Tag Archives: Unions

Ironic, in other words, tu quoque

Target stores are doing their best to fight the unions.  They've made some anti-union videos to be shown during training sessions.  They employed union actors to make the videos.  Here's the story in Salon.com, and the author, Justin Elliot, sees the tension:

Oh, the irony! Target Corp., long locked in a battle with labor organizers, filmed a notorious internal anti-union video with union actors and under the jurisdiction of one of the biggest unions in the entertainment business.

The trouble with the observation, at least argumentatively, is that it's clearly a critical statement, but it's not clear yet what the criticism amounts to.  What follows from the fact that Target used union workers to make a video against unions?  The actor who is one of the spokespeople in the video, Ric Reitz, felt it was "awkward" for him, not for Target.

Tu quoque arguments, like with many of the fallacy forms, usually are deployed cursorially, and one element of this cursorial presentation is conclusion suppression.  And so it has been said: 

Have you ever noticed that liberals want to kill babies but save the lives of hardened criminals?

Have you ever noticed how Christians worship someone who calls himself the prince of peace, but they themselves are crazed warmongers?

What follows from either of these tu quoque cases?  Not clear in either, but they are clearly critical.  And so some reconstruction is in order.  Perhaps with the liberals one, the observation is that the values are upside down, and so we know something about the kind of person who'd make that error.  Perhaps with the Christians case, the point is about self-deception.  Those are pretty charitable, but, hey, even fallacy forms deserve a little love.

So what's the charitable interpretation of the Target case?  One interpretation of Target's actions is that they did not look into whether the actors were union-affiliated, or if they knew so, their being in a union is immaterial, because these employees are utterly temporary, and Target won't have to deal with them again.  Store employees are different, and that's what they are out to prohibit.  Another charitable interpretation of Target's actions is that they genuinely do believe that unions get in the way of good business practice, but they won't begrudge individual actors and actresses who've made the error of joining one.

How about charitable interpretations of the argument as criticism, though? Here's one: Target has a double standard. On the one hand, there are actors, and they deserve the protections that unions can provide.  And on the other hand, there are the people that Target employs.  Target treats them however they like. Here's another: Target will play ball with unions. They just don't like to.  Here's one more: Target recognizes the quality of work that unionized workers provide, and they use them for crucial jobs.  But store workers are replacable, and so get no such treatment.  So far, they are just ad hominem arguments about character, but that's an improvement from cursorial tu quoque.

The ironing

So many interesting things happened while I was away.  Here's one (via TPM).

First, William Cronon, a professor of history at UW Madison, started a blog and  wrote an op-ed critical of the Wisconsin governor's drive to end collective bargaining for state employees.  He drew the following interesting analogy:

Perhaps that is why — as a centrist and a lifelong independent — I have found myself returning over the past few weeks to the question posed by the lawyer Joseph N. Welch during the hearings that finally helped bring down another Wisconsin Republican, Joe McCarthy, in 1954: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Scott Walker is not Joe McCarthy. Their political convictions and the two moments in history are quite different. But there is something about the style of the two men — their aggressiveness, their self-certainty, their seeming indifference to contrary views — that may help explain the extreme partisan reactions they triggered. McCarthy helped create the modern Democratic Party in Wisconsin by infuriating progressive Republicans, imagining that he could build a national platform by cultivating an image as a sternly uncompromising leader willing to attack anyone who stood in his way. Mr. Walker appears to be provoking some of the same ire from adversaries and from advocates of good government by acting with a similar contempt for those who disagree with him.

The turmoil in Wisconsin is not only about bargaining rights or the pension payments of public employees. It is about transparency and openness. It is about neighborliness, decency and mutual respect. Joe McCarthy forgot these lessons of good government, and so, I fear, has Mr. Walker. Wisconsin’s citizens have not.

That is an interesting analogy, in part because, just two days after Prof. Cronon started his blog, a defender of Walker's filed the following request:

From: Stephan Thompson [mailto:SThompson@wisgop.org]
Sent: Thursday, March 17, 2011 2:37 PM
To: Dowling, John
Subject: Open Records Request

Dear Mr. Dowling,

Under Wisconsin open records law, we are requesting copies of the following items:

Copies of all emails into and out of Prof. William Cronon’s state email account from January 1, 2011 to present which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell.

I guess Stephan Thompson has never heard of irony, Joe McCarthy, or the argumentum ad baculum. 

You can read Professor Thompson's reply here.  And this from the Daily Show is hilarious.

*on the title of the post.

Showers of gold

I belong to a faculty union, now in it's third year of contract negotiations (for a contract which lasts four years).  The sticking point, unsurprisingly, is not money.  No one expects any of that–no one other than the administration, the top rung of which has been lavished with raises equal in some cases to my entire full time Assistant Professor salary.  No one is complaining; their punishment is that they get to be administrators.  The sticking point is workload. 

But that's not really want I wanted to talk about.  I'd like to talk about promises.  David Leonhardt, writing in the New York Times, writes:

To be clear, I’m making an argument that’s different from “Government workers are overpaid.” I’m saying that they are paid in the wrong ways — in ways that make life easier on union leaders and elected officials, at least initially, but that eventually hurt both workers and taxpayers.

The best example is health insurance. Health plans for union workers and retirees are much more likely to require little or no co-payment, which leads to lots of medical treatments that don’t make people any healthier, and to huge costs. Ultimately, some of these plans will probably prove so expensive as to be unsustainable. Workers would have been better off accepting a less generous benefit package and slightly higher salaries.

 Got that.  He's not saying they're overpaid.  He's saying they're overpaid.

On a different point.  Workers negotiated those plans on purpose.  They accept lower salary in favor of better health and retirement benefits, because they understand that this is part of their compensation.  The responsibility for making these deals sustainable belongs not to them, but to the people with whom they negotiated.  If it doesn't, then Leonhardt has justified negotiation in bad faith, and has placed the blame on failing to follow through on promises with the promise breaker. 

In the moral universe, promises such as those outlined in contracts entail moral obligations to uphold them–however "unsustainable" they may be.  If they turn out, in this case, to be unsustainable, the fault lies with the promiser. 

**In other news.  Corporations have no personal right to privacy:

“Two words together may assume a more particular meaning than those words in isolation,” he wrote, adding that “personal privacy” suggests “a kind of privacy evocative of human concerns.”

The chief justice had examples here, too. “We understand a golden cup to be a cup made of or resembling gold,” he wrote. “A golden boy, on the other hand, is one who is charming, lucky and talented. A golden opportunity is one not to be missed.”

I wonder if Roberts noticed all of the clerks laughing.

American idle

In the wake of David Brooks's critical piece on Sarah Palin, I was going to point out that perhaps I was wrong about the right wing pundit corps.  Maybe they don't marshal any argument, however foolish, in support of their "guy," whoever their guy is, or however silly his policy prescriptions.  That would have been fun to write, as I enjoy being wrong, despite what people may think.  But then I run across this morning's George Will column.  He's not pro-Palin, but that's not going to stop him from making a pitch for McCain.  Well it's not really a pitch for McCain, since he doesn't mention any of McCain's numerous virtues or policy proposals as a reason to vote for him.

What worries George Will, reputedly some kind of libertarian, about a Democratic Presidency is the possibility of (a) an (unlikely I think) expansion of unionization, (b) universal health care, (c) (unlikely again) laws regarding political speech.  As a rule, one ought to dismiss out of hand Will's characterization of these issues, as he is, unfortunately, a serial straw man constructor.  Perhaps one might find better arguments against those things elsewhere.  What's silly is that these three things pose such a danger to the country and liberty, that Will finds their possible vetoing sufficient reason to vote for McCain.  I mean, as they say, come on you've got to be kidding me.  This is all you have?

Well, in other ironic matters, there's this:

Palin is as bracing as an Arctic breeze and delightfully elicits the condescension of liberals whose enthusiasm for everyday middle-class Americans cannot survive an encounter with one. But the country's romance with her will, as romances do, cool somewhat, and even before November some new fad might distract a nation that loves "American Idol" for the metronomic regularity with which it discovers genius in persons hitherto unsuspected of it.  

"Liberals," of course, are elitists–i.e., not "everyday middle-class Americans."  Don't they, by the way, belong to unions?  Unions like the ones whose expansion this piece claims to offer reason to oppose?  Then of course the irony: George Will, cursing elitism, makes fun not only of what lots of people watch, but of their aesthetic judgments as well.  But perhaps he never cursed elitism.

In a related matter–this is dumbfoundingly hilarious.