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  • authored by Members for Democracy
  • published Sat, Oct 26, 2002

The End Of An Era For Control Freaks

It's a frightening thing that is happening with the Internet. It's ushering in the end of a long leisurely era for a lot of smug bastards. In the 1930's and 40's (depending on whether you are in the US or Canada) the current statutory fortress - err - framework of laws governing labour relations was enacted. Even though this framework has been much touted by the mainstream labour community as a breakthrough for workers, it was never the intent of the legislators to give workers any real power. The idea was to throw unions a few bones in exchange for which they'd keep their members in line and not disrupt the economy.

The framework worked well. It set rigid boundaries around what working people could do while giving them the feeling that their interests were being looked after. It taught them that being submissive - to their employer, their union representatives and the government - was a good thing, that their job was to do their work and refrain from thinking and asking questions and that, if things weren't working out for them, it was their own damned fault.

An entire industry grew up around the very pressing need to control working people and keep them from getting to big for their britches. The industry has main three groups of control freaks: government, unions and employers. The control freaks all have their helping hands - the lawyers, consultants and various experts who can be called upon, often at great expense, when keeping the little folk quiet becomes particularly challenging.

Labour relations managers and union business agents play a really integral part in the framework. Their job is to make labour-management cooperation happen. They need to ensure that the workplace parties are getting along, controlling the workers and acting cooperatively to put down any insurrections. When the labour-management tag teams can't do their jobs, the LRB guys and rent-a-judges (arbitrators) step in and set things right.

The LRB guys and rent-a-judges who hear and decide workers' grievances are in a league all of their own. They are the workplace judiciary. They are like judges. They don't decide what's just, they're job is to make sure that everybody is playing nicely inside the framework. They are the doctors of the framework. Their role is to cure the sick and to rid the framework of any harmful viruses. Don't believe us? See for yourself:

Two themes run through most discussions of the nature of the arbitrator's role. On the one hand, he is expected to act as a lawyer-judge, bringing "legalist" tools to bear on the interpretation of the collective agreement, his only charter for action. On the other hand, he is alleged to have certain distinctive qualities, of expertise and experience, which legitimate actions that are based on peculiar 'non-legal" criteria, in particular the maintenance of a peaceful, uninterrupted, and fair industrial enterprise.

The first theory of the arbitrator as judge contains within itself an essential ambiguity concerning the appropriate mode of judicial action. Some arbitrators feel that they must confine themselves to decisions that are based only on an explicit and specific provision in the collective agreement. In attributing a meaning to such a provision they restrict their assessment of the parties" will to the bare surface of the arrangement, the "literal" or dictionary meaning of the words. Other arbitrators may fell hat it is even more appropriate to delve beneath the surface of the text of a contract clause and assign a meaning that is most compatible with the purpose of the parties in selecting this text. When such a mutually agreed-to purpose is divined, these arbitrators may also feel it appropriate to develop and elaborate the principles it implies and then apply these principles to the instant case before them.

The second theory of the arbitrator's role, the arbitrator a "labour relations physician", holds that it is sometimes legitimate for an arbitrator to extend or limit what can fairly be said to be the meaning of an agreement (whether derived purposively or literally), in light of certain overriding labour relations goals. This theory also contains within itself an essential ambiguity. Some advocate the arbitrator acting as a "mediator', attempting to get specific, individualized, consensual accords between the parties and thus enhancing the process of fee, collective bargaining even during the administration of the agreement. Others argue that arbitrators must become aware of their necessary position as an "industrial policy maker" and attempt intelligently to lay down authoritative, general policies, in the interests of the public as well as the immediate parties.

(Weiler, The Role of the Labour Arbitrator: Alternative Versions [1969])

In the good times, bargaining among control freaks resulted in some good things for the little folks but these didn't come without a price. With the introduction of health benefit and pension plans, a whole new crop of administrators, fund managers and actuaries set up shot. As these plans grew - in the case of some unions - ballooned to multi-million - even billion - dollar investment funds, the numbers of experts swelled. The P & B guys' cater to the union guys and company guys. They are appendages of the system. They do useful things to help feed it and make it look nice. They are not essential but are good to have just the same. They also throw good parties and make everyone feel better about what they do.

The little folk on whose backs this entire elite society makes its living are expected to sit quietly on the sidelines and for the longest time they did. What could they do after all? If you've ever tried to take on a big company or a big labour organization or a Labour Relations Board, you know fully well that you're going to quickly get pushed into a big hole. The only question is which control freak will shovel the dirt over your head.

It's tough when you don't understand the landscape in which you're maneuvering. There is nowhere to go for help. There is no one who's willing to talk to you. No one is interested in your story. Lost and alone, you'll give it up. It's only a matter of when and of how hard the control freaks have to work you over. This is what keeps the framework in tact.

Inside the inner circles of labour relations control freakdom, there is a sort of condescending realization that all this may not be perfect but there is no question that it is necessary. There is no other way that we can keep the economy humming and business prospering and union leaders ruling - than by keeping the bewildered herd - bewildered.

"We have to protect ourselves from the trampling and roar of a bewildered herd." - Walter Lippmann

Ask any elitist about the need for control and they'll tell you - if they are being honest - that it's necessary to maintain order, efficiency, even our way of life.

There's a certain logic to it. There's even a kind of compelling moral principle behind it. The compelling moral principle is that the mass of the public is just too stupid to be able to understand things. If they try to participate in managing their own affairs, they're just going to cause trouble. Therefore it would be immoral and improper to permit them to do this. We have to tame the bewildered herd, not allow them to rage and trample and destroy things. It's pretty much the same logic that says it would be improper to allow a three year-old to run across the street. You don't give a three year-old that kind of freedom because the three year-old doesn't know how to handle that kind of freedom. Correspondingly you don't allow the bewildered herd to become participants in the action. They'll just cause trouble.

(Noam Chomsky, Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda)

How frightening it must be then for all these smug bastards, the lawyers, the union leaders, the company guys, the workplace judiciary, the purveyors of fine pensions, to see what is happening now in this new electronic community that is evolving on our web site and many others.

Here disenchanted workers from every rung of the framework no longer feel alone. Here they can find allies and supporters - and in record time - and how solid the bonds that develop. Here we can talk about how it is, why it is that way and how it should be. Here is a very inclusive place and that in itself is empowering. A really important thing that happens to you when you discover your community is that you are not nuts, you are not alone and you are not stupid. Better yet, here you are not powerless. You can do things all the time and see the fruits of your efforts immediately.

Here they can find out how the system really works and how they can beat it or at least throw it for a loop. Here the secrets of the system are aired day after day after day. Unlike the print media - where's today's news is tomorrow's trash - the news is out there day after day and we all get to talk about it for as long as we want. We are encouraged to talk about it. There are no 10-second sound bites or 2 inches of column space here. We don't need money or connections or status to make a difference.

What's really good about this is that information, disclosure, revelations lead to understanding. Ideas follow, then comes action and from action will come change- change that is fundamental and irreversible. That doesn't bode well for those who want control.

The control freaks have been doing a bang up job of controlling us by controlling information, controlling access to positions of power and maintaining the comfortable status quo. With the growing use of the Internet by working people, their efforts at preserving the status quo are sure to be stepped up. This past week at MFD brought us some good examples.

Keeping the status quo is important. The Ontario Labour Relations Board showed us this past week just how important it is when it ruled that a secret agreement between three unions takes precedence over the statutory rights of workers to join the union of their choice.

Keeping militant voices quiet is important. In Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Government Employees Union suspended a number of militant members who were publicly critical of labour-management cooperation between officials of their union and their employer and who were "creating militant solidarity".

When you can't keep them quiet, moving decisively to keep them from positions of power within their union is the next best option. UFCW Local 1000a is about to pass some constitutional amendments to ensure that top-down, bureaucratic unionism isn't threatened by the growing militancy of its members.

And let's not forget about the importance of keeping working people from their vast resources like the billions of dollars of workers money sloshing around in pension and other investment funds. They are kept in the dark by the custodians of these funds, ignored by regulators and expected to sit quietly on the sidelines while these significant resources work hard for the betterment of the biz community and it's biz-u cheerleaders.

But despite the best efforts of legions of well-healed controllers, the framework is creaking and cracks are developing in the walls of the labour relations fortress. Through the cracks information is seeping out. Well, the place is actually beginning to leak like a sieve.

How unsettling it must be for the control freaks to read about the strange goings on at Teamsters Local 938, or the murky origins of UFCW Local 777. How disquieting that the investments of labour leaders and their friends are hung out for public viewing. How positively maddening to hear people saying that training and education funds aren't always used to train or educate. How embarrassing to hear talk about the mainstream leaders' missed opportunities even when everything is going their way.

Worse still, it must be awful to hear working people getting the lowdown on labour relations tools like voluntary rec, or learning about the ease with which they can change unions or hearing that bargaining backwards isn't usually necessary - no matter what the company guys are saying.

Where is it all going? If you are a controlling elitist, to things that go bump in the night. Direct action, rights for people not things, a new community - the critical mass that will take us to the future we want.

... in the moments of revolution or near-revolution during the past century and a half we find that poor and working people did not conduct the struggle through organizations already in existence when the crisis began. Rather they acted through new institutions, created for the purpose at hand. Typically, these new institutions brought together all the workers of a given locality and addressed the common interests, the class interests, of all workers in that community. Often such bodies originated as committees to administer local general strikes. Typically, as the crisis deepened, the committee would turn to positive tasks such as maintaining public safety, ensuring that essential medical services remained available, guaranteeing a supply of basic foods, and so on. Built from below, gradually taking on responsibility for the whole range of human needs, the network of new organizations became a dual power confronting the existing structure of government.

(A Wobbly Strategy for Fundamental Change by Staughton Lynd)

What our contributors had to say about the control freaks, much to their consternation, this week in MFD forum:

All this talk about pension monies has me suspicious about contract negotiations. While I know benefits are great for the power source to have in the agreement and the machine is always really eager to tell us they got them. Benefits and pensions have become first on the list of things to bargain for, behind a decent wage pkg. Are these for the Power Source or is it play money for the greedy who leave enough crumbs to make look like we ate?

The benefits pkgs. negotiated for the power source are beginning to look more like a tool for big_biz and biz_u.

Have employer contributions simply become the employers' cost of doing business with an employer-friendly machine?

(Siggy in Leading edge or bleeding edge?)


Late October 2001 I am getting concerned that no attorney has contacted me. I call the Union central office. A Union attorney calls me back and informs me that I have NO right to see the Union bylaws, that I have nothing to say about the upcoming Arbitration hearing nor do I have anything to say about how it will be handled, I will NOT be getting an attorney, it is NOT MY grievance it is the "Association's" grievance, Union Rep. will be representing the "Association" at the Arbitration, the "Association" has every right to handle "their" grievance how they see fit, that I am to sit still and patiently await Union Rep to contact me.

In December 2001, Union Rep. tells me how he is going to handle arbitration hearing. He tells me that we won't address the "reasons" for my dismissal as stated in the resolution. Union Rep. tells me that there are laws that say if he "even mentions the "reasons" as stated in the resolution, that would invoke a case that he claims doesn't allow teachers to have "just cause" provisions in a CBA and then we would thereby lose the arbitration as a result. (Keep in mind that my Union Rep is NOT an attorney and I believe that I had been backstabbed by him before as I stated previously.)

(NewViewerActivist in Can Member Be Sued By Union??)


"We found ourselves actually going to unions and talking to top union officials about what was going on," says Ken Day, a former Metropolitan police special branch officer. "One of them would be Joe Gormley." Another former officer, identified as Alan, says of Gormley: "He was a patriot and he was very wary and worried about the growth of militancy within his own union."

(From an article in The Guardian, Gormley and Buckton named as special branch informers, Richard Norton-Taylor, October 24, 2002)

(Blackcat in Spies, Lies at the Union Gates)


As the working people continue to watch their retirement investments dwindle away in the hands of the investment community, they have to stop and think "Who is watching out for my interest?" The answer to this question is usually "Absolutely Nobody!" Once your money is placed into an investors hands, there is usually no accountability pertaining to their investment practices. These investment corporations can be top shareholders of companies such as Enron, WorldCom, and other corporate wrongdoers. As shareholders, these investors take part in the responsibility for governance of these companies. Within these companies, the investors will use their client's share voting power in support of overpaid corporate executives, entrenched boards of directors, and questionable audit committees. As long as these investors do not have to disclose their stock holding votes, the people who have trusted them with their money cannot monitor the investor's decisions.

(Licatsplit in Where Has Our Retirement Gone?)


The money that working people invested, does now in fact, provide trips and much more to CEO's and presidents. It is evident that the working class has laced their pockets. The rich would only institute a tax law change, by lining the pockets of politicians, both in the USA and Canada to accommodate them even more. This, brothers and sisters will only change, with a strong vote or a total revolt!

(Yankeebythewater in Where Has Our Retirement Gone?)


Gotta love the system eh? Long, painful and oppressive. This could be something workers need in a bill of rights. The right to expedient (under 3 mo) resolution of grievances.

(Siggy in Can Member Be Sued By Union??)


If you are a union member, you have the right to strike. You can shut down any pulp mill, a Save-On. You have that right. I have seen this all before. You can be sued, blackballed. It only takes one union member to bring down an entire union.

Maybe the laws have changed, laws differ from the USA to Canada (province to province), I am no lawyer, but I do know when you finally get to a stage when you have had enough of your union, you tire. You will strike. It is a spark.

(Yankeebythewater in If You Are So Tired With Unions)


Sparks... then smoke... then fire!

(sleK in If You Are So Tired With Unions)

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