No union

Workers are expendable.

Why did eight workers at a Kentucky candle factory and six workers at an Illinois Amazon warehouse die this week? They were killed when a powerful tornado destroyed their workplaces, but it wasn’t really the storm that killed them, any more than a sailor forced to walk the plank is killed only by the waves. They were not random victims. They were sacrificed. We here in the most advanced nation on earth offered them up to the gods that we actually worship.

Why did they die? They died because they were inside their workplaces in the path of the storm. They died because they did not leave work before disaster struck. And they did not leave work because they were allegedly ordered not to, by their bosses. The factory workers in Kentucky say that managers threatened to fire them if they left. Amazon workers say that they were told not to leave in advance of the storm. They also say that lack of adequate safety procedures is par for the course at Amazon, where the employee handbook notifies workers that they can be fired for leaving without “permission”.

And why is that? Because the workers have no union. The bosses have seen to it.

None of them had a union to empower them to stand up to a boss who demanded that they do something that put them in danger. None of them had a union to give them the collective ability to require their employers to value their lives. Unions are the only – the only – reason industries from construction to coal mining are far safer today than they were a century ago.

And why didn’t the Amazon workers and the candle factory workers have a union?

They didn’t have unions because employers believe that unions will cost them money, and therefore all of corporate America and much of our political structure has conspired for many decades to make it extremely hard for regular working people to form and maintain unions. Amazon, in particular, goes to great lengths to fight unionization everywhere. It spies on workers; it hires expensive anti-union consultants; it violates labor law; it lies to its workers and tries to scare them.

As corporations did with impunity until some new laws and agencies emerged from the New Deal. Reagan and his successors reversed all that.

This is the American system as we like it. As a society, we prefer a world in which a large number of people live paycheck-to-paycheck and will therefore take jobs as “independent contractors” with few rights and little safety and no union and low wages. We want a world in which people are so afraid of losing their jobs that they will quite literally ride out a tornado for less than $20 an hour, because the alternative is poverty. This is the social arrangement that allows us to have lots of cheap stuff, fast.

Maybe the workers should try identifying as bosses.

7 Responses to “No union”