The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

NLRB attacks workers who do “supervisory” tasks

Oct 16, 2006

The NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) has handed over a legal tool to the bosses to chip away at workers’ unions. The Board decided on September 29 that if a worker spends as little as 10% of their time on what they call “supervisory functions,” companies can declare that worker ineligible to belong to a union.

This particular decision came out against nurses who had unionized Oakwood Healthcare in Michigan. But the precedent could extend to millions of workers and make them legally ineligible to belong to a union. Is a “supervisory function” signaling a crane operator? Or telling a janitor that a hospital room is ready to clean? Or checking in material on a dock before a driver takes it to its place? The new NLRB decision means that companies can declare almost any such function “supervisory,” and use it to challenge workers’ rights to join a union.

Imagine how many supposed “supervisory” tasks nurses, or teachers, or construction workers, for instance, do in a day!

Union officials immediately condemned the new ruling. Officials focussed on the Board’s split decision – three Republicans for, two Democrats against. They held the vote up as more proof of why workers need to vote for Democrats in the coming election.

John Sweeney, national leader of the AFL-CIO, said his organization would hold demonstrations “to make sure everyone knows that the Bush administration is slashing workers’ rights.” Sweeney will tell workers that the answer is to vote Democratic.

No, to support the Democrats means to support the workers’ enemies one more time. Sure, the Democrats act friendly to unions. But when they are in office, they are just as ready to break strikes as the Republicans. Just look at what Clinton did when he was in office. He broke the pilots’ strike at American Airlines in 1997. When the Teamsters led a successful strike at UPS, the Clinton administration retaliated against the union by having the president of the union, Ron Carey, removed and prosecuted, on trumped up charges.

The workers can build unions and decide themselves who is to be in them. But to do that takes power. And that power comes out of workers willing to organize and mobilize their own forces.

By the union officials telling workers that voting for the Democrats is a protection for the workers, they are diverting workers from doing the only thing that can really work.