Ben Boyce


Labor Day should be May 1

Posted on September 16, 2022 by Ben Boyce

The real labor day is on May 1, International Labor Day. All around the world unionists and socialists celebrate the venerated tradition of May Day, which started back in the late 19th century. The postwar American capitalist overlords were not about to have workers get any ideas in their heads about organizing unions, so President Eisenhower enacted Labor Day in the U.S. as a safe consumerist holiday that has long lost any political valence. 

The U.S. has the most powerful capitalist class in the world, and they have been violently dead set against unions from day one. That’s why U.S. labor density is one of the lowest in the developed world. I celebrate union campaigns as a sign of class solidarity. 

On the local front, readers will know that Sonoma Valley Museum of Art employees voted in April to join Cultural Workers United American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. I speak as an editorialist, not as a representative of the union. 

Disappointingly, the museum management declined to “voluntarily recognize” the Cultural Workers United union. The CWU organizing committee very politely requested of the SVMA board in April that they just deal with it and recognize the union. I publicly counseled the board to avoid all the tension and bad PR of dropping the union-busting hammer on this small group of art educators and curators. 

The answer was, No. Predictably, the politically sentient part of the board hit the panic buzzer and called in the goon squad: Jackson Lewis, a notorious national law firm whose specialty is union busting. The anti-union consultancy industry rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year from their corporate clients. In my pro-union household, in which my wife served as the president of her union at a nonprofit organization affiliated with SEIU 707 for a dozen years, you might as well tell me that you have hired Satan and his minions as your counsel. You have no idea how loathed these odious union-busting firms are in union circles. 

As Dave Ransom writes, in his excellent newsletter, Sonoma Weekly Update: “The museum, presumably its board or their officers (they’re not talking), had hired the largest, toughest anti-union law firm to dissuade the museum workers from unionizing – or at least to dissuade the NLRB from recognizing them.” 

The board better hope that they don’t continue to betray the SVMA workers after they receive union recognition by refusing to negotiate a contract in good faith in a timely manner, which is usually Plan B of the anti-worker law firms. The victory we read about in the headlines has turned into a legal bog with no resolution in sight.

It’s really about ideology, ultimately. A true member of the capitalist elite, like the SVMA board member who responded to the union by stating “the market should control salaries and benefits,” understands the raw class power core of the cult of the “free market.” 

That drive to dominate the working class is predicated on unchallenged labor coercion backed by state power. That is a bedrock foundation of neoliberal capitalism. It is like their Prime Directive. That mindset is not the right tool for running a nonprofit arts organization. 

You hate to see it, folks. Please, SVMA board, do the right thing and fundraise to make the museum a living-wage employer. That is the path of least resistance for you and serves the common good of the community. 


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