Unions were the driving force in creating and preserving the American middle class during the times of greatest prosperity. The basic concept underlying a union is that workers can achieve more for each individual through collective action than through individual action. Individual members organize and select representatives who negotiate on behalf of the whole. Solidarity is the key source of strength. A clenched fist does more damage than five fingers separately.
Not coincidentally, corporations are built upon this same principle of solidarity. Corporations essentially provide centralized organizational structure for capital. When individual investors organize their capital into a corporation, they can achieve far greater return than could the members using their wealth separately. Moreover, corporations have the will to pursue profit purely and without conscience; incorporation frees the owners from their own individual morality. With capital organized into powerful corporations, the organization of labor into unions once provided the necessary counter punch.
But what would happen if the corporations found a way to copy the basic strategy of the unions? What would happen if corporations found a way to unionize, to transform from individual fists into one giant hammer that could crush anything that might dare oppose it?
As any student of American history will tell you, this has happened before. Many corporations have discovered that they could earn higher profits through collusion than they could through competition. Collusion provides a method to circumvent capitalism: you could increase the return on your investment not by making a better product more efficiently, but by agreeing with your competitor to fix prices. Trusts steal from the public by imposing prices higher than the market would otherwise demand. In the early twentieth century, after generations of struggle, the development of antitrust law helped curb these abuses and pave the way for a period of prosperity.
The political revolution we're witnessing now in America, which has been growing since the 1970s and 80s, is built on a new and even more dangerous form of corporate collusion. Just as robber barons figured out that they could form a trust to pursue their common interests, today's wealthiest corporations and individuals invented new ways to pursue their interests collectively. Essentially, the corporations and their wealthiest owners have found out that they could form a national union to represent their interests and entrench their power.
The representatives of this union are the lobbyists on K-Street and the members of the Republican Party. Its organizational structure is ever evolving and gaining strength: the American Legislative Exchange Council and Grover Norquist controlling Congress with Frank Luntz and Fox News spreading propaganda on the ground. In 2010, the Supreme Court unleashed the full power of the union thugs for the first time. The results have been catastrophic: the 2010 Republican takeover, the Wisconsin recall, and soon the loss of the presidency and Senate in 2012. After the fingers formed into a clenched fist, Anthony Kennedy provided them with brass knuckles and spikes.
Their new brand of collusion is every bit as damaging as price fixing, and it should be every bit as illegal. The Republican corporate unionization undermines capitalism at every step. There is no need to make higher profits by increasing your revenues. Simply pay your way to a regulatory code that will reduce your costs by putting your employees and customers at risk. Buy subsidies and loopholes that help you only stamp out your competitors. Write yourself a tax code that will increase the percentage of your investment returns. Own a few judges whose role is to limit your liability for damages you cause. The reality is that these so-called capitalists aren't skilled enough to rely on free market forces to increase their profits. But they do have enough wealth that they can buy the whole market and rewrite the rules in their own favor.
Republicans say that they hate unions because they are a threat to liberty. It is true that unions are a powerful force, and all powerful forces can be a threat to liberty. But they seize upon a kernel of truth while ignoring its necessary broader implications. In reality, unions and corporations (and political parties) are all simply organizational structures. Unions are literally labor corporations, just as corporations are unions for capital. A priori, there is no reason why one should be deemed a threat to liberty while the other is deemed necessary for liberty.
The reality is that the Republican party and its backers are the most powerful union in America. Republican lawmakers are the union representatives for only the wealthiest individuals and corporations. The strength of both corporations and of the Republican party is predicated upon the very philosophy behind unions. In the end, one must conclude that it is not liberty they love and unions they hate, but wealth that they love and laborers that they hate.
Over the past few weeks, I've rewatched Ridley Scott's classic, the original Alien a few times. Different stations have been airing the original in anticipation of the release of Prometheus (which I have not seen). My respect for the 1979 original has grown immensely (although I've always thought that Scott's Blade Runner was the more beautiful and meaningful film).
The subtext of Alien has been scrutinized and analyzed from every angle over the years. When you create a captivating image that reflects some fundamental truth about our reality, it can be applied to almost anything, regardless of the original author's intentions. Although Alien is a film that relies more upon sight and sound than on dialogue, the film contains at least one scene with a truly great exchange. (Spoilers below)
ASH: Priority One. All other priorities rescinded.Good luck finding a scene from any other film that illustrates so perfectly the current plight of the American people. Three beings collaborate here to pursue their interests at the expense of the lives of the wage earners (Ripley, Parker, and Lambert). The scene highlights the cooperation between these similar organisms whose structural perfection is matched only by their hostility: the alien, the robot, and the corporation. No conscience, no morality. All other priorities rescinded.
PARKER: The damn company. What about our lives, you son of a bitch?
ASH: I repeat, all other priorities are rescinded.
RIPLEY: How do we kill it Ash? There's gotta be a way of killing it. How? How do we do it?
ASH: You can't.
PARKER: That's bullshit.
ASH: You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.
LAMBERT: You admire it.
ASH: I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality. ... I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies.
The tragic flaw of President Obama's first term has been his inability to understand what he is up against. Obama believed that his Republican opponents were human beings with conscience, who would do the right thing for the American people when given the chance. It is possible that he still believes it. But we know better. We are up against a pure being.
Ripley's question is the important one.
How do we kill it?