Monday, January 26, 2009

A labor lawyer's lot is not a happy one

If Tom Geoghegan (pronounced Gaygun; he's Irish) wins his race for Rahm Emmanuel's Chicago Congressional seat, he'll get to Washington in time to vote on the Employee Free Choice Act. That would be fitting indeed for a guy who has worked most of his professional life as a lawyer for distressed labor unions and their members -- and written about it with grace, guts and, when appropriate, cynicism.

A current field of fifteen Democrats will be cut to one in a primary election on March 3 -- and most likely that's the ballgame, as the Illinois Fifth District is completely Democratic. There are several better established Democratic players than Geoghegan in the crowded race.

Because Geoghegan is running for Congress, I finally got around to reading the first of his books, Which Side Are You On?: Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its Back, issued in 1992. This holds up really well. If anything, being for labor is worse now. Why back then, labor still represented 16 percent of the workforce and some 12 percent of the private sector. That's quaint, we think now, when unions represent only 7 percent of workers in private businesses.

Here are some snippets from Geoghegan's book that I hope will encourage a few people to see if their library has a copy.

On workers' "right to organize":

I doubt today if any group of workers can form a union if the their employer is determined to resist. ...Union busting is now almost a science. And the science is a pretty simple one: You go out and fire people. And keep firing until the organizing stops. Because at some point it always will. It is like sending people straight into a machine gun, and when the bodies pile up high enough, the drive is over and the employer has won.

On organizers:

I suppose to be a good organizer, you can't have any imagination. Otherwise, going into a plant, you would feel like a virus or a bacillus, first infecting a lot of healthy workers and then getting them fired. After a while, I would go crazy. You have to recruit them. Get them to trust you. Be a father figure, mother figure, one-person support system. And then you have to be perfectly neutral, when they are fired, as they turn on you, scream at you, shriek; and then you see how low and craven the human race can really be.

On what happens when labor laws allow workers to organize simply by signing up and they can't be fired:

Canadians. O.K., they're not Americans. But they have the same companies, ... Technically they are a foreign country, but it's like Minnesota being in NATO. ... But Canadians join labor unions like crazy. Why? Because they can get away with it, i.e., no one will fire them. Canadian workers just sign cards, and bang, they're in a union. It goes so fast, there is no chance to fire them.

This author should be in Congress to vote on the Employee Free Choice Act, don't you think? Let's hope he makes it.

And meanwhile in Chicago, one of Geoghegan's current cases lumbers across the legal landscape. He is representing city workers who got cheated out of some of what they had earned when they took a buy-out. The little guys who get run over by the big employers just keep on coming...

1 comment:

Darlene said...

When Ronald Reagan fired the air controllers he accomplished the Republican dream of weakening the Labor Unions. I hope they are able to recover for we have had enough of the bloated executives salaries at the expense of the guys who make it possible.

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