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REFLECTION from Branson Jennings, a retail worker

Recently at my work (I work in retail) I came across an anti-union video that all new hires must watch. Oddly I never had to watch it; I later learned that the hiring manager at the time was somewhat sympathetic to unions and was married to a union member. Maybe she just forgot to show it to us? I’ll probably never know.

Anyway I happened to be in the break room one day at the same time as a group of new hires watching the video. Watching it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing on my legally mandated break, but despite what they tell you about capitalism you don’t really have much of a choice.

It started out with what I assume to be paid actors portraying associates, decrying the tyranny of unions and how ultimately they weren’t even needed. They weren’t needed, the ominous voice told us, because

a) the really nasty problems of capitalism, like child labor and unsafe working conditions, had been solved long ago and workplaces were now perfectly safe, non-oppressive paradises, and

b) the company’s “open door policy” and “private arbitration” would magically solve any and all conflicts between employees and the company. Just like that, capitalism itself would totally negate the central contradiction! No need for proletarian revolution after all.

Except, the unions never solved the horrors of capitalism. They were mitigated in the capitalist center, yes, but reproduced on a much larger scale around the world. And why would you entrust the same capitalist system that created the problems to then prevent them from returning? Believing that the company’s “open door policy” and “private arbitration” could ever be effective, neutral ways of dealing with conflict is absurd. Yes, conflicts would certainly be resolved, but guess who’d come out on top every time it mattered?

After a litany of absurd claims, outright lies, insults to intelligence, and most unbearably, bad acting, the video ended with a slight kernel of truth buried amidst the garbage. It proceeded to attack unions as greedy “businesses” that are only after union dues and increasing their number of serfs, I mean members. As to why a business, i.e. my employer, would use the word “business” as a slander might reveal something about their own self image.

But in a way, the unions today really are like businesses, only after more dues and members. They don’t really represent workers, and a labor bureaucracy dominates them. But, at one point long ago they at least seriously challenged the bosses. Now the unions actively participate in conditioning workers to accept the terms of their exploitation, by doing things like attempting to exempt union workers from higher minimum wages.

Now of course the solution to all this is to form autonomous labor organizations that can truly represent workers and actually give corporations something to stay awake at night about. Easier said than done, but the first few steps are always the hardest.

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