It’s hard to spend time on Facebook without finding examples of “Godwin’s Law”: The longer an online discussion goes on, the higher the likelihood someone will use a Nazi analogy. After reading social-media posts about the presidential race, it’s clear such discussions — Is Hitlery (Clinton) creepier than (Donald) Trumpolini? — needn’t go on very long before someone mentions a dead dictator.
Unfortunately, the overuse of such comparisons numbs us to those instances where only such an analogy will suffice. Consider the following situation and ask yourself whether this is the type of thing that happens in free or totalitarian societies:
People vote in an election. The government suspects the vote will go against its allies, so it seizes the ballots. Officials overseeing the election seem to be in cahoots with the suspected losers. They hold proceedings that have the trappings of an impartial legal process, but the results are a foregone conclusion. After three years of bureaucratic machinations, officials decide to destroy the ballots — and tout the decision as a victory for voters’ rights.
The term “Soviet-esque” jumps to mind. The Soviet Union did indeed have elections. It had a constitution, too. In a banana republic, the voting boxes would have been seized, the voters rounded up, and that would have been that. In totalitarian regimes, image is important. It’s not a Nazi analogy, but I can’t resist the Soviet comparisons.
The example here was inspired by a union decertification election at one of the nation’s largest fruit farms. As many workers allege, the United Farm Workers — the union founded by Cesar Chavez — won an organizing election at Gerawan Farming near Fresno in 1990. Then the UFW largely disappeared from the scene, reappearing 22 years later and claiming to be the rightful dues-collecting representatives of the workers.
The farm is known for paying some of the best wages in the industry. Its workers held an election in 2013 on whether to decertify the UFW, figuring it wasn’t much help, due to the long absence. The Agricultural Labor Relations Board — created under Gov. Jerry Brown decades ago to assure that farmworkers can choose their labor representatives — oversaw the voting. It then grabbed the ballots and has kept them in a vault ever since. It recently voted to destroy them.
“It almost seems like (ALRB) is in cahoots (with the union),” said a Fresno County judge at one point in the latest fracas. You think? Instead of telling 3,000 farm workers the government knows best and will never count votes to decertify the union, the Brown administration let them trudge up to the ALRB headquarters in Sacramento, where they were treated to a kind of bureaucratic callousness one would expect in — here I go again — the Soviet Union.
Instead of counting the votes, the labor board forced the workers into “mandatory mediation and conciliation,” where it and UFW leaders crafted the workers’ contract. Workers even were denied an opportunity to be in the room where their contract was being hammered out. The Legislature weighed in — on the side of the union — by passing a bill that gives the agency even more power to impose contracts on workers unilaterally.
For a while, it looked like the governor might save the dignity of his agency. He vetoed that bill (S.B. 25) and brought in an old hand, former National Labor Relations Board Chairman William B. Gould IV, to run it. Some personnel changed, but nothing substantive did. On April 15, the board affirmed its own past findings and set aside the election. It said the farm “unlawfully supported and assisted a petition to decertify the UFW,” although there “was insufficient evidence that the employer… initiated an effort to decertify” the union.
Among its findings: the farm helped send buses to Sacramento to protest the board’s action and thus “sent a signal to all employees that it supported the decertification effort.” The “employer unlawfully granted a wage increase during the decertification campaign and unlawfully solicited employee grievances.” By the way, the ALRB spent more than $10 million in tax dollars on these show trials.
“In its decision to destroy the ballots, the board ignores the desires of workers to determine their own economic future,” according to a Gerawan Farming statement. “Chairman Gould justifies the board’s power to trump worker rights. He insinuates that Gerawan’s employees have become ‘servile pawns’ of ‘masters,’ subjugated to a ‘tyranny’ of their employer. He frames the issues as a parable to the ‘storm clouds’ that ‘gathered so ominously’ in Nazi Germany. He cloaks his decision in the language of democracy, in order to destroy a democratic right.”
Gould thus confirmed Godwin’s Law doesn’t only apply to the Internet, but to bureaucratic pronouncements as well. But it gets even more dystopian. Two weeks before his decision, the ALRB chairman penned a column in the Los Angeles Daily Journal, a prominent legal publication, defending the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding mandatory union-dues payments (Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association).
First, the hypocrisy: “If teachers object to union policies with regard to seniority, tenure and teacher evaluations, they can always campaign against the union’s attempt to become a representative,” Gould wrote. “Dissenters are always free to vote for someone else at an appropriate time and dissatisfied workers can always get no union, another union or new leadership.” Unless, of course, a union-friendly government official decides to shred their votes.
Second, there’s a broader issue raised by the attorney representing some of the disenfranchised Gerawan workers. “(I)f the contract is imposed on these workers, and the UFW is permitted to siphon away workers’ hard-earned wages, the union stands to approximately double its membership and annual revenue,” Anthony Raimondo wrote in a recent letter to Gould. Based on the view expressed in the Daily Journal column, “such an outcome would be a wonderful benefit to your beloved Democratic Party, and a boon to a legislative agenda that you personally support. Such a public position is inappropriate for a person in your position….”
Alas, in Sacramento’s one-party state, no one with any clout is likely to object. It may not be Nazi-like, but it’s certainly totalitarian.