The recent withdrawal of Robert Harding's name to head the US Transportation Security Administration [TSA] is the second Obama nominee to fail to win Senate confirmation for this post. While news reports point to dealings Harding had had as a contractor in Iraq, the untold story is the working conditions at TSA itself due in large part to its lacking a union.
Both of Obama's nominees to head the agency openly supported TSA officers having the collective-bargaining rights every other federal employee has, and this support made their appointment "controversial."
But the conflict "on the front lines" is muted completely.
But why would it be otherwise? Our newspapers of record do not record the shenanigans of managers at Home Depot or Starbucks, toward retail workers, agricultural workers, or hotel employees as worthy to cover. Our newspapers have "Business" but no "Labor" section. Those workers are speaking for themselves without the papers.
Why would they care about TSA officers?
The uproar in progressive circles should be that a federal work force has been created out of the neo-liberal globalization nightmare of powerful, unaccountable managers, bloated executive staffs, and a work farm of laborers.
This cannot be the wave of the future. The establishment of TSA without union rights is a huge step back from the ultimate goal of a labor struggle. That is comes from the federal government sets an alarming tone for all workers.
The dilemma might be that too many of those disgruntled and disaffected workers are conscious of the mythic power of a Union, but they themelves do not perceive their role in making that myth a reality.
Several months ago, a coworker asked me how tiny Europe could have conquered landmasses as great as Africa, the Asian subcontinent, and the Americas.
I replied with a Question: how do the manager class, the Bosses, who are few, conquer the masses of workers under them, who are a multitude?
Find the answer to that, and you may understand how Queen Victoria colored a quarter of the earth red under her empire.
Another dilemma is enough of that multitude value organizing collectively ... but only in the abstract, they make demands of the Bosses ... but only to each other.
But are enough willing to stage an insurrection to make it happen?
Insurrection can come in many, many forms and does not necessarily point to violence in the popular sense. Insurrection is persistent challenges to their abuses. That can be very disruptive. It is the bricks and mortar of a union movement.
But the insurrection can only come when the nature of the relationship between me the worker and them the bosses is understood.
The union itself must come second to this understanding, which is about class consciousness. It is understanding that in our current arrangement workers are reduced to the merest pawn to be told when to sleep, when to wake, when to labor, and when to break ... and knowing how coarsely degrading this has to be on that multitude of humanity who must work for wages.
Ultimately, the Union must not stop with gaining marginal reforms within a system that still dictates our comings and goings by "operational needs."
Ultimately, the Union must run and operate the factory, the business, be it Starbucks or The Home Depot, or the vital work done by the TSA officers.
Ultimately the workers are their own boss, as it should be.
As it stands, two unions are vying for TSA officer support, the hefty American Federation of Government Employees and the leaner National Treasury Employees Union. They both do good work; and they are both mediocrities, too. They have saved many officers' jobs. But they also often look like the marketing battle between Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
These two unions are essentially conservative, not having the ultimate goals I list but rather gaining a Contract and promising more Money within a system that still dictates and is only less arbitrary. TSA officers would still be cattle, albeit Jersey cows perhaps.
It will be a cloudy day in Hell when, in our present state of docility, a union is provided TSA officers, and they won't know what the Hell to do with it ... except, of course, pay dues.
The last thing workers need is another oppressive, flashy institution that takes our money under the guise of helping us.
I don't know who said it first, but it's true that a union is only as good as its members, its rank and file.
If those members don't see the necessity of throwing the proverbial Molotov cocktail at the proverbial edifice, workers will have another worthless institution to awe, then grow cynical of, but the dues will be paid just as surely as the IRS will get its money.
May Day approaches. I suggest in honor of the Haymarket Massacre that won labor rights we make that day alternatively "Kick your Boss in the Ass Day 2010."