This last week I worked with SEIU to help publicize a strike by security guards at Kaiser Permanente facilities in California. (That work was sponsored by SEIU, but this is not a sponsored post.)
The security guards at Kaiser facilities in California work for a company named Inter-Con Security, which then contracts with Kaiser. All other employees at Kaiser are unionized, and Kaiser is a responsible company with their employee relationships. And in other states like Oregon, the Kaiser security guards are unionized. But, for some reason, the security guards in California are not employees of Kaiser and the contractor, Inter-Con, is fighting unionization. In fact they are engaging in tactics that are not legal, including intimidation, interrogation of employees to find out who is trying to form the union, and other anti-union tactics. (It is legal to form a union and supposedly protected by law.) This week the guards went on strike to demand that these illegal tactics stop, and that laws against such tactics be enforced.
There are, of course, bigger issues in any strike and any drive to unionize. What it comes down to is that corporations are able to amass incredible power and wealth, while individuals on their own are not. So when individuals find themselves up against corporations they have little to no ability to stand up against this massed power and concentrated wealth. Employees are just one example of this dilemma. Most employees are not in a situation that makes it possible to ask for fair pay, benefits, sick pay, health insurance, etc.
Over time, though, workers learned that if they can organize into a single unit and act together they are able to fight back. This is known as organized labor, or unions. And by going on strike, shutting down the corporation's ability to bring in the bucks, they gain leverage over the corporation and can improve their situation. This is, in fact, what brought America its middle class -- weekends off, 40-hour workweeks, sick leave, vacations, pensions, raises, reasonable pay, etc. And, in fact, you can see that since the decline of the labor movement many of these benefits have been disappearing. We have been losing pensions and health care and raises, etc.
But it is not just employees who have a difficult time standing up against corporate power. Look at the vast power of the tobacco and oil industries to set the country's priorities. As many as 3-400,000 Americans still die each year from cigarettes that were marketed to children who did not have the maturity to resist while addiction to tobacco is especially strong if it begins at an early age. Yet we are still unable to fight back against the horror this industry inflicts.
And the oil companies and coal are able to fight efforts to reign in their power. We are unable to get our government to fund sufficient alternatives to automobiles, like urban rail systems and other mass transit, or high-speed trains between cities. And alternatives to oil and coal energy generation like solar, wind and research into others are all stymied or severely underfunded even though we know entire, new job-creating industries could be launched.
Our hopes for one-person-one-vote ideas about democracy continue to suffer from the one-dollar-one-vote corporate assault. It is not clear what the eventual outcome of this battle will be.