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Democracy, Shmemocracy

As the Orwellian-named “Employee Free Choice Act” — and its provision stripping workers of the right to a secret ballot on whether or not to accept a union — draws closer to a vote, the masks are finally slipping from its advocates. Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa Jr. has put out a press release lambasting the institution.

“This business about the Employee Free Choice Act taking away the secret ballot is nonsense spread by front groups for corporate fat cats who don’t want to give up their $16,000 wastebaskets,” Hoffa said.

“Since when is the secret ballot a basic tenet of democracy?” Hoffa said. “Town meetings in New England are as democratic as they come, and they don’t use the secret ballot. Elections in the Soviet Union were by secret ballot, but those weren’t democratic.”

Speaking as a lifetime New Englander who’s probably attended more town meetings than Mr. Hoffa, I can attest that they are, indeed, purest democracy. They are also a fading institution, with more and more towns moving towards actual secret ballots as the towns grow larger and the residents too busy to set aside an evening for civic affairs — and would prefer to take five to ten minutes to cast a ballot.

There is also a serious lack of historical intimidation — on either side — in town meetings. Special interests tend to do poorly in such contests. Indeed, they often tend to get the shaft, as a bit of “mob mentality” often takes hold and the townspeople tend to rally against being pushed around.

As to Mr. Hoffa’s other comparison, citing the Soviet Union — the late, little-lamented “worker’s paradise” that sang the praises of trade unions — is also inappropriate. In such cases as the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Saddam’s Iraq, the so-called “secret ballot” often contained a single candidate or party, leaving the voters the choice of voting for that person or group or leaving their ballot blank.

Further, there was seldom a truly “secret” ballot — tactics such as separate ballot boxes for different parties or blank ballots being rejected tended to make election results despairingly predictable.

But speaking of the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin famously said “it doesn’t matter who casts the ballots. What matters is who counts the ballots.” Stalin might be amused by the EFCA, which mandates that  unions not only get to make the ballots, but also get the electorate to cast their ballots in front of them.



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