Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Postmodern economics and casino dealers

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Sorry if this seems like local news, but I have to celebrate the fact that a union drive I once played a small part on has finally succeeded. Dealers at the Foxwoods casino approved a first contract, which gives them substantial raises, as well as job security and all the other good stuff that comes with a union.

I worked on the Foxwoods campaign during the summer of 2007. A group of workers had been agitating about the union for at least 6 months. I was a low level organizer, so I would stay in touch with workers who were on the organizing committee and do a lot of house visits to wavering workers. It was clear then, that an overwhelming majority of workers were fed-up with management. And since Casino work had filled the void when most of the heavy industry (ship-building, specifically submarines) largely left Southeastern Connecticut, many of the workers had had good experiences with unions and were receptive to our message. So worker support was never ever a question. In fact we quickly got 2/3 of workers to sign union cards, and then won an election with a 2:1 majority.

I haven’t been working on the campaign since then, but as you can see it over 2 years to then get management to even agree to sit down and negotiate a contract. Their lawyers fought every possible step along the way, forcing the union into court over jurisdiction, composition of the bargaining unit, etc… This is deliberate anti-union strategy. So from beginning to end, the drive took about 3 years.

That story, in a nutshell, is why the union movement is declining. Even in a successful drive, where the workers overwhelmingly support the union, it can take years of time, and massive amounts of resources to organize a new shop. Often workers begin to resent the union during this period, since it hasn’t been able to produce any tangible benefits, even while asking workers to risk themselves in the process.

Combine this slow pace of union organizing with the increasingly accelerated pace of late-capitalist “creative destruction,” and you can see why capital has a tremendous advantage. Capital is just far more mobile. Stripped of any connection to place or person, manifested in highly competitive and efficient private equity firms or hedge funds, capital flows immediately into shops and sectors that offer greater opportunity for profit. But while shops and even industries spring up and die out at a dizzying pace, labor needs years to spend the time organizing, building political coalitions, and proving their legal rights.

Moreover the ethos of unions- solidarity, community, etc…- are things that require, above all else, trust between people. It sounds sentimental but its true. People will sacrifice and risk themselves if they believe their fellow-workers will do the same for them. Thus old shops (places where people have worked together for years, lived in the same community, etc…) will be able to organize in ways that newly created workplaces often can’t.

But these very conditions- communities, stable workplaces, trust between workers- all stand in opposition to the frenzied pace of late-capitalist postmodern accumulation.

This all goes to say that there is a good conservative argument for labor unions. Not that too many conservatives seem to be making it. But if they take seriously all that Burke stuff, it seems like they would be equally invested in building solid and stable human institutions that could withstand the chaos of capitalist destruction.

Terry Eagleton once said something like, the best argument for socialism is that it will slow things down.

Now I have to apologize, that became much longer and more intense than I meant. The point is, yeah local 2121

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Written by Peter Wirzbicki

January 30, 2010 at 14:37

Posted in labor

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