Q4 2017

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 13 of 105

12 CINEMONTAGE / Q4 2017 GET TING ORGANIZED by Rob Callahan T he folks who craft trailers make regular use of a particular species of musical cue: a sustained droning growl of a note, signaling looming menace. When that uneasy bass hum begins to rattle the theatre's speakers, we know we teeter on the verge of bad things going down. Recently, I have been hearing that angry buzz ubiquitously — not only when I'm at the cinema watching previews of coming attractions, but in all places, at all times. It seems that such discordance has become a never-ending soundtrack playing on a sub-audible loop beneath these anxious times. Angry mobs of bigots marching in the streets brandishing Tiki torches and emblems of genocidal violence; cataclysmic superstorms plunging cities into darkness and disorder; powerful predators feeding their malevolent lusts with impunity; nuclear-armed strongmen lobbing schoolyard taunts at one another… These aren't moments from a trailer for some thriller or effects-driven disaster flick; they are headlines from the daily news. Moviemakers have a rich legacy of serving up hyperbolic fantasies of end times to feed the public's appetite for apocalypse, but cinema's master practitioners of pandemonium now have a hard time competing with humble, workaday journalists. Against this panoramic backdrop of chaos and dread, the perils confronting the American labor movement may not appear noteworthy. As Humphrey Bogart's character Rick said in Casablanca 75 years ago, "It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." The labor movement consists of about 13 million people — not three — but 13 million is a paltry number in the context of the 325 million souls living in this country. Indeed, our small size is a big part of the problem itself. The perils labor faces have swollen in inverse proportion to our dwindling ranks. Now that we have shrunk to less than 11 percent of the US workforce, it's no exaggeration to assert that the threats arrayed against us are existential. If you believe that democracy in the workplace is key to achieving a more democratic and just society, the threatened extinction of organized labor portends disastrous consequences for more than just the folks who now belong to unions. The dangers we face in the labor movement might not be on the scale of the dangers posed by, say, climate change or militant ethno-nationalism, but they're no mere bean pile. Why do things now look so dire for unions? The hardest and most certain blow to soon befall organized labor is a forthcoming decision in the Supreme Court case Janus vs. AFSCME. When the Court issues a ruling in 2018, it will institute strong disincentives to union membership for public-sector employees throughout the land. Most unionized public employers in the US are now "agency shops," in which individual employees may decide whether to join the union responsible for representing them, but those who opt out of membership are required to share the expense of contract negotiations and enforcement. The decision in Janus likely will outlaw public-sector agency shops, effectively rendering all public employment "open shop" or so-called "right to work." Since anti-unionists and segregationists first began to use the term in the 1940s, proponents of "right to work" have sought to starve unions of members and resources; Janus seems poised to represent their biggest victory since the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. If you're a regular reader of this column, and these dire predictions sound familiar to you, your sense of déjà vu is spot-on. Janus is a reboot of the Friedrichs vs. the California Teachers Association case that I wrote about in the Q1 2016 issue of CineMontage. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's sudden passing shortly after that column was published left the Court deadlocked on Friedrichs, thus averting what was sure to be an adverse ruling. But new Justice Neil Gorsuch's vote is not in doubt; barring another deus ex machina plot twist, we'll find ourselves back in the looming shadow of the threat we faced two years ago. Janus is just the Friedrichs cold case reheated two years later, but recent antecedents for this assault upon workers' rights extend back further. For much of this decade, we have seen a barrage of legal attacks upon organized labor in statehouses nationally. Unions have been reeling from a series of setbacks in states such as Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri and Iowa. Labor Pains Increase But an Energized and Committed Union Is the Cure CONTINUED ON PAGE 15

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of CineMontage - Q4 2017