Unilateral Disarmament in the Class War

What’s worse? That the Right has been waging class war on working Americans for three decades? Or that progressives haven’t even been aware of it?

Some outrage in Blue Blogistan about a proposed law from House Republicans that would deny union members and their families of Food Stamp benefits if they are on strike.  Chait notes that “obviously the intent here is to increase the bargaining power of management vis a vis its workforce by increasing the threat of severe deprivation to anybody contemplating a labor strike. I don’t believe these members of Congress actually sought to punish the spouses and children of striking workers, but when you’re waging class war, collateral damage is inevitable.”

Very true.  Well, guess what?  The joke’s on us because this horrid bill is current law. 7 U.S.C. sec. 415(d)(3) reads:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a household shall not participate in the supplemental nutrition assistance program at any time that any member of such household, not exempt from the work registration requirements of paragraph (1) of this subsection, is on strike as defined in section 142(2) of Title 29, because of a labor dispute (other than a lockout) as defined in section 152(9) of Title 29: Provided, That a household shall not lose its eligibility to participate in the supplemental nutrition assistance program as a result of one of its members going on strike if the household was eligible immediately prior to such strike, however, such household shall not receive an increased allotment as the result of a decrease in the income of the striking member or members of the household: Provided further, That such ineligibility shall not apply to any household that does not contain a member on strike, if any of its members refuses to accept employment at a plant or site because of a strike or lockout.

This provision, according to my colleague Noah Zatz (who specializes in employment law and public benefits law) was put in by the Reagan Administration in 1981.  In other words, the provision that progressives are screaming about now has been the law for nearly thirty years now.  And no one has seen fit to do anything about it.  (Food Stamps is now called the “supplemental nutrition assistance program” so it’s the same program).

This reveals two points:

1)  There is nothing in current Republican policy that really diverges from Reaganism.  The entire push of the American Right since Reagan has been to crush labor in particular and working Americans in general.  This is just working out of the general program.

2)  It says something quite pathetic about the state of progressive America that none of us seemed to know anything about this, and that promoting the rights of working people has been pushed so far to the background that we can’t even see a lot of its most pernicious manifestations.

What’s worse?  That the Right has declared class war on working Americans?  Or that progressives haven’t even been aware of it?

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

18 thoughts on “Unilateral Disarmament in the Class War”

  1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that law generally prohibit your collecting food stamps as a result of voluntarily quitting your job, regardless of whether you call yourself a “striker” or a “slacker”?

  2. What’s worse? That the Right has declared class war on working Americans? Or that progressives haven’t even been aware of it?

    The latter, IMHO. You know the former is going to happen – it has happened for what % of this country’s existence? 99? 100? What kind of opposition is it that can do nothing but backtrack and run away when the rich grab for more wealth at the expense of the little guy?


  3. The whole idea of “voluntarily quitting” is a load of bullsh*t. How many people, with their employers satisfied and desiring to keep them on, decide to quit because they’re just too gosh darn lazy to work? How many people do that when they’re poor enough that they need food stamps?

    If someone desperate enough to need food stamps quits their job, it’s almost certainly because the job is just too awful to bear. Maybe they’re being harassed or treated like sh*t. Maybe the job is too physically strenuous for them to keep doing. Maybe it’s horribly unsafe. There are a thousand pressing reasons why people quit their jobs, and most of them don’t show up on some form the government can use to judge their worthiness. Workers have a right to quit without starving. They’re not slaves who go where they’re assigned no matter how awful.

    I’d just give the stamps to anyone who wants them. People still have plenty of things pushing them to desperately seek employment even if they get free food.

  4. I’d be in favor of making food stamps a universal entitlement for everyone – regardless of income or working status. Middle-class families could use help with their grocery bills too. And a universal program would have much broader public support, as demonstrated by Social Security and Medicare.

  5. Chaz: I edited your comment by taking out a single vowel in the words bullsh*t and sh*t. Obviously that won’t prevent anyone from knowing what you meant, but it will prevent certain content filters from marking us unfit for minors. This may not be a consistent policy of the blog, but it is, I think, a policy. I leave un-bleeped profanity out of my own posts for the same reason (and Mark edited me once when I didn’t).

  6. It is nice to know things–but … one of the markers of present day American law is its incredible complexity and prolixity which makes it pretty much impossible for almost all to really know what the law is. Thomas Geoghegan’s recent book “See You in Court: How the Right Made America a Lawsuit Nation” is an interesting discussion of some of the issues this presents.

    This complexity has had very negative effects on those practicing law (as well as the body politic), forcing them to specialize and become narrower and narrower in their interests.

  7. This seems to me to raise a fairly obvious question? Is it possible that the reason we know so little about this law is because it’s simply not being enforced? Especially since for laws such as these, the “sharp end of the spear,” so to speak, involves regulations adopted to carry out the law, not enforcement of the law itself. If those regulations have never been adopted (or are simply being ignored, as a policy choice), then our ignorance of the statutory provision becomes a little more understandable.

    Note that none of this is intended to suggest that it’s okay to pass laws like this in the first instance.

  8. I don’t mind the law, as long as we pass a separate and equal law that removes from any corporation convicted of violating tax law, moving their headquarters overseas, or found guilty of gross violations of employment law any and all subsidies, tax breaks, revocation of municipality inducements. Because we shouldn’t be encouraging that, right?

  9. We understand your theory, Brett.

    Nobody ever voluntarily quit their job because they were sexually assaulted by their boss, discriminated against when it comes to promotions on the basis of say race, because the stress was incompatible with a health condition, because their boss was a jerk, because they were underpaid . . . it is ALWAYS because they are a slackard.

    BTW, strikers are by definition not quitting their job, just taking a vacation from it. If they were indeed quitting, they could be fired.

    But don’t let the truth stand in the way of your meme.

  10. H provides a good reference: Thomas Geoghegan’s recent book, See You in Court: How the Right Made America a Lawsuit Nation

    Contra retr2327, a) sure it is being enforced; b) what’s not being enforced, is unemployment compensation. Employers now regularly litigate to inhibit legitimate claims to unemployment compensation. Laws protecting the rights of workers to form unions are not being enforced. Laws requiring overtime pay are not being enforced. The friggin’ minimum wage is not enforced, to the extent that the Labor Department’s statistics regular show more people paid less than the minimum wage, than paid the minimum wage.

    It is not the fact of a detail being overlooked by what passes for a Left in this country, it is that the pattern, the paradigm has been overlooked for so long and so thoroughly.

    Geoghegan’s book is one of a number attempts to call attention to the paradigm of Reaganism run amok, which is destroying the American middle class at a rapid clip. He focuses on de-regulation and the law. I think Kevin Phillips, a former Nixon Republican and bona fide conservative, did a great job with his books, American Theocracy and Bad Money.

    I fault the economics profession for their incompetence. Their intellectual apparatus is simply incapable of making sense of the detail; it lacks the fractal gene, which would relate macro policy to micro, income distribution to economic performance or policy, and, of course, it is deeply, fatally corrupt. It is not that the basic concepts and facts are not there, in the textbooks of yore, but they’ve been buried and forgotten, in favor of libertarian fairy tales about unintended consequences. But, that may just be my peculiar intellectual pre-occupations at work.

    The complacency and shallowness seems to pervade American society at the beginning of the 21st century. Bush II, for all his sins, was only really unpopular, when the price of gas began to rise. If the political consciousness of the vast majority is no deeper than that, there’s no hope for an historical memory or vision of the future, which would recognize a pattern of institutional development.

    So, we now offer a lifetime of debt peonage in exchange for a college education, and economists, completely ignorant that that is reality for many of their students, lecture piously on an amorphous “skills-biased technical change” — not concrete public policy. And we wonder how we missed the building of the fascist state.

  11. H. wisely wrote: It is nice to know things–but … one of the markers of present day American law is its incredible complexity and prolixity which makes it pretty much impossible for almost all to really know what the law is.

    I’d say complexity in general is doing us in.
    Too much to know…and it keeps changing.
    But that’s just my particular rant these days.

  12. Actually, this begs an entirely different question. If no one knew this law existed then is it even being enforced? If it is then why doesn’t anyone know about it?

  13. Seems to me that in the ‘olden days,’ say 20-30 years ago, friends who were union members or in union families told me that the UNIONS informed their members about things like this. I think I remember people telling me they weren’t eligible for food stamps when on strike. The unions apparently explained pretty well what the laws were about when/where/how picketing was allowed, what union funds were available for assistance for families in dire need, etc. Don’t union officials and reps still keep up with labor law, and don’t they inform their members about things like this?

  14. From the article: “This provision, according to my colleague Noah Zatz (who specializes in employment law and public benefits law) was put in by the Reagan Administration in 1981.”

    In 1981 the republicans had a majority in the Senate, but Tip O’Neilwas was the Speaker ofthe House with a democrat majority. The Reagan administration did not insert any law that was not passed by the democrat-run House.

    Sorry to burst your theory’s bubble with demonstrable history.

  15. (Zasloff): “There is nothing in current Republican policy that really diverges from Reaganism. The entire push of the American Right since Reagan has been to crush labor in particular and working Americans in general. This is just working out of the general program.

    The above argument makes a case study in the larger argument against tax support of education. You could get similarly bigoted arguments from the drunk on the next barstool. Would UCLA tolerate an Anthropology professor with similarly biased views of, say, blacks or whites or Asians that Professor Zasloff expresses of Republicans?

    I recommend Hayek, __The Constitution of Liberty__, for a sensible statement of the free market position on unions.

Comments are closed.