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"Big Labor" Vs. "Big Business": A Conceptual Rebuttal

Updated on May 11, 2016
wingedcentaur profile image

The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.

A lingustic analysis of the term "big labor"

"Big Labor"? You cannot be serious!

As you can see I categorized this hub under sociolinguistics. That may or may not be right, I don't know. I know that I wanted to take a close look at the terms big business and especially "big labor;" you see, I have problems with the latter term.

The terms big labor and big business, in political terms, are usually placed in opposition to each other. We might think of the formulation: big labor vs. big business. We have all heard this formulation ad infinitum, I should think, on the mainstream media. Centrist talk show hosts think they're being "fair and balanced," I suppose, by assuming (for the sake of a balanced presentation) that if business, as a collective entity, is "big," LABOR, to which the owners and managers of business are often in opposition to, must also be "big."

After all, questions might be raised if big business were somehow in opposition to an entity that is not also, equally "big," lest one starts to think that one entity, by virtue of its vastly superior size, institutional strength and political and legal power, and sole ownership of the means of production is engaged in a decidedly UNEQUAL contest, if you will, against an entity that whose strength and resources are a tiny fraction of the other entity. If we thought that, this might put our conception of the relationship between labor and business (management and ownership) in a different light.

This kind of linguistic sloppiness is like calling the Israeli-Palestinian situation a "conflict" instead of an "occupation." Its like saying that there's going to be a fight of a house cat VERSUS a gorilla, as though the gorilla and house cat were entities of similar strength, speed, and the like, each with a roughly fifty-fifty chance of winning the "contest," to put it charitably, and therefore as though there can be some suspense about the outcome.

The rule of versus

I have a rule about 'versus;' or rather it is not my rule, but one I have discerned. In fact it is a rule we all abide by when framing oppositions in terms of versus. It's just that sometimes we forget the internalized (in some cases quite logical) rules we live by.

If two entities are to be placed in opposition, If A is to have a contest with, as in A versus B, then there are certain things that must be true of A and B. These two entities, if they are to be placed in opposition to each other, must be engaged in a contest for which there is some suspense as to which side will prevail.

If there is to be some suspense as to which side will prevail, then it follows that the two sides must be, to some degree, "evenly matched." This is so of a prize fighting match -- you don't pit a heavyweight against a featherweight -- 200 lbs. or more versus a man 125 lbs. or less. The advantages in weight, strength (and usually height), and punching power are in favor of the heavyweight to such an extent as to make his advantages overwhelming, and therefore the governing bodies of the sport of boxing, then, no longer set up such matches.

One would not set up a one-on-one basketball match of Michael Jordan versus Vern Troyer (the actor who played "Mini Me" in the Austin Powers series), for obvious reasons. There could not possibly be any suspense about the outcome; to say "Michael Jordan Vs. Vern Troyer" is ridiculous! This match up is not a credible opposition.

Let me say, straight out, that there is no such thing as "big labor." If they were "big," they would not be, by definition, "labor." SInce they are "labor," workers are not "big" in the United States of America. Sorry, I forgot to make myself clear. I'm talking about these terms, "big labor" and big business in the context of the American political economy.

Let's define some terms.

Big Business: the owners and managers of large corporations, be they nationally-bound or multinational enterprises. We are talking about a CLASS OF PEOPLE IN AMERICAN SOCIETY.

Big Labor: workers, people whose only value, allegedly, they can offer to business is their ability to do work with their hands and back, their ability to labor physically. They are so-called "unskilled" and perhaps so-called "semi-skilled" workers. So, what they "bring to the table," as it were, their ability to physically work and it is this that puts them in a weak position when it comes time to negotiate for pay and benefits with their employer.

Big business has the power in the relationship of mangement and labor. Management determines what labor gets in pay and benefits and working conditions. LABOR HAS NO SUCH POWER TO DETERMINE PAY, BENEFITS, AND WORKING CONDITIONS OF MANAGEMENT.

Big business, meaning owners and managers, own and control the means of production (the equipment, machinery, and what is made with that apparatus). As you know, in the United States labor has no say about how the means of production are used.

Big business can hire and fire labor at will. LABOR CANNOT HIRE AND FIRE MANGEMENT.

Contrary to popular opinion, big business operates in combinations even if they are not called "unions." These combinations of big business have far more influence over government than labor does, because business contributes exponentially more money to politicians of both parties; its important to note that big business HAS exponentially more money to spend than labor unions, because it is the big business class controls the profits -- and they don't "share" them with labor as a rule.

"Skilled" Unskilled" and "Semi-skilled" labor

What I would argue, here, is that with these designations capitalism has long ago reduced human beings to means to an end rather than ends in themselves. These designations are, as I see it, representative of what I will call the utilitarianization of human beings. Now, I personally do not believe there is any such thing as an "unskilled" or merely "semi-skilled" person. Every human being has skills, talents, and abilities regardless of one's level of formal education.

One of the things that has happened over the last fifty years, is what one might call a moving of the goal post, with respect to qualifications, who is skilled or not skilled. There are many jobs for which a high school diploma was just fine. Decades later, even though the job hasn't changed much if at all, suddenly a high school diploma is not good enough.

Now you need "more education." Why? Why should such jobs need "more education." And who has the power to make these determinations? Is it "big" labor or big business? By the way, come to think of it, this moving of the goal post is a good way to redistribute income upwards, is it not?

Why does it virtually require a college degree in journalism to be a reporter? Is the quality of the reportage really better because of it, as opposed to decades past when so much formal training had not be deemed necessary.

You know, there's case after case in the way the ruling class operates that shows what they they think of RULES and QUALIFICATIONS. Remember Cathie Black?

She was the person, a publishing executive, that Mayor Michael Bloomberg tapped for New York City Schools chancellor, a while back. Remember that episode?

First of all the New York City Council voted to allow Bloomberg to run for and serve a third term over popular objections as expressed in two previous public referendums. But Black did not have any of the necessary education credentials, not even experience as a teacher. But that did not stop the big business class from moving the goal post -- a whole lot closer! A waiver for the academic credentials was arranged, and Black was assigned a deputy.

Cathie Black resigned after a few months, but she got the job. "Qualifications" are largely a function of power, one has to admit. For labor "more education," "more training," and "more skills needed," are virtually written in stone -- which, remember, also does a nice job of redistributing income upward -- but for the big business class qualifications are flexible; Bloomberg endorsed Black because she was a strong, proven manager and leader, and so on and so forth.

Okay, let's leave it there. Ta-Ta!


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    • wingedcentaur profile imageAUTHOR

      William Thomas 

      7 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

      Good Evening Danette Watt!

      Thank you for being the first to visit my unworthy hub. I'm so pleased you got something out of it. One thing I always say: with language there is always a sort of unavoidable "word-drift" over time.

      Words sort of morph and alter their EFFECTIVE meaning, somewhat, over time. And so before beginning a discussion we should take some time to recalibrate words and their meanings; its like remembering to wind your watch every day or every other day; you have to do that before you can start to tell time.

      Anyhoo... thanks again, Danette Watt, for stopping by.

      Take it easy.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Very interesting hub. You bring up points I hadn't really thought about before and they are valid ones. As you say, one must define one's terms and put the entities on equal footing before you even start the debate.


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