From the Shadows, this Secretary of Labor proposes to assert in outline two very different approaches to labor rights for those of us who work in the USA. In the first instance, will be the context within capitalism in which historically there is a class system with workers the vast majority but at the bottom. In modern times, there has become a wide range of strata from unskilled to skilled workers and those in unions and those not. It has also involved a great expansion of service work in both the private and public sectors. Even a number of “professionals” can be included as they, like me, become “employees” in businesses and government. In this country most work in the private sector, but not all, is regulated by the National Labor Relations Act. Public work laws and regulations are mostly covered by federal and state governments. Union rights vary greatly across the land but in terms of comparable countries, this one has the weakest protections of all statute and enforcement.
Here the National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency that protects the rights of private sector employees to join together, with or without a union, to improve their wages and working conditions. https://www.nlrb.gov/
Also, national labor federations and their affiliated unions have proclamations of what they consider just working conditions which include job security, wages and benefits:http://www.aflcio.org/ & http://www.changetowin.org/
There are also international bodies which attempt to protect workers by providing guidelines. This includes the United Nations International Labour Organization:http://ilo.org
Many unions and federations are members of The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) https://www.ituc-csi.org/
USA Labor Reforms for the private and public sectors at all levels of government.
1. Repeal the Taft-Hartley and Landrum-Giffin acts but retain provisions protecting union member’s democracy.
2. Provide adequate resources to enforce existing laws and regulations protecting workers and unions.
3. Expand NLRB unionization to excluded jobs like domestic employment, farm work and others. This will make many eligible for union membership who are excluded by gender, ethnicity, nationality, etc.
4. Put foremen and leadmen into bargaining units.
5. End state opt-out provisions from the NALRA making the law fully national. No more right-to-work (for less) states.
6. End all ability of owners to frustrate the right of workers to join or form unions.
7. Speed up NLRB administrative law processes so that owners cannot use their resources to drag cases filed against them into years: justice delayed is justice denied.
Now, one problem here with the Labor Cabinet and its scope is that labor does not operate in isolation from the other parts of the Executive Branch covered by the other Cabinet posts. Interior, Commerce, just to name two, have great bearing on the worlds of work.
Even achieving what generally exists in counties similar to the USA in terms of wealth and power, will not provide full justice for the working class. The class system by its very nature produces inequality. Like with a foot race, it produces winners and losers. Especially when some start every race way out ahead of almost all the other runners or already past the finish line. The problem with the welfare state, or social democracy, is that it requires a successful capitalism to tax in order to pay for social programs. But, we may have found out over the last few decades that transfer payments tends to make capitalism as a whole sick. Hence the cutting back of many programs by socialist and labor parties in many countries which have them. In fact, workers are turning to both left and right political alternatives to try and push back against the new austerity status quo. But the more countries turn back to the free market, the more they and we will get what unregulated capitalism actually looks like: the casino economy with the iron law of the business cycle. Now we’re up and now we’re down! So, some return to the anemic social democracy we have had in this home of the brave may be as good as most of us can expect.
The left revolutionary alternative to capitalism is socialism and the extinction of the class system. Ownership of the means of production and control of services will be collective and democratic. And socialism of this kind must be in place in nearly all of the countries on the planet, if not quite all, but must include all those in the rich north. Though socialists have attempted over and over since the 19th century to define what socialism could, should or will look like, I do not see that we will see it any time soon. The forms it has already taken may give some clues but all those examples of “actually existing socialism” have occurred on the periphery of the wealthy capitalist world and have been surrounded by those well-armed and hostile neighbors. Even recently rich China, governed by a Communist Party, is quite the mixed bag. Billionaire members of the “Party?” Or if we look at the numerous experiences of worker cooperatives, we can see some clues to democratic governance and shared wealth. But by the conditions I just outlined. it will be up to workers not yet born to decide, democratically, what socialism will look like. The other matter is how socialism will come about. Certainly the failures of capitalism for vast populations on earth will be a core motivation for building a new world. But capitalism is not likely to go quietly into the night. Capitalists have a long history of being fully murderous when their interests are threatened, no?