Three days after receiving $25 billion in federal bailout funds, Bank of America Corp. hosted a conference call with conservative activists and business officials to organize opposition to the U.S. labor community's top legislative priority.
Participants on the October 17 call -- including at least one representative from another bailout recipient, AIG -- were urged to persuade their clients to send "large contributions" to groups working against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), as well as to vulnerable Senate Republicans, who could help block passage of the bill.
Bernie Marcus, the charismatic co-founder of Home Depot, led the call along with Rick Berman, an aggressive EFCA opponent and founder of the Center for Union Facts. Over the course of an hour, the two framed the legislation as an existential threat to American capitalism, or worse.
"This is the demise of a civilization," said Marcus. "This is how a civilization disappears. I am sitting here as an elder statesman and I'm watching this happen and I don't believe it."
Consider what Bernie Marcus is saying. A more unionized workforce will bring about the end of civilization. Since a unionized workforce is responsible for the great expansion of the middle class and the prosperity of the 1950s and 60s, you have to assume that according to him we did not have a civilized nation back then.
A civilized nation, then, is one with a small if not shrinking middle class and a mass of cowed and dependent wage slaves eeking out marginal livings on whatever guys like Bernie Marcus feel like paying them.
A civilized nation is one in which there are no strong unions, a nation in which workers have no bargaining power, no allies, no recourse, a nation in which they are totally at the mercies and whims of the owners and bosses and the other Bernie Marcuses of the world.
A civilized nation is not one in which ordinary men and women can count on a decent wage for a day's work and a few benefits like health care for themselves and their families, vacation days, sick days and a few extra days to stay home with a new baby, a child or spouse with the flu, or an ailing parent, not one where they labor in a safe and if not cheering then at least not soul-crushing workplace and can expect as their simple due a secure and comfortable retirement.
No, a civilized nation by his lights is one in which a chosen few get to live like kings and queens, comporting themselves as they see fit, following highly flexible rules they set for themselves and can ignore at their convenience, paying no price for their crimes and depredations, while getting to tell the rest of us how to behave and how to work and how to accept our lots without complaint or expectation of any other rewards besides the ones they deign to toss our way like scraps to the dogs, a nation in which they rake up piles and piles of money and cart it home in wheelbarrows while the rest of us are so desperate for work we'll take whatever we can get at whatever insulting wage they decide, begrudgingly, to pay, in which we're so terrified of losing our job that we'll cringe and fawn and work ourselves to exhaustion to please our unpleasable betters and then grovel and apologize and accept our punishments meekly when we we fail to be sufficiently slavish.
I've often thought that what the corporate rich want and are trying to bring about through the policies of their bought and paid for party of toadies and hired goons, the Republicans (they've put the Democrats on lay-away), is an American aristocracy.
What I ought to know by now is that they think we already have one and they are it and they are appalled and affronted that there are people who don't agree and don't plan to just go along with their princely and princessly dreams.
A civilized nation, to them, is one without unions because unions represent the uncivilized notion that employees have a right to share in the wealth generated by their own labor. Unions don't accept that all the money belongs by dint of God and nature to those the Almighty and the right genes put in charge. A civilized nation is one in which they own our labor and they'll generously allow us a small share of its fruits as long as we know and keep to our place.
A civilized nation is one in which there are human beings---them---and livestock---us.
A civilized nation is like what Europe was well into the 18th Century and Russia into the 20th. What they want is called feudalism and in the minds of people like Bernie Marcus we're all their vassals and serfs and in the possibility of increased unionization he sees the rabble rebelling and hears the blade of the guillotine dropping, as well he ought to and would, if this were a civilized nation.
Related: Jane Hamsher on increases in union membership and "one part of the business community that won't be jumping on Berman's anti-Employee Free Choice bandwagon."
Updated because the Vice-President backs me up: Little while ago the President announced his task force on shoring up the middle class is getting down to work and introduced Joe Biden, whom the President called "the Pride of Delaware," as head of the task force. In his opening remarks Biden stated flatly that there would be no middle class in this country if it weren't for the labor movement. According to the Vice-President, the decline of civilization that Bernie Marcus fears began over a hundred and fifty years ago.
Biden greeted the people in the room with the usual pleasant formalities but paid special attention to his friends from the Labor Unions.
"Welcome back to the White House," he said.
There were cheers and laughter, as there ought to have been, in a civilized nation.