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Ideology, Commodity Fetishism, and the NLRA: Part II

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Now with the explanations of commodity fetishism and ideology out of the way I can get on to what I was thinking about National Labor Relations Act.

Essentially the NLRA, especially Section 8(b), is a good way to describe and show commodity fetishism and ideology in action in a piece of law. Despite the fact that this act gives unions the right to strike and picket and even set up secondary pickets (through interpretation by the courts) it’s also illegal in certain instances to strike, picket, and set up secondary pickets. Confused? Well, so are labor law scholars so don’t feel bad.

One of the reasons why secondary pickets, or picketing outside a place that has a certain connection with a disputed employer but isn’t the employer, are illegal is because they involve a “neutral party” that has little or no involvement in a labor dispute such as a picket or strike.

So let’s say that employees at a Wall Mart in Hercules, California want to set up a union but the company is using union busting tactics and is locking out it’s employees but the workers are adamant about starting a union for the purpose of collective bargaining (which in Section 1 of the NLRA states is the basis of the capitalistic economy and helps companies). So what the employees do is set up picket lines outside Wall Mart encouraging customers not to go in (which is legal and illegal under the act, Aaaauugggghhh! So confusing!). Not only do they do that but they also encourage the boycott of certain manufactures that ship goods to Wall Mart, let’s say PepsiCo. and Bell Microproducts (for the sake of argument), which are the two largest distributors to Wall Mart and the main suppliers of Wall Mart (for the sake of argument). Not only do they ask for a boycott of these manufactures but they also picket outside the main regional headquarters in California.

Now this could be stopped by the courts and deemed an “unfair labor practice” by the courts and the National Labor Review Board because PepsiCo. and Bell Microproducts are “neutral parties” and are not the ones being forced to go to the bargaining table with the Wall Mart employees.

Yet here is the problem and contradiction of this action. PepsiCo. and Bell Microproducts are not “neutral” in this dispute. They supply Wall Mart (hypothetically for this post) with the most amount of products in their stores and in turn help Wall Mart reap huge profits by increasing their surplus value and capital.  But the law states that they are “neutral” because they are not Wall Mart.  This is the commodity fetishism in action.  The law cannot see that there is more to commodities than just the store they are purchased and sold at.  Commodities are much more.  They involve the interactions of customers, shippers, distributors, laborers, managers, CEOs, etc., etc.  Because the law cannot see this the law is set up in turn to hurt the worker.  This ideology of law is used to aid the capitalists in their further exploitation of the workers.

The (hypothetical) strikers at Wall Mart  cannot use all of their power that they can in order to get what’s right for them; such as a livable wage, health benefits, holidays, and guaranteed minimum and maximum hours of work.  The ideology of the American capitalists society prevents this from happening because the law is blinded by commodity fetishism, the law does not see where commodities truly come from and does not see all the varied and complex social and societal relations that is behind them.  Therefore the law, such as the NLRA, sets up rules on picketing, striking, and secondary picketing, etc. which aid the multi-million and multi-billion dollar corporations and hurt the rest of us.

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