Of geese and ganders

In the leadup to yesterday's vote on The Employee Free Choice Act, America was able to see first hand the resonance of of the role of organised labour in the modern economy. While the regular partisans of opinion journalism lined up behind predictable lines, straight news coverage of this bill was almost non-existent. In fact, reading coverage of the bill could pretty much reveal the editorial views of the bureau in question. To be as clear as possible, here is what the bill does:

  • reinstates a "card check" procedure for voting on a union,
  • provides for third-party mediation and arbitration for first time union contracts and
  • makes the penalties for violations for NLRB sufficiently punitive to deter violations

As always, there are the real reasons that people oppose and support this bill, and the stated. The right wing, when they are being honest, will admit that the problem with this bill is primarily that it makes it easier for unions to come into being, expand and organise, and that they believe unions to be an objectively bad thing. Such is the position of Republicans like Phil Kerpen, Policy Director at Americans for Prosperity. Numerous Republicans, speaking off the record, have confirmed that this is their primary objection to the legislation. Similarly, no Democrat will deny that passing this legislation will ensure the gratitude of organised labour, a vital part of the Democratic coalition, and a partner whose numbers have been in sharp decline over the last several years. Passing this legislation will ensure the gratitude of blue collar workers, a swing demographic in this country and one whose defection relegated the Democrats vulnerable for years, for election cycles to come. These are the real reasons why partisans on both sides like the bill.

What is publicly argued, though, is quite different. Even Kerpen, normally a blunt and honest proponent of his beliefs, is unable to refrain from diversionary argument. In his 23 February, 2007, NRO column, Kerpen writes that his primary concern is that the legislation would demolish secret ballot processes and force workers into coercion and intimidation scenarios where burly thugs terrorise them at their homes to vote along with the boss. For any of us familiar with American history, it's easy to imagine. Visions of The Union League Club's machine politics come to mind.

It is, unfortunately for Kerpen, in no way based in fact, but let us ignore that for a minute. Prominently missing from his analysis of the situation is the fact that this very system of public voting already exists in the corporate world. Currently, shareholders are able to tracked down and pressured into signing proxies for voting by larger shareholders. In fact, it is quite probable that Kerpen would come out strongly in favour of this, as it allows for smaller stakeholders to easily communicate and entrust their staes to larger, more experienced stakeholders with more to lose. He would also probably laud it as a means to streamline internal communications and allows the company to move more quickly and responsively. Of course, he could always be consistent by next authoring an op-ed arguing that proxies disempower smaller stakeholders by allowing larger stakeholders to bully them and make their voices meaningless in a plurality and majority rule environment, but that is not likely.

As former Secretary of Labour Robert Reich argues, the workplace is not analogous to a democracy. In a democracy and government, only under very rare conditions can participation be ceased. The workplace, however, is an entirely different circumstance. The simple fact that people can quit or be fired changes the whole set of power relationships, and requires that people be given a straight up or down vote.

 

Exactly who’s got the problem?

One of the most annoying trends in political reporting is the pervasive idea that the Democratic Party is in shambles, is unable to connect to a significant base of people, has to desperately scramble to get votes by trickery, exhortation, hyperbolic appeals to factions in society who don't share the values or beliefs of the American mainstream and that if they win elections, it's due to Republican incompetence. The Republican Party, on the other hand, is a well oiled machine, a juggernaut that rolls through the figurative streets unimpeded and destroying anything that may get in its way. Their votes are won by deliberate, careful consideration of several factors, and their voters are brought to the polls by disciplined and dedicated volunteers who inspire patriotic zeal in the American populace. Anyone who thinks that there is some kind of systemic bias in favour of the Democrats in the media should bother reading a newspaper some time, or watching a television, and seeing just how many "Dems In Disarray!" stories there really are. Even in light of the November elections, a resounding defeat for the Republican Party, and in light of the largely sucessful Democratic administration of the House of Representatives and Senate, the starting point of almost all political horserace coverage is that the Democrats, by virtue of being Democrats, are at a structural disadvantage and that the Republicans, by virtue of being Republicans, will shortly resume their natural places as the rulers of the playground. To put it bluntly, it's as if political reporters imagine elections to be a single shot contest, and that the Democrats are a handicapped chimpanzee, while the Republicans are Michael Jordan. Sure, it's possible that Jordan will miss once, and that the chimp is going to make a shot, but don't bet your retirement on it.

It is in light of years of consuming this kind of political reporting that I find this article by Bill Scher to be particularly refreshing. For once, the script has been flipped, and now it's Republicans who have to explain why it is that they do so badly amongst certain demographics. Scher is trying to make a serious point, and in doing so, has illustrated a systemic failure of political reporting. Just about anyoen with access to a newspaper or the internet since 2004 has heard about the "God Gap" between the two parties. To riff from Scher, how about we hear about what we can jokingly call the "Secular Separation" between the Democrats and the Republicans? Amongst people who don't frequent their places of worship more than once a week, the Republicans have been bleeding votes for years now. If we take the spokesmen of their largest coalition partner at their word, this country continues to slide into irreligious sin. Does this mean that ceteris paribus, the GOP are doomed to electoral irrelevance? Perhaps it won't be long before we see J.C. Watts on Fox News describing what tactics the GOP will be using to appeal to the all important "Secular Citizen."