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  • authored by Members for Democracy
  • published Sat, Aug 16, 2003

Losing the Illusion

How to protect yourself from brainwashing by biz unionists

The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. - Steve Biko, South African anti-apartheid activist, murdered in detention by South African authorities in 1977

It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact, a circle. They are mere words and words can be molded until they clothe ideas in disguise. - Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister

What Steve Biko and Joe Goebbels were talking about is thought control and how it's possible to oppress people by persistently presenting them with a certain picture - the picture that you want them to see - until they see things your way.

American dissident Noam Chomsky writes and lectures extensively on how thought control is used by elites in democratic societies to get people to "agree" with their agendas. He talks about a propaganda model that involves the creation of "necessary illusions" through which the elites get the people to "buy into" their agenda. This step is called "manufacturing consent".

The business community cultivates necessary illusions to keep workers under control. Among the most prevalent illusions are the superiority of the free market economic system, the need for workers to sell their labour and to discount the value of their labour based on supply and demand, the need for obedience in the workplace and the need for workers to sacrifice their own interests in favour of their employers'.

Business unions create their own illusions too - to get what their leaders want and to make it look like the members are on side. If you wonder why union members vote in favour of decisions that will ultimately do them no good, it's not because they like being screwed. That makes absolutely no sense. It's because of the illusions that are conjured up to get them to vote "yes" - illusions about what is real and what is necessary and what is good for them. Biz union leaders have been spinning their illusions for a long time now and have pretty much had a free hand at it. It's game over for that.

The sooner that working people understand the games that are being played with their heads, the sooner they can break free of the present and engage the future. It's bad enough when your employer sells you half a loaf. You can expect that a profit-mongering business is going to try to keep you down. But when your representatives - the very people who are supposed to be in your corner - are feeding you big heaping piles of hallucinogenic tripe, you haven't got a chance. Time to lose the illusions.

A standard technique of belief formation is to do something in your own interest and then construct a framework in which that's the right thing to do... To liberate yourselves from those preconceptions and perspectives is to take a long step toward overcoming oppression. - Noam Chomsky, Propaganda and the Public Mind, 2001

How can you tell when someone is feeding you propaganda brownies?

Here's a simple formula:

  1. What they're saying just doesn't add up to you. This may be because it conflicts with something they've said earlier or it just doesn't make sense. From your perspective - there's something wrong with the picture that's being presented to you. Don't discount your misgivings just because they're yours. People who want to play with your brain want you to doubt yourself. They want you to think that they're smarter than you are. The minute you think they are, they've got you.
  2. Challenge the hand that's feeding you. Say what doesn't add up. If you get a reaction that doesn't address the differences between your perspective and theirs and doesn't provide a compelling argument as to why theirs is beneficial to you - consider yourself right. This is especially the case if what you get by way of a reaction is a suggestion that you're just not understanding what's happening (i.e. You're not seeing the picture the right way).

Here's an example of what we're taking about:

For a while now we've been discussing the three UFCW Canada Locals that made a secret deal with representatives of Loblaw companies that will introduce lower wages and reduced benefits for workers hired at a new chain of supermarkets. From the beginning, the deal smelled awfully concessionary to us. That's because it will result in a whole lot of future members getting less than current members get under the same collective agreement. UFCW leaders have referred to the deal as "an unprecedented breakthrough in bargaining" and a "forward-thinking accord". That's not how many of the union's members see it. "Forward-stinking accord" or "unprecedented breakthrough in rolling over" is more like it according to those we've heard from.

An article that appeared in the recent edition of NOW Magazine captured the union's perspective on the secret pact and that of an outraged member.

The member:

Just last week, bakery manager Ben Blasdell filed a complaint with the Labour Board, asserting that the union failed in its duty to its members by refusing their right to vote on the deal. "It's really ridiculous to think that we all pay dues to a collective and then at the time when we need representation the most, they enter into secret negotiations with the company and don't listen to us," says Blasdell, who's been with Loblaws for 15 years.

The Local President:

Though the news unsettled some employees who question the legitimacy of their imminent pay cut, [UFCW Local 1000a President] Corporon is hardly ruffled by it. "We knew they were very profitable," he says. "They want to remain that way in order to compete."

The diverging perspectives aside, there's nothing really controversial in the NOW article. The author explains what's happened and then presents the diverging perspectives of UFCW Local 1000a's President and a Local 1000a member. Fair enough, right?

Well, we don't think UFCW Canadian Director Michael Fraser saw it that way. Mike doesn't come out of the bushes very often but whenever an unfavourable perspective is presented about something his union has done he rushes in to correct the spin. This is not to say that a guy in Fraser's position shouldn't respond or can't respond to media articles about what his union is doing. It's what he says and how he says it that's troubling - and instructive for anyone who wants a better understanding of how business unions spin their necessary illusions.

Mike's letter to the editor of NOW was posted in MFD forum by a contributor who bestowed on UFCW Canada's fearless leader, the Broken Boner Award.

Have a look at what Mike says in his letter and see if you can any stuff-that-doesn't-quite-add-up. Here are a few bytes that made the hair stand up on the backs of our necks.

Current employees - all 12,000 of them - have nothing be concerned about. "No changes. No rollbacks." says Mike Sounds really nice. What Mike doesn't say is that the 12,000 members have already been told that they can expect layoffs and bumping and that for some, taking the lower paying jobs at the company's new walmartized stores may be an "option". It must be how we define concepts like change and rollback. If your definition doesn't include being laid off, bumped or taking a lower paying job because, well, that might be your only option, then there's no change and no rollback.

The deal is not concessionary, Mike says. Well OK Mike. If you say so. A deal that imposes lower wages, reduced benefits and looser work rules on thousands of members (present or future) is considered by many to be "concessionary". Maybe if you narrow the definition of "concessions" sufficiently you can say that this deal is not concessionary. But you have to narrow it way down.

"What is true is that their union, UFCW Canada, has developed a strategy to allow Loblaws to open unionized (unlike Wal-Mart) superstores that would offer employees wages and benefits far superior to any other big-box chain." This is an double-extra trip through the spin cycle. Check it out.

In its communications to its members, the UFCW says pretty plainly that the company said, "give us a break on the contract for our new stores or we'll open them non-union and lay off a bunch of your members". The union went along with what it described as the company's business strategy. Now all of a sudden: "The union developed a strategy to allow Loblaws to open unionized stores..."? Notice the difference in whose idea this whole thing was and what it was supposed to achieve? We've gone from a plan the company put forward ostensibly to help it compete with Wal-Mart to a strategy the UFCW hatched to allow Loblaws to open unionized stores. Thanks for that startling admission anyway Mr. Leader.

And then there was this:

"One of the reasons Loblaws is one of the world's most profitable food chains is because of the quality of its union workforce. Workers who are treated with dignity and respect are more productive."

This is really special. The inference is that Loblaws' treats its workers with dignity and respect and this dignified and respectful treatment has created a "quality workforce" which has made Loblaws one of the world's most profitable food chains.

We'd like to see the research behind that thesis before we even get close to it never mind swallow it. If you're a true believer in the goodness of the biz union, you might even take from this statement that it's because of the UFCW that the company has turned on the dignity and respect for its workforce. That's sort of what's implied here.

Sorry Mike, but no sale. Workers who are manipulated, kept in the dark and sold bills of goods are not "treated with dignity and respect". If a "quality workforce" is so important to Loblaws success, why the hell does the secret deal you cut with them encourage workers with long service to take a hike? It all comes down to definitions again. Of course they are welcome to return to new lower-paying positions, which we take it is part of some scheme to dignify and respect them further. And if Loblaws is one of the world's most profitable food chains, why does it need to compete on the backs of your members anyway?

Successful food chain indeed. Once you blow off the illusion, that's really what this is all about. Let us prey.

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