During half time of the 2012 Super Bowl, a commercial aired that represents a direct attack against unions and serves as an excellent demonstration of the use of ideology to promote false consciousness. The supposed union workers in the ad complain about unions taking such high union dues and state that they did not vote for the union, suggesting that they don’t want the union and that it does not represent their interests. The commercial’s narrator says “only 10% of people in unions today actually voted to join the union” and encourages people to support the Employee Rights Act, a bill that would make it much harder for workers to join unions and easier to de-certify existing ones (click here if the video isn’t embedding correctly):

The commercial was created by the anti-union Center for Union Facts, an astroturf organization founded by DC lobbyist Richard Berman and supported by big business interests. Astroturf organizations are advocacy groups promoting a political or corporate agenda but designed to make it appear like a grassroots movement. Note that one of the union “actors” in the video is played by Berman himself. These photos show Berman as he appears in the ad and in his normal attire as an anti-union lobbyist:

[Via Republic Report.]

Federal law requires that at least 50% of a company’s workforce vote in favor of the formation of a union, and most union members join unions formed years before, so it’s not surprising that many workers today weren’t involved in the votes that founded their unions. Furthermore, according to independent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, laws like the Employee Rights Act hurt workers by leading to lower pensions; workers in unions actually have higher wages and health benefits because they can use their collective bargaining power to improve their working conditions.

In The German Ideology, Karl Marx argued that “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas … The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production.”  This ad demonstrates the use of ideology, or dominant ideas that help to perpetuate inequality. An advertisement (which cost about $3.5 million to air during the Super Bowl) produced by a large corporate-funded organization is meant to shape workers’ perception of unions in a negative light. With greater wealth (“the means of production”) and access to media (“the means of mental production”), they seek to discourage workers from joining unions, or even to leave those they are already members of, in hopes of making them easier to control. Ultimately, the goal is to convince workers to accept the ideology of the ruling class and act against their own class interests.

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Paul Dean is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Maryland. His research focuses on social inequality, including his dissertation which examines social responsibility movements that promote more socially responsible and sustainable business practices. He is also co-founder and co-editor of The Sociological Cinema.

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