Union Busting with Pepper Spray Drones?

Image credit: bbc.com

Image credit: bbc.com

Union busting is a practice that has been around since before unions. The classical mode of suppressing workers organizing for rights and fair pay has been, literally, to bust heads. After the death of 34 mining strikers by police last year in South Africa, one company has the ever-so-brilliant plan of arming drones with industrial pepper spray to subdue union members without all the hassle of wrongful-death lawsuits and blood clean up.

Disregarding the fact that militarization of police and security forces against striking workers is the cause of the massacre at Marikana, the South African-based company Desert Wolf is looking to sell several models of its Skunk Riot Controlled Copter to companies for what it deems “safe” disbursement of large, unruly crowds. Each drone can carry up to 4,000 “non-lethal” pellets, particularly pepper spray paint balls, and shoot them at 80 balls a second.

There’s no way anything can go wrong here, huh?

I think Tim Noonan of the International Trade Confederation sums this up pretty neatly:

This is a deeply disturbing and repugnant development and we are convinced that any reasonable government will move quickly to stop the deployment of advanced battlefield technology on workers or indeed the public involved in legitimate protests and demonstrations.

Noonan highlights something of concern: That these militarized drones can be used against not just unruly strikers (which is horrible enough), but against any critics the government or businesses find threatening. As with such developments, we need to put them into a bit of context and how they may apply to us.

South Africa is different than the US, but there are some similarities. While the US officially threw out Jim Crow almost fifty years ago and South Africa dumped Apartheid over two decades ago, we both still have practical influences that hurt the poor, that keep our Black populations mostly poor, and that increase an economic and social divide between the rich and the poor. Ending movements for workers’ rights is one of the most effective ways to keep the powers in play and the people at bay.

Yet situations are quite drastically different in the US and South Africa. It has been a hundred years since the Ludlow Massacre and longer than that since the Haymarket riots ended so poorly for strikers in the US, and rarely recently have we had to worry about police murdering protesters or union busting through busting union members’ heads. Instead, unions have been robbed of their power through other measures, most notably state laws and anti-union propaganda, both of which support what I like to call Boss Culture.

State laws directed against unions have been tremendously effective in limiting the power and reach of unions. The most emaciating one, of course, has been Right-to-Work laws, which are spread in half the states. They gut unions by making due payments optional at a unionized workspace – which of course drastically reduces the power and effectiveness of unions. Workers have little in the way of protection because their representation is working on zero budget versus the multimillion and billion dollars bosses have to work with. There is no counter to the narrative of Boss Culture, and collective bargaining is an after-thought, if even existentAs a result, wages are stagnant and declining (by an average of 3% for all) while health insurance and retirement funds also decrease significantly in these RtW states, of course – among all workers, not just union.

As Dean Bakopuolus notes in Bloomberg:

Paying for union services only when you need them is like paying taxes for police and fire services only if you use them. We pay taxes to ensure that if we call 911, someone well trained shows up; yet nobody calls 911 on a daily basis.

But this is the  propaganda we are given when encountering why we should back such ALEC-approved legislation.

Other ways our own government is involved in union busting include: the recent and bogus Vergara V California court case against teacher’s tenures (comparing the privileging of long-term teachers to school segregationlolWHUT?); Scooter’s laws to effectively end collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin; and privatization of public services, such as charter schools and renting streets & sanitation units.

We can see the propaganda arm of Boss Culture through various methods. Some, such as Fox News, call states without Right-to-Work laws “Forced Unionism”. This leads more impressionable viewers to believe that they would be forced to join a union if their state went back. More importantly, it strengthens the fundamental claim of Boss Culture that unions are bullies, forcing the hands of employees and employers to get their own selfish ways. We see this in how they call union organizers and members “thugs.” We see this in the history they present about workers’ movements.

I saw it when a conservative friend would rant on and on about how destructive unions are and how they forced the nice mining company to shut down and move out. And now the town he grew up in is a ghost town and it’s all because of those greedy unions and not the fault of those really generous bosses.

We probably don’t need to worry about union busting drones in the United States now because unions aren’t that much of a threat these days to the bosses. For now, we are in their grasp. But I want you to recall the freak-out that Boss Culture and the Powers that Be had during the height of the Occupy movement. When disinformation didn’t meet all of their needs and when shutting the protesters out of both public and private lands didn’t turn out to be so easy, they increasingly relied on militarized police and security to bust the union of people. So we recall canisters of tear gas shot at demonstrators’ heads and industrial-strength pepper spray torqued on peaceful sit-ins. If they can disperse workers similar to how they’re conducting anti-terrorist strikes in the Middle East and Central Asia – through the comfort and remoteness of flying robots – who’s to say they wouldn’t consider it.

Just be ready. They still wanna bust heads.


When he’s not riding both his city’s public transit system and evil mayor, Jasdye teaches at a community college and writes about the intersection of equality and faith - with an occasional focus on Chicago - at the Left Cheek blog and on the Left Cheek: the Blog Facebook page. Check out more from Jasdye in his archives as well!


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