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Union explanation

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May. 22nd, 2009 | 08:02 pm

I said I'd explain why I was asking what people in the US associated with the word "union", and so I will.

It was triggered by a post elsewhere in which somebody made reference to Americans - specifically, the American working classes - being more "right-wing" (read: suckered by big business) and "patriotic" (read: easily bamboozled by appeals to patriotism) than we in the UK, which got on my nerves - partly because it goes against my personal experience, but also because I can see how this impression came about, and have in the past shared it.

As long-term readers will know I moved to the States in 2002 just before the invasion of Iraq. I used to say that I must be generating a Socialist Mind Control Ray because all around me there were people questioning, complaining, doubting, arguing, saying "screw this what about healthcare"... yet if you watched TV you'd think that they were the only ones. In fact a lot of people did seem to think they and their friends were the only ones, which means that TV was doing its job properly, maintaining the illusion of consensus. This is the impression that gets sent abroad.

I'd only vaguely heard of US labour unions too, for the same reason, and never thought that they were at all significant. When I was in San Francisco I was wandering along, jet-lagged and sleep-deprived, thinking I might go on a boat tour, and saw there was a picket line at the entrance to the dock. It really surprised me. I even asked them if I could take a picture of them because people back home wouldn't believe that there were unions in the States.

This probably sounds naive, "oh wow there are unions in dockyards", and it is, really - having looked at the history I can see how dumb it is - but it's the impression you can get, particularly when you combine the image that's sent abroad of One Nation Under Capitalism with people quite happily believing it over here because it feeds into lazy prejudices.

I know, by the way, that there will be people who'll say here "yes but we do have lots of idiots". Yeah, sure, you do, loads of them, just no more than anywhere else. I'll say one thing about the States, though - it does, I'd say, have a mass media system that does an unusually good job in convincing not only foreigners but natives that the population conforms to a particular opinion. An abiding memory of the Iraq invasion was a bunch of people thinking "this is bullshit, but I feel like I'm the only one thinking that".

Anyway. I read this and I thought that not only would I reply on the thread concerned, but also just ask a question here. So I did.

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Comments {15}

hopefoot

(no subject)

from: hopefoot
date: May. 22nd, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC)
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Which is why I do my own fact finding missions if I ever care to. Which is why I love the internet. I get to ask real people questions. Of course I can never be sure where they're getting their opinions from but I usually ask them.

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fridgemagnet

(no subject)

from: fridgemagnet
date: May. 22nd, 2009 08:21 pm (UTC)
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I have to say that if I'd relied entirely on the internet, unless I was really lucky I might well still think that America was basically some sort of weird Randian nation, where everyone spent their time thinking about how much money they could make and how great Fox News was. Or at least it would have taken me longer to work stuff out.

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hopefoot

(no subject)

from: hopefoot
date: May. 22nd, 2009 08:40 pm (UTC)
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I don't mean news on the internet. I mean this. LiveJournal. And other social networking sites.

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fridgemagnet

(no subject)

from: fridgemagnet
date: May. 22nd, 2009 08:50 pm (UTC)
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Luckily I have few enough (active) friends that I know it will be real people replying.

Unless I mention Ron Paul again. Three times, he appears in your mirror and kills you with a pamphlet, apparently.

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Unions

from: anonymous
date: May. 22nd, 2009 08:12 pm (UTC)
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Do a Wiki on the Teamsters Union
OP

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fridgemagnet

Re: Unions

from: fridgemagnet
date: May. 22nd, 2009 08:15 pm (UTC)
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I have, also the history of unionisation in the US, the IWW, all that. Bunch of communists in that country if you ask me.

The point is that that's hidden unless you actively look it up. Here in England you know that there are all sorts of bolshy unions about, if only because Tories never stop going on about how they ruined the country and Maggie was right etc etc.

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The Princess of Id

(no subject)

from: danaseilhan
date: May. 22nd, 2009 08:21 pm (UTC)
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It's television. Right on down the line it is television, television, and nothing but television. There's a reason I haven't had cable TV in years and years and rely solely on the DVD player if I want to watch a movie or a cartoon I like. The news is next to useless and it brainwashes people.

It's maybe not even deliberate, most of the time, but simply the fact that (1) we're a very visual species and (2) we are a social animal and (3) we are, at default, concrete thinkers. (If you think about it for a minute, the people we are most likely to label "genius" are those who are more capable than the average person of forming abstractions.)

TV hacks all three tendencies at once:

1. If we see something, we are more likely to believe it is real than if we merely hear about it or read it.

2. If we see other human beings doing something we have a greater likelihood of believing we should do that something than if it is merely suggested to us as an abstract idea. (This explains the herd reflex--if you see one person crossing against the light you're more likely to do it than you are to agree it's a good idea if someone merely asks you.)

3. Because we're concrete thinkers we're more likely to believe that what we're seeing is true. Even when logically we know it can't be, we get sucked in. If you think about it, we cannot possibly be otherwise. If we evolved not believing the evidence of our eyes, we would have died out long ago--could you imagine our ancestors in Africa saying "oh no, that's not a real lion, nothing to worry about here"?

I don't think TV was invented to hack these things; I don't even think the early programming was intended to hack these things. For that matter I'm not sure broadcasters consciously try to hack these things now. At least, not all of them. But that's how it works out.

And hey, Americans watch more TV than probably any other nation's people do. That IS one difference that stands out--people in other countries are also racist, also fat, also sometimes lazy, also sometimes love their cars, but we are the biggest users of the boob tube around.

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fridgemagnet

(no subject)

from: fridgemagnet
date: May. 22nd, 2009 08:31 pm (UTC)
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Americans do watch a lot of TV, but then, people here watch a lot of TV. There's really not a lot of difference I'd say.

I would however agree that US TV news is unusually bad. It's not so much that it's full of lies, it's more that it's just pervasive - there's the illusion that you're watching lots of different channels with different journalists, but actually, everything is coming from the same source. If you live in a country where there's just one state controlled channel you know what to expect, but in the US, it's well set up to make it seem like it's all independently coming to the same conclusion. By complete coincidence.

I found it quite brain-twisting and if anything, it's impressive that so many people don't go along with it.

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The Princess of Id

(no subject)

from: danaseilhan
date: May. 22nd, 2009 10:07 pm (UTC)
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That is... another piece to the puzzle, I'd say. Thank you. Hmmmmm.

Yeah, one of the most insulting things you can say about any given news outlet (TV or otherwise) is insinuating that that news outlet is biased. I wish they would admit they are biased, no matter what side of the aisle they're on. The more mainstream the outfit is, the more it pretends to having no bias. The more fringey stuff will come out and admit it though, left-wing or right-wing.

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grant b

(no subject)

from: grantb
date: May. 23rd, 2009 03:13 am (UTC)
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You are all confirming my worst biases.

It's tragic seeing this stuff happen to my parents... who should know better, being in the news manufacturing business and all.

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Nina

(no subject)

from: janinazew
date: May. 22nd, 2009 10:59 pm (UTC)
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I guess I always assumed that unions there existed but couldn't be very prominent because employment law seems so shaky for a lot of workers.

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Teresa

(no subject)

from: bravencrazy
date: May. 22nd, 2009 11:29 pm (UTC)
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I can vouch for the notion that many people like me, on the libertarian-anarchist spectrum, feel like we are the only ones who dare question the Mighty State. Often, we know few others who are like us IRL, and this is why we seek each other out online, on message boards and places like Twitter.

And we don't have true capitalism here, anyway; that's another lie put out by the State. Since you lived here for awhile, I'm sure you noticed that.

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PhillyKat

(no subject)

from: phillykat
date: May. 27th, 2009 06:33 am (UTC)
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I'm surprised. Unions are the bane of Philadelphia improvements. We're too much of a union town. I'm surprised that you weren't exposed to them while here.

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Madeleine

(no subject)

from: madeleine
date: May. 28th, 2009 02:44 am (UTC)
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I've been living in Philly only a year and a half but Richard tells me that they're ruining everything along the lines of organized thugs: overpricing for simple union tasks, preventing true competition in the trades and all that.

I don't know if that's true; but I still believe that unions have saved the little guy's ass many times. Examples are unfair firing, contract negotiations, etc.

Unions started to disappear from workplaces when big business persuaded people they would be better off alone negotiating their own salaries, etc.

Notice now how CEOs get the hugmungous salaries and the little guy is laid off/cut hours and pay? unions might have been able to see that coming. (but maybe not)

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PhillyKat

(no subject)

from: phillykat
date: May. 28th, 2009 03:45 am (UTC)
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In Philadelphia they have way too much power and it goes to their heads. I know people they've helped but I know of far more instances where they have managed to take money out of people's pockets in this city.

examples:
Real World Phila almost became RW wherever because the carpenters union blocked MTV's crew from decorating the house because they weren't using "their guys." The negotiations got so out of hand that the mayor had to step in.

In the Convention Center they will not allow you to set up your own table or chairs. Say you're a vendor at some big convention. You have your own set up. The union workers will gripe if you set it up yourself. I worked and ran marketplaces for exhibits and conventions and believe me when I tell you, they're ridiculous.

The reasons we see unions disappearing is because of ridiculous demands they have made. Plus, they wield too much power and I'm sure they get too much in kick backs. Personally, I think the good they've done is far in the past. To be honest, the good I've seen has run across color lines. I've had family members and friends be screwed over by their unions for doing things that a white guy was supported for. I've seen only evidence of how unfair they have become. Let's look at one thing that may hit your wallet, SEPTA. They have one of the strongest and largest unions in the area. The amount the bus drivers make are friggin ridiculous. I know one that pulls about $50K and that was before they're last contract negotiations. $50,000 just to drive a friggin bus. And people wanna know why we have the highest cost public transit system in America that is poorly maintained comparatively.

I would relish the day to see the carpenter local broken up. It's too damn large and too powerful. They basically control our elections. That's why all candidates court them. I'd loved to see SEPTA broken as well. Conversely, I'd like to see the teachers union get stronger.

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