Maurice Zeitlin's article (Editorial Pages, Jan. 24), "The Growing Assault Against Unions," was both interesting and informative by asserting that big business has mounted an assault against organized labor.
Zeitlin makes a cogent case by pointing out the recent National Labor Relations Board rulings, which restrict the right of union organizers to pursue legal activities first granted under the aegis of the New Deal. However, I think one can go further and declare that there exists a concerted and deliberate effort to bust all unions and return to the days when employers ruled by the twin whips of whim and coercion, back to the days of the infamous "yellow dog contract."
Much of the blame for the erosion of power within the unions can be directly blamed on the leaders of organized labor. It was in 1972 when the Democratic nominee, George S. McGovern--who had a 100% pro-labor voting record in the Senate--was spurned by then AFL-CIO President George Meany. Meany, not in the best interests of organized labor, tacitly endorsed Richard Nixon, assuring Nixon of the landslide that he achieved. A few maverick unions supported McGovern, but old George Meany was adamant in his distaste for McGovern.
The tainted Teamsters joyously backed the tainted Nixon. The rest is history. In 1980 and 1984 Ronald Reagan gained the backing of the Teamsters and millions of blue-collar workers flocked to the polls to vote Republican in the misplaced belief that Republican rule would enhance their status in the scheme of things. As H.L. Mencken observed, "they didn't have a rendezvous with destiny, they had a rendezvous with the bouncer."
Zeitlin shows that the crippling of the labor movement was an early goal of Ronald Reagan and company. Beginning with the smashing of the air controllers union, this trend has continued unabated on into Reagan's second term. Corporations have carte blanche in wielding their weapons: they control the NLRB; they threaten workers with their livelihood if serious union activity is pursued; they panic the work force by intimating bankruptcy protection, thereby negating union contracts, or they blatantly assert that plants will close if the unions seek legal redress.
Years ago, while attending college, I got a job as a union organizer for a short time. It was the time of the great furor over passage of the Taft-Hartley Act (known in labor circles as the Slave Labor Act) and I well remember the great labor leaders of that era, Walter and Victor Reuther, John L. Lewis, Phillip Murray and others. As a CIO organizer I was proud to be associated with these giants. Unlike the Yuppie leaders in today's movement (you can't distinguish labor people from management types) these men did not compromise or equivocate until they had won for their members the best of all possible contracts. Militancy and hard-headedness are qualities sorely lacking in today's leaders of labor.
Zeitlin's piece on "the mounting assault by business against unions" was riddled with erroneous assumptions and dubious data.
That the decisions of President Reagan's appointments to the National Labor Relations Board--who were confirmed by the Senate-- engender controversy is nothing new. A Senate subcommittee chaired by former North Carolina Sen. Sam J. Ervin Jr. (of Watergate fame) long ago accused the NLRB appointed by President Kennedy of doctrinal reversals motivated by the susceptibility to "changes in the political climate and, most particularly, to changes in the presidency."
The political tides are now changing, as occasionally happens in a democracy. The agency that for many years overturned precedents and invented logic-defying legal standards to advance the interests of organized labor is returning to the long-forgotten middle ground.
The NLRB's recent decisions have not subverted the 1935 Wagner Act or the system of collective bargaining created by that statute. University of Chicago Law School Prof. Bernard Meltzer recently wrote that "The current board's doctrinal shifts have not diluted the core worker protections but have affected only the borderland of regulation . . . Indeed, the current board's 'new doctrines' are often not really new, but rather a return to earlier positions that had been rejected in intervening decisions." Thus, the anti-Reagan polemics of Zeitlin and kindred union apologists are demonstrably incorrect.
As Meltzer has suggested, "Union grievances about the current Administration and interpretations of labor laws may be related to labor ills that are scarcely attributable to the board. Labor has suffered a decline in membership, political influence and public support. Unions have been the victims of their own earlier successes in such industries as steel and autos, where high labor costs and managerial deficiencies gave foreign competitors the edge."
Having faced setbacks at the bargaining table, at the grass-roots organizing level, and in the arenas of political influence and public opinion, organized labor is trying desperately to divert the blame from its own outmoded concept of "class struggle" to President Reagan and the current NLRB. Has Zeitlin already forgotten the overwhelming electoral mandate in November, even among the ranks of organized labor?
Workers' most "fundamental right" is a robust economy free of debilitating inflation. More than 80% of the American work force has exercised its "freedom of association" by refusing union membership. It seems curious that a movement dedicated to the cause of "industrial democracy" should depend on compulsory devices such as exclusive representation and the agency or union shop, rather than employees' voluntary choices.
Yes, organized labor is being assaulted--by reality and the beneficial effects of free-market Reaganomics, which render unions unnecessary.
MARK S. PULLIAM
Thank you for Zeitlin's article. The Reagan Administration's appointment of anti-labor ideologues to the National Labor Relations Board has exacerbated the already employer-biased nature of U.S. labor law enforcement.
Before Reagan reshaped the NLRB in his own image it was rare to see cases of obvious employer abuse in laws protecting workers and their right to form unions dragging through the NLRB and the courts; now it has become almost a norm. With the support of anti-labor majority on the NLRB, union-busting employers and their "labor consultants" are winning more cases at the agency level. Consequently, unions and union members are forced to resort to costly and slow litigation to fight illegal firings and other violations of labor law. Most frustrating of all, though, is the federal subsidy of anti-labor employees. Most of the expenses incurred in union-busting endeavors, and their defense, are tax deductible.
WILLIAM R. ROBERTSON
Los Angeles County
Federation of Labor