“Employee Free Choice Act”: A Weapon to Derail the Class Struggle
The bourgeoisie has introduced the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) in the last three sessions of Congress over the last five years, even while Bush was still president and before Obama was even nominated. In 2007 it passed in the House of Representatives 241 to 185, but in the Senate it failed to get the 60 votes necessary to shutdown debate and have a final vote. However, it did have a majority, or 51 senators who supported it. It is very likely that it will pass now.
So, what really is the EFCA? What will it do? And, most importantly, why is it being enacted by the bourgeoisie now? The EFCA will make it easier for unions to organize workers, boost their membership, and re-establish their credibility. The unions will more easily organize workers because the EFCA will bypass the current requirement of holding a collective bargaining electing after 30% of workers in a bargaining unit express willingness to become unionized. Over the past 30 years, due to policies in place during both Republican and Democratic administrations, it was often the case that in the period leading up to the collective bargaining election, employers would harass workers and even fire pro-union activists, making it increasingly difficult for unions to win the right to represent workers. EFCA will abolish the need for elections and will grant bargaining rights to unions simply on the basis that a majority of the workers have signed authorization cards. The law will impose stiff penalties against ‘unfair' tactics by management, such as harassment, ‘illegal' firings, etc. Additionally, EFCA will make sure that the first union contract is in place within a year of union recognition. In recent years, more than 35% of the time, management resisted negotiations and it would take more than two years for unions to get their first contract. The EFCA law mandates the use of mediation if negotiations do not progress quickly and requires arbitration if mediation doesn't quickly result in an agreement. Guaranteeing a contract within a year also will strengthen the credibility of the union and minimize the risk to the bourgeois order that angry workers might take matters in their own hands and go out on wildcat strikes, an action that can certainly promote and accelerate the development of class consciousness, which is what frightens the ruling class the most.
The deepening economic crisis requires that the bourgeoisie refurbish its trade union apparatus. Millions of workers are hurting because of job losses, or, when they are ‘lucky' enough to still have their jobs, they experience pressure from a tremendous erosion of benefits, a bleak and uncertain future, and even a scaling back of wages themselves. Even if at the immediate level workers' reaction to the economic situation may be more one of fright and disorientation, in the longer term this is creating the conditions for a renewal of class combat and militancy. Obviously, the ruling class must try to contain the working class' discontent, and, above all, it has to try and dampen the development of class consciousness. The trade unions have long been the central tool used by the ruling class to control the working class, to maintain working class discipline and sabotage the class struggle. Historically, because class struggles for economic demands inherently have the potential to lead to political confrontations with the state, the bourgeoisie has tried to divert struggles away from the defense of economic demands, either towards struggles for the creation of unions, or to defend existing unions. For example, in the 1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression, the bourgeoisie successfully diverted the struggles for economic demands towards unionization, as they did in the sitdown strikes in the auto industry. More recently in the 1980s and 1990s economic struggle was diverted toward the defense of the unions, against union busting. Even though workers would suffer deterioration in their wages, benefits and working conditions, the unions would always declare a victory celebration because at least they had "beat back" union busting.
Today, as the attacks against the working class intensify in the worst economic crisis ever, even worse than the 1930's, the bourgeoisie is setting the stage preventively to divert the class struggle again toward unionization campaigns. The EFCA is then a recognition that things went too far in weakening this important tool of the bourgeoisie, and the more intelligent sectors of the ruling class understand the necessity to revamp the union mystification after decades of ‘union busting', and are supporting EFCA.
The strengthening of the union mystification will not only help the bourgeoisie in controlling older workers already on the job, but it will put them in position to control the new generations of workers, as they enter the work force. This sector of the working class is particularly brutally attacked, bearing the brunt of the erosion of benefits, as demonstrated by the creation of new ‘tiers' with diminished benefits and the like for new workers, and a bleak perspective for their future. The bourgeoisie understands the necessity to occupy this social terrain with reformist and pro-union ideas before communist ideas and organizations can influence it.
Without the unions, the bourgeoisie cannot so easily derail working class discontent and short-circuit the development of class consciousness. Failing to place the unions in the midst of the workers will leave workers the opportunity to autonomously organize on their own class terrain and with itheir own methods and means to struggle, i.e. the general assemblies and the extension of the struggle. EFCA is the bourgeoisie's attempt at controlling and derailing the future struggles of the working class, and it has to be denounced as such. Against the attempts of the bourgeoisie to break our militancy and obfuscate our consciousness, the working class need to self-organize by creating wide open assemblies where all workers can participate and discuss, by electing revocable delegates with mandates to the assemblies, by developing its class solidarity, and by extending its struggles to all workers across categories.