Don't get anyone who likes The Simpsons talking "best episodes" unless you have a couple hours to kill and sufficient devotion to the show to argue fine points like Frank Grimes vs. Hank Scorpio for best one-show cameo. Depending on the context and the definition of "best," there are probably 20 episodes that could plausibly hold the title. For its commentary on organized labor in the United States, though, "Last Exit to Springfield" has to be near the top of the list.

Over the past two weeks the automotive press has been full of stories about Elon Musk's (he of Tesla and PayPal fame) efforts to stave off unionization at his Fremont, California factory.

His strategy is to treat his employees like toddlers, apparently, and convince them to forgo unionization in exchange for toys and treats and a trip to Six Flags. If you think that's a metaphor, it isn't: he has offered quite literally to give the factory a frozen yogurt bar and a roller coaster in exchange for a union-free contract. I would like to point out that the year is 2017, and this exact scenario was in the aforementioned Simpsons episode in 1993.

Carl: But seriously, we have to vote on Mr. Burns' new contract. It's basically the same deal, except we get a free keg of beer for our meetings.
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(crowd cheers) In exchange for that, we have to give up our dental plan. (everyone cheers and rushes over to the beer keg)

Lenny: (pours beer) So long dental plan!

You can't make these things up.

There are arguments to be made (albeit not necessarily equally persuasive ones) for and against unionization.
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You have to love the cynicism of the ruling class when it doesn't even bother making them and instead jiggles its car keys and a squeaky toy in front of labor, expecting that to convince them to give up rights and long term economic benefits.

And you know what? It'll probably work.


  • A yogurt bar, roller coaster or free beer would be a better deal than public employees in Iowa just got. The GOP Legislature shoved through a union-busting bill a couple weeks ago and Governor-for-Life-Until-He-Leaves-for-China Terry "The Brandstache" Branstad promptly signed it. We still can't have beer at work, let alone have it supplied by the state.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    This thread is going to be full of people challenging my faith in "32 Short Films About Springfield." I probably shouldn't read it.

    I wonder if this new Golden Age of libertarian disruption and innovation will produce some new, mutant form of satire.

  • And so the slow march to working conditions awful enough for unions to be necessary again continues. Should be a fun ride.

    Also Hank Scorpio is by far the best cameo, sorry Grimey.

  • Typically the arguments 'against Unionization' are "why do you need a union? Management cares a whole lot about you". Then, they screw everyone over until right before a certification vote comes up. Rinse, repeat.

    As a person who works for a union, it makes us happy when we are the cudgel that is used every so often to extract some benefit. "Don't unionize, here's that concession we totally meant to give you until you threatened". However, that's why they're totally going to kneecap us financially and remove the threat in the next year.

    By the way, that Simpsons exchange is one of those 'you may as well laugh because it's better than crying' moments. Cf. also the building trades kissing Trump's ass right before he/Congress get rid of Davis Bacon/ prevailing wage law.

  • Good job, negative 1 on pointing out one of Trump's latest cons–making unions think he has their backs when he says he wants to keep jobs in America. I can't believe the UAW head is falling for that bullshit.

  • It's unfortunate that people don't study history. Unions didn't just pop up out of nowhere (same with Social Security, Medicare, etc.). They were created as a response to a system that didn't work for workers or working-class people. Now, we're heading back to that system that doesn't work and it's the working class leading us there. I guess I'll pick up my copy of The Flivver King and prepare for what's coming.

  • Don't forget Homer dressed up like a southern belle and saying "The south shall rise again!"

    The early years of The Simpsons (maybe the first 10?) were sheer genius, especially from a science perspective. Anyone remember Homer falling through the closet and ending up in a 3-D, Tron-like landscape?

  • Also, the clear winner for the title of "Greatest Simpsons Episode Ever" is obviously "Marge vs. the Monorail"

  • And not only did Governor-for-Life-Until-He-Leaves-for-China Terry "The Brandstache" Branstad promptly sign it, he did so in the company of a Koch surrogate. He said "I get my picture taken with a lot of people! This is no big deal." The press wasn't alerted to this, but somehow, this guy knew in enough time that he could get there to attend.

  • I sort of have gone through the three stages of man during the show's run. It started when was in college and I identified with Bart. Now I drink discount Mickey D's coffee and identify with Grandpa.

    ps I am more of a Life in Hell guy.

  • Does the Republican/Conservative platform consist of anything more than, "Our Great/Grandparents were idiots!"
    Grandparents: Working conditions suck, let's unionize.
    Republican Platform: When I become rich and own my own business I wouldn't want to pay those high wages so I am willing to work for these small wages.
    GP: Having breadlines and mass homelessness is bad. We should make sure people's basic needs are met so they don't have to suffer and turn to crime to survive.
    R:Socialist Cucks!
    GP: I don't particularly enjoy watching people get gunned down outside of the saloon or these bootleggers with their Tommy Guns. Let's put some restrictions on where and when guns can be handled.
    GP: You know, rivers really shouldn't catch fire like that.
    R: The EPA is a job killer!

  • ChickenLady says:

    More and more, it seems to me like unions are doing a job that should be performed by government, either at the state or federal level. Firstly, everyone should have healthcare, dental, vision, etc and it still seems odd to me that it ever comes from one's employer rather than a national plan; kind of a patchwork and changeable way to get people covered. Also, pensions, paid time off, parental leave – I wouldn't be averse to seeing these become required benefits. Am I looking at this the wrong way? It just seems like it should be unnecessary to formally organize and threaten to quit in order to leverage employers into sharing the wealth created by the hard work of the employees. I think other countries (probably Scandinavian – they seem to "get" this stuff) have some kind of wage protections, but I'm not sure how they work.

  • Gerald McGrew says:

    Isn't this just part of the bigger process? As others noted, unions came about from a real need for decent working conditions and compensation. But once those things were (generally) realized……why do we need unions? We got what we wanted, right?

    So unions start to fade away, and now we're in the phase of owners and management taking those gains back. Once they've gone far enough, we'll need unions again.

    You can apply this same model to environmental regulations. We need 'em, they get enacted, they work, we don't need 'em anymore, they get repealed, then we'll need 'em again.

    To pull it back to Homer……"Why bother going out? We're just gonna wind up back here anyway."

  • Has anyone noticed that in states where they are passing laws against unions they are exempting police and firefighter unions because…

  • @Sluggo; when I was in college, my roommates and I read the city paper that had Life in Hell. Groening has brought some of those characters (particularly the one-eared rabbit) on The Simpsons, in the background.

    @ChickenLady; I would be so happy to live in a country with a basic social safety net. My industry provides some paid time off (never enough!) and some form of basic health care, but it varies wildly from company to company and year to year. I realize I have it better than many American workers, as bad as it is for me. I sympathize utterly with people demanding them, and I think it should come from the gov't.

    @April; yup, police and firefighters are worshipped because Reasons.

  • Several years ago, Novellis wanted to stop it's Oswego work force from unionizing, so it let it be known that a "yes" vote might be the end of the plant–this after having spent $100'sM upgrading existing plant and installing a new line to make metal exclusively for the Ford F-150. I wasn't involved in any way except knowing some people who work there. I have no idea how anyone convinced them that Novellis would walk away from a capital investment that approaches/exceeds $1B AND default on the Ford contract*. Bottom line, the union was not voted in. The NLRB seems to have a shriveled ballsack on the issue, not that they were ever a friend of the unions, and have not done what is clearly required here, fining the living shit out of Novellis and making them schedule another vote. I could be wrong, but I've been told that this is the only plant that is NOT unionized.

    * There was NO other plant in the country/industry that could make the alloy.

  • The most unforgettable part of the whole unforgettable episode for me was the scene with Homer standing in line for beer from the keg. Meanwhile the voices in his head are repeating the title of this piece. "Lisa needs braces. Dental plan! Lisa needs braces. Dental plan! Lisa needs braces. Dental plan!"

    Over and over and over. Maybe fifty times? It felt like fifty times. And finally it gets through Homer's concrete skull that getting braces is a way better deal than a plastic cup of beer.

    And yet, what with social media and all, stuff gets repeated way more than fifty times these days. But the workers go for the roller coaster anyway. *Nothing* gets through the concrete anymore. Why is that?

  • Wouldn't be at all surprised if the enormous money displays their usual foresight and self-control and create a need for a new labor movement. Of course, what's left of the old labor movement is something they can work with, and a new one may make them miss the old one, and wouldn't that be a shame…

  • @ Tim H:

    We'll then be seeing ads like the ones for the Federation's Starship Troopers. However, instead of the original tagline, iot will be:

    "Remember: Service in the Goon Squads GUARANTEES citizenship!".

  • @katydid:
    "@April; yup, police and firefighters are worshipped because Reasons."

    Big, fat cases of $100,000 Reasons…

    Among largest contributors to most small-market elections…

  • "*Nothing* gets through the concrete anymore. Why is that?"

    The concrete is poured in by things repeated *five hundred* times. We still need a coherent Liberal Media Machine to counteract the conservative one.

    Beyond that, those who remember before the '80s don't particularly have good memories of unions. What they DO remember is union hard-hats beating up hippie anti-war protesters. (Even Frank Zappa shared a horror story or two about having to deal with unions.) That along with TAXXEZZZZ! made Dem vs. Rep. a much more even choice emotionally.

  • @ Bern:

    Not that I disagree with your sentiment but, afaia, cops and firefighters are prohibited by law from donating money to political campaigns for specific candidates.

    @ Jeff B.:

    Unions are remembered for that sort of violence, to be sure. That they are responsible for winning wage/benefit concessions from unionized companies and causing other non-unionoized companies from making some sort of attempt to match them or face union organizational tactics is completely lost on most folks. In other words, the reason that a lot of us dirty hippies* were even in college is because our parents became middle-class in no small part because of unions.

    * I was actually a pretty "squared away" AF NCO from 1969-1973+/- only being a hippy (and never a dirty one) on the weekends. But I was definitely left.

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