What can a democracy like ours do when giant companies say, “Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules! We don’t got to pay you no taxes!” and “We will just move out of your puny country if you try to tell us what to do.”
Government is beginning to enforce labor laws again, with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filing a complaint against Boeing for retaliating against employees for legitimate union activities. In response Boeing’s CEO questions government’s “authority” to tell big businesses like Boeing what to do, saying companies like his can just move “overseas.” Sarah Palin echoes the complaint, saying businesses can just move to “more business-friendly countries.” These are direct challenges to the democracy we fought to build.
Boeing Threatens “Overseas Flight”
Boeing chairman, president and CEO Jim McNerney has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he challenges the “authority” of our democracy to regulate giant multinational corporations.
“The NLRB is wrong and has far overreached its authority. Its action is a fundamental assault on the capitalist principles that have sustained America’s competitiveness since it became the world’s largest economy nearly 140 years ago. We’ve made a rational, legal business decision about the allocation of our capital and the placement of new work within the U.S.”
McNerney essentialy confirms that it was union activity that led Boeing to decide to open a plant in anti-union South Carolina,
“Among the considerations we sought were a long-term “no-strike clause” that would ensure production stability for our customers, and a wage and benefit growth trajectory that would help in our cost battle against Airbus and other state-sponsored competitors. … Union leaders couldn’t meet expectations on our key issues, and we couldn’t accept their demands that we remain neutral in all union-organizing campaigns…”
Like the movie stereotype, poking his finger in your chest, “You got a problem with that?”
McNerney goes on to call the NLRB enforcement “brazen regulatory activism” that “could accelerate the overseas flight of good, middle-class American jobs.”
There it is, the threat, basically, “We will just move out of your puny country if you try to tell us what to do, and we will take your jobs with us.”
Boots On Necks
Sarah Palin, in her Facebook post, Removing the Boot from the Throat of American Businesses, blasts President Obama’s “appointees at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) who have their boots on The Boeing Company’s neck.”
Palin explains that business is the boss now, not We-the-People democracy, writing,
Does the President realize the real concern here is not that businesses will choose to locate in one state over another? It’s that businesses will choose to locate in other countries because thanks to the Obama administration’s job killing policies and over-reaching regulatory boards the business climate in the United States is growing toxic.
Basically, she says government ought to just get out of the way of the plutocrats, because big, multinational businesses have so much power over democracy that,
… eventually every state will suffer when businesses declare “enough is enough” with these tactics and decide to relocate in more business-friendly countries.
Once again, the threat: Mess with us and we will leave and take your jobs with us.
Whose Boot Is On Whose Neck?
To be clear, Palin does not mean this as a call to strengthen democracy and get these companies and their threats under control. She is not complaining that these companies do not want to follow our rules and pay decent wages, offer benefits, protect worker safety and protect the environment. She is saying the United States should change and become more “business-friendly” — like the non-democracies that suppress labor rights, pay low wages, and lock you up if you complain.
“Free Trade” has allowed businesses to cross borders to “business friendly” non-democracies to escape the protections democracy offers us. It pits exploited workers in these “business-friendly” countries against our own democracy-protected workers, forcing a race to the bottom in wages, working standards and living standards. And it lets them avoid taxation, defunding our democracy’s ability to enforce regulations and laws
If we don’t do what these giant, powerful companies tell us to do, and abandon the protections of democracy that we fought so hard to achieve, they will just pack up and leave and take our jobs with them. Just whose boot is on whose neck?
The question is why do we let them do this, and what can we do about it?
The following is adapted from April’s post on the NLRB actions, Does Government Know Who The Boss Is?
Who Is Boss?
Do We, the People have the ability to enforce our laws? Do we have the power to tax corporations and the wealthy?
Do we have the power to keep the protections and opportunities our democracy had provided?
Democracy provides us with safety protections and fair wages. We fought so hard to build and maintain this democratic society so that We, the People could share the benefits. We passed laws allowing union organizing, as a balance to the immense power of corporations and wealth. We passed laws prohibiting companies from telling workers, “Work for what we give you or don’t eat.”
And for a time this built our prosperity. But we let the protections slip, and allowed companies to cross borders to escape the protections democracy offers — to non-democratic countries like China where workers have few rights, where pay is low, environmental protections practically non-existent. Companies locating manufacturing in places like have huge cost advantages over companies located in democracies that respect and protect the rights of citizens.
The Threat Against Us
Won’t companies just move out of the state/country if we try to enforce labor laws or tax them? Won’t China just stop selling to us or dump our bonds if we apply a tariff to protect democracy, or try to enforce trade laws? Won’t the rich just pack up and move or stop working if we don’t just give them everything they want? Won’t they move even more factories out of the city/state/country if We, the People try to demand our rights?
We Still Have The Power
Here’s the thing. We, the People still have some power left in our hands. For one thing we still offer a huge, prosperous market to sell into. We still have the power to make demands on those who would like to sell things to us. We can apply a “democracy tariff” to goods made by exploited workers so these goods do not have a price advantage over goods made here. And we can choose to enforce tax laws, and wage laws, and tariffs, and labor laws, and trade laws to protect and strengthen what remains of our democracy.
But we can only do this if we decide to stand up for ourselves and do something about what is happening. We have to put our foot down, and demand that our politicians listen to We, the People and do what we say. It is time to get organized, to talk to neighbors and relatives, to show up at town hall meetings and protests. We can demand that news media begin to cover more than just the corporate/conservative viewpoint. We can go out and register others to vote, and get them to the polls, and demand that votes be counted accurately. We can take back our democracy and put We, the People back in charge.
Dave Johnson (Redwood City, CA) is a Fellow at Campaign for America's Future, writing about American manufacturing, trade and economic/industrial policy. He is also a Senior Fellow with Renew California. Dave has more than 20 years of technology industry experience including positions as CEO and VP of marketing. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. And he was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.
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