Business Controlling Labor?
The increasing corporate grip over some labor leaders is troubling consumer, environmental, health and tax reform groups.
Big business strategists, exploiting the conditions of unemployment and utilizing a very accommodating White House, are using scare and divide-and-rule techniques as their major tactics.
GEORGE MEANY, head of the AFL-CIO, recently demonstrated a confused perception of the full needs of the worker — as worker, consumer and as taxpayer. He stated that the Ford administration seems to prefer high unemployment because it keeps labor weak, wages down and breeds internal worker strife over such issues as who is to be laid off first.
Yet in January and May of this year, Meany and the heads of other large unions, such as the teamsters and steel workers, joined executives from GM, Alcoa, GE, U.S. Steel, Mobile Oil, Sears and Citibank to call for more corporate tax cuts and a huge $600 million set of tax subsidies to the nation’s mismanaged utilities.
The form for these joint declarations was the President’s Labor-Management Advisory Committee, set up by Gerald Ford last September.
If corporations, already recipients of major tax bonanzas, receive more such largesse, worker’s taxes will have to carry more of the burden.
FOR IF the history of tax credits, faster depreciation write-offs and other tax escapes tells us anything, it is that such measures do not create jobs or advance competitive efficiencies. They only advance the corporate welfare system. Last week Meany began to talk again of cracking down on business tax loopholes.
Last year, Leonard Woodcock, president of the United Auto Workers, startled consumer forces and some of his own staffers by calling, with GM and Ford Motor Co., for a five-year moratorium on auto safety and pollution standards.
Ignoring the modest production costs of these life-saving features, Woodcock declined to call for a moratorium on costly styling frills and useless “mandatory” options like vinyl roof covers.
He opposes enforcement of anti-trust regulations against corporate monopolistic practices. Even in the area of worker health and safety in auto plants, Woodcock has done little despite documented cases of plant related worker diseases presented to him by dedicated Michigan physician.
I.W. Abel, president of the United Steel Workers. and close friend of steel moguls, tells a physician who is complaining to him about the notorious steel mill pollution that the steel companies have only recently started making money.
CAN HE FORGET that his own union workers and their families are principal victims of such pollution-bred diseases?
In more than half a dozen states, so-called associations for environmental balance are getting under way with industry money and personnel.
Their purpose is to stop the people’s drive for preventing cancer, respiratory diseases and other ailments that come from environmental pollution. Some union managers are being drawn into these industry-sponsored groups through biased information or other inducements.
Not surprisingly, the White House welcomed a delegation from these lobbies this month.
There are bright unionists who know and decry the manipulation of their leaders by business executives. They include Ed Sadlowski of the United Steel Workers’ District 31 in Chicago and some sensitive United Auto Workers’ and Amalgamated Clothing Workers’ staffers.
THE OIL, chemical and atomic workers union trains its workers to advance their health and safety on the job site and distributes information on oil industry gouging for consumers.
As long as a handful of entrenched union leaders, remote from the rank and file, sometimes corrupted, chummy with corporate representatives and often surrounded by sycophants, continue to dominate large blocks of labor power, the country will see only occasional glimpses of what unions could really be doing for the public interest.
Nevertheless, as shown in the mine workers’ revolt against their abysmal leadership a few years ago, internal pressures for change will grow even though temporarily held back.
In the meantime, what organized labor needs is an operational theory of economic justice, a program of economic action for all people who are both workers and consumers. It would help these objectives if there were more internal as well as inter-union criticism and encouragement.