t paid at the rates applicable to IBM’s Australian employees. And many local IBM programmers haven’t had even a nominal pay increase in years.

    We all love cheap prices, but it seems to me that they cost some of us too much.

  2. Unions are dead in the USA and a Republican Congress has no plans to bring them back.

    Given that Trump is a slightly moderate Republican on many economic policies including trade but married to rancid nationalism and complete and total ignorance of everything including what he said 5 minutes ago, Clinton will prefer to camp over the middle ground because Trump has abandoned the independents but will appeal to blue dog Democrats.

    #NeverTrump I would prefer to vote for Hillary Clinton while she was in a jail cell rather than Donald Trump

  3. @Jim Rose

    Only workers and dispossessed can bring unions back in the USA and then not easily. It would be a tough campaign with many heads broken.

    Phantom say: “When many people have starving bellies, many people risk broken heads.”

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