Days of Change

Day 1035 – A More Perfect Union

September 5, 2011

I’m not big on hyperbole. Eric Cantor wants to throw old people off a cliff. The religious right wants women to die in back allies. Today it’s without unions, people would all work in a mine for $1 a day. I’m not sure my computer at work could connect to anything in a mine.

What’s lacking is a sense of propriety. A union does two things. It collectively negotiates on behalf of its members and it protects individual members from capricious punishment by their employer. That mandate makes it highly inclined to see business as an enemy instead of a partner.

Strong unions in the latter half of the century did just that. Companies needed workers and there wasn’t much chance of getting any that weren’t in a union. Unions fought for lifelong benefits like pensions and medical insurance. Short-sighted executives took the deals, not realizing how much more expensive they would become.

That’s the problem. Companies in some cases are stuck with legacy costs. Bad management like that could lead to a business going under. Sometimes it did. Other times, a factory was closed and moved to a place where the whole cost of labor was fixed (and lower). In other cases, the union gave some concessions. Then there were the government bailouts, most recently to the UAW. They got the government shares of GM.

Unions cannot operate without an employer. They also cannot be effective without the will of the people. Instead of demonizing the other side, unions need to convince the public that union workers need the rights and benefits demanded by the union. Then they could really collectively bargain.

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