Myths About Labor Unions: Capitalist Salvos in the Class War

Every now and then, someone will take me to task for being a proud member of a labor union. “Why do you belong to a union? They just take your money and run!” or “But unions are so anti-woman!” or “But you’re smart—why do you need to belong to a union?” Sometime it isn’t personal. Sometimes, it’s “concern” over the economy, as with, “But unions drive up costs!” or “They strike all the time!” or “That’s why we don’t have jobs in the United States anymore.” To me, one of the more telling points in all the various anti-labor screeds is the inevitable “they”—when the person is talking to me, a union member. Let’s tease out some typical myths about unions, and get down to the real nitty-gritty (and apologies to non-U.S. readers; this post is U.S.-centric as anti-union sentiment is high in the U.S.):

1. “Unions are why all the jobs left the United States.”
No, not by a long shot. Many jobs evaporated as automation was introduced on a larger scale. Other jobs were outsourced not because of union wages, but because of United States wages; the option to relocate to nonunion areas of the United States wasn’t taken. Corporate greed, a tax code that provides preferential treatment for foreign earnings, the lack of a national healthcare system, desire to avoid environmental laws, avoidance of health and safety laws, helpful dictatorships (subsidized by the U.S., and assisted by the U.S. military) to torture and assassinate labor organizers, and federal programs designed to encourage foreign investment in the form of offshoring had/have far more of an impact than union wages (especially considering the precipitous decline in union membership). White-collar jobs in IT and financial services are outsourced, and those aren’t usually union jobs. It should also bear mention that the United States isn’t the only country that is hemmoraging jobs—the corporate-led race to the bottom is global.

2.“Unions raise the cost of goods and services.”
Because price gouging, market manipulation, monopolies, mergers and acquisitions couldn’t have anything to do with it. Besides, the price of clothing, shoes, food, etc. have all plummeted with outsourcing, right? (Right? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) And speaking of prices, what is the true cost of those “low, low prices”, hmm? Who is carrying the freight for corporations that don’t provide health insurance? What is the real cost of the impoverishment of communities? And…..why are those prices artificially low to begin with? Those “low prices” are paid for by the blood of women of color.

3.“Unions strike all the time.”
Not even close. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates there were 21 work stoppages (BLS does not differentiate between strikes and lockouts) in the U.S. in 2007. Less than 1/10th of one percent of work time is lost to strikes with employers involving 1,000 or more workers; in 98% of all collective bargaining negotiations, agreements are reached without a strike. Despite the rarity of strikes, media coverage of them dominates labor news. The days of newspapers having a “labor beat” are long gone (coinciding with newspapers becoming a nonunion environment).

4.“Unions slow productivity; union workers are goldbrickers.”
Actually, unionized environments in various industries are more productive. Unionized construction workers are more productive.

5.“Unions protect deadbeats; incompetant union workers can’t be fired.”
No union contract forbids an employer from firing a worker who is drunk, high, lazy, incompetant, etc. The union insures that such firings are for ‘just cause’, and not because of discriminatory purposes (too old, too black, too lesbian, speaks Spanish to co-workers, etc.) or because the employer is having a bad day. Union members should be aware of their Weingarten rights.

6.“Unions aren’t necessary anymore; now there are laws to protect workers.”
Uhh, yeah. That’s working out real well for those folks commenting in the Eight Hour thread, isn’t it? Remember the Imperial fire? The one that resembled the Triangle Shirtwaist fire? Workplace fatalities aren’t a thing of the past. Death comes on the installment plan too, as for people who work with or around asbestos, in the chromium industry, in the PVC industry, the textile industry, with benzene (rubber or oil industry workers), or the manufacturing of artificial flavorings for food products (ever hear of Popcorn Lung?). Disability from workplace injury, dangerous working conditions due to understaffing, sexual harassment and assault, workplace discrimination, wrongful termination, violation of privacy, retaliation for whistleblowing, overtime work at straight-time (or no) pay, better pay, regular raises, pensions and other benefits, equal pay—these concerns haven’t gone away.

7.“Unions are racist and sexist.”
Is there racism in the labor movement? Is there sexism in the labor movement? Heterosexism? Damn right there is. Just like everywhere else. Yet while the labor movement gets to be the poster child for prejudicial societal attitudes, female workers and men of color get paid more in a unionized workplace.

8.“Unions are outside agitators, creating adversity with management.”
Because there certainly couldn’t have been any adversity before labor unions. Adversity couldn’t come from management, could it? I wish I had an explanation for the “outside agitators” tack, but I don’t. “They”. “They’re” steering you wrong. It’s a strange version of the “but you’re not like the rest of your people, you’re one of the good ones” game. I just repeat ad infinitum, “I am the union. The union isn’t ‘them’, over there, it’s me, right here.”

9.“Unions mean less flexibility in the workplace and more rules to follow.”
How is abiding by a union contract different from abiding by any other contract? Granted, the union will be there to advocate for the enforcement of any laws or policies that were previously ignored in a nonunion environment, but flexibility? Labor unions are in the forefront for advocating flexibility in the workplace.

10.“Union workers are overpaid.”
BWA HA HA HA! Compared to what? According to whom? Check out corporate pay and golden parachutes, and then tell me who’s overpaid.

11.“Unions are mobbed-up, in bed with the Mafia.”
There were 183 convictions for labor racketeering in the United States in 2007. Fifty-six unions are affliated with the AFL-CIO; most of them have hundreds of locals. My own union (the IBEW) has over 1000 locals in the U.S. It ought to be safe to say that a fraction of one percent of Locals have a problem with organized crime. Although there is a section of the Department of Justice dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of labor racketeers, there is no such counterpart devoted specifically to corporate crime (imagine that!) thus, no handy statistics on corporate crime, either. This helpful website is a good source for information on corporate crime.

12.“Union dues are shakedown money—a net loss from the paycheck.”
Not so. Union pay is higher. Union workers are more likely to have pension and healthcare benefits. This difference is more dramatic for workers in low-wage occupations. Frankly, I enjoy knowing that my pay is the same as any of my white, male union brethren. That sure wouldn’t happen in the nonunion world.

13.“Unions are beneath professional, white-collar workers; unions are only for those (insert sotto voce) uneducated (and back to normal volume) blue-collar workers who can’t do any better.”
Ah yes. Shouldn’t stain the white collar by rubbing elbows with the great unwashed. The problem is, it isn’t true. In the U.S., 51% of union members are white-collar. As lower pay, longer (sometimes uncompensated) hours, understaffing, greater workloads, less autonomy and less respect become the order of the day in the white-collar world, interest in union membership will rise (as is seen in the academic and medical fields).


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41 comments for “Myths About Labor Unions: Capitalist Salvos in the Class War

  1. September 4, 2008 at 1:07 am

    Not in a union right now, nor have I really had the opportunity. The one chance that Comcast local had for a union was quashed and the people responsible fired (hmm never heard THAT one before, I’m sure.) Regardless, thank you for the excellent rundown of common arguments.

    I’ve never understood activists who ask people to stand together, then have something against unions. An injury to one is an injury to all.

  2. September 4, 2008 at 1:33 am

    My husband is a Teamster and I credit the union with the excellent health benefits that our family has, considering I have a chronic condition that could have bankrupted our family I adore the Teamsters! Those in power, corporations, and those in bed with them, government, do not want you to have someone advocating for you as a worker. Their propaganda has demonized one of the few avenues you have for truly getting ahead. Every worker in America should be fighting to join a union.

  3. q
    September 4, 2008 at 2:48 am

    Many jobs evaporated as automation was introduced on a larger scale.

    Companies automate more when labor is more expensive.

    Other jobs were outsourced not because of union wages, but because of United States wages…desire to avoid environmental laws, avoidance of health and safety laws

    If they’re ideologically consistent, most people who are anti-union probably aren’t fond of minimum wage laws and regulation either.

    helpful dictatorships (subsidized by the U.S., and assisted by the U.S. military) to torture and assassinate labor organizers

    Isn’t there kind of a contradiction between saying that unions aren’t why jobs left the US, and then saying that jobs went to other countries because unions were brutally suppressed there?

  4. q
    September 4, 2008 at 2:56 am

    Actually that last point is stupid, nm

  5. September 4, 2008 at 3:07 am

    La Lubu, I can tell I’m going to enjoy your time here.

  6. Faye
    September 4, 2008 at 4:01 am

    Definitely an interesting article. I’m a member of a union and feel it is absolutely necessary. You mention about people working with or around asbestos. What I think is amazing is that, despite it being a known carcinogen and hazardous material, asbestos is still being imported and used in the U.S. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. imported and used an estimated 1,820 tons of asbestos in 2007, an estimated 84% of which was used in roofing materials. http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/asbestos/mcs-2008-asbes.pdf Also, the U.S. House of Representatives is considering a bill to ban the future importation and use of asbestos (it is already banned in 40 countries) and provide funding for medical research into effective treatments for asbestos-related diseases. You can read about it and ask your representative to support the bill at http://www.banasbestos.us A ban is not enough since it doesn’t help people who are already sick, who have been exposed to asbestos and who will be exposed to asbestos already in place.

  7. Nia
    September 4, 2008 at 4:23 am

    I don’t know if you have many foreign readers, but I’d love an intruduction to the way the unions work in the USA. Especially, I would like to know:

    Can anyone join a union (no prerequisites)?

    Are all unions especialised by job? Is there more than one per profession?

    Can you have union and non-union workers in the same workplace and having different working conditions? I think it’s really odd that union workers can have better working conditions that non-union workers doing the same job.

  8. September 4, 2008 at 5:33 am

    Your post may be US-centric, but it’s not so US-centric that a lot of that isn’t true elsewhere.

  9. Katie
    September 4, 2008 at 6:02 am

    awesome post.

  10. September 4, 2008 at 6:48 am

    I particularly liked point 6. Yes, there are laws to protect workers, but one of the big purposes of a union, and having a union rep. is to have someone who knows about your rights under those laws and who can be dedicated to arguing your case.

    I never understood why the general public tended to be against strikes, anyway: in my mind, the response to that opposition was, “But, hey, it’s YOUR rights they’re fighting for, too, y’know?” I really couldn’t understand why people would want fewer rights.

  11. jacqui583
    September 4, 2008 at 10:52 am

    Excellent post! As a CAW member in Canada, I can never understand why there is such an anti-union mentality out there. Non-union workers sometimes seem to resent us when we are able to save jobs or make gains where they often can’t. But rather than working to unionize themselves to improve their own position they’d rather tear us down. I just don’t understand it.

  12. September 4, 2008 at 11:53 am

    SnowdropExplodes, point 6 is my favorite too. That one always makes me react like “how do you think those laws got on the books in the first place! What do you think keeps them there!”

    If all organized labor were to evaporate tonight, all the worker protection laws from the 40-hour work week to child labor bans would be repealed by lunchtime tomorrow.

  13. joe
    September 4, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Please define “corporate greed.” A corporation’s entire purpose is to make as much money as possible. Indeed, they owe it to shareholders to maximize profit at every opportunity.

    I don’t have a problem with most of your post. I agree that labor unions help to level the playing field between workers and employers. But without corporations, there wouldn’t be jobs to talk about.

  14. September 4, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    But without corporations, there wouldn’t be jobs to talk about.

    Somehow the human race managed to get along until the 17th century without them.

  15. Mireille
    September 4, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    joe-
    I have a completely different understanding of what a corporation’s role is. I know this is going to sound socialist, and I doubt any business school would teach it this way, but this is what I formulated on my own.

    Corporations are there to provide employment. When people are employed, they have money to keep the economy moving. The spending eventually comes back to the very corporations providing employment. What is the point of just making a profit? For money to sit locked up in bank accounts of executives? To pay investors who actually don’t do anything for the company rather than the employees who have an interest in the company because that’s their (probably) sole source of income, and the company’s success is their success? Investors… if they see the company losing money can just sell the stock, or try to get them to lay off workers to increase profits. If corporations don’t provide employment, they are just a leech on the economy. The problem I have with profit as the sole motivator… let me see if I can make this make sense… If all the money is locked up in bank accounts of CEOs and corporate investors, it’s like a bunch of stagnant ponds with little flowing water. But if corporations see their goal as providing employment, then the water flows more like a river, and the water stays fresh.

    I’m not an economist and I’m probably somewhere between socialist and communist more than anywhere near a capitalist, but the wealth of the few is a poor excuse for the good of the many.

    Did that make any sense?

  16. Mireille
    September 4, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    The wealth of the few is not worth the good of the many… Or something. Gimme a break, I just woke up.

  17. Rosa
    September 4, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Thank you for this post, it’s awesome!

    I just want to add to #12 – if you retire without a contract, your employer can just cut your pension/health care whenver you want.

    If you retire under contract, your employer is contractually obligated to your retirement benefits. You can go to court to protect them. This makes a *huge* difference in quality of life for your entire family.

  18. laurab
    September 4, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    I was briefly in a union a few years ago, and I had a *really* bad experience (I won’t go into it here, as some of it’s quite personal). However, because I am a rational, thinking human being, I realize that my experience is atypical, and that unions in general area a good thing for most workers. (Though I am still bitter and prone to making snarky comments about what happened to me.)

  19. Amerith
    September 4, 2008 at 2:38 pm

    When I worked at Safeway here in Montana the union kind of screwed me. The first six months were free but then I was fired because I couldn’t afford the $150 initiation fee and and $100 monthly dues on $7/hr. I was never treated well at that job. My schedule was always changing with out notice. Sometimes while I was there and getting ready to leave they would tell me that I was supposed to stay a couple of hours later. While that union made me feel bitter I still understand the need for unions. There are a lot of miners where I grew up. Obviously they need a union. A friend of mine worked a non union construction job. He got paid very little and always worked long hours. That’s pretty normal for Montana. States where the construction industry had unions typically made twice what he did. My experiences left me thinking that unions should only be in dangerous jobs. After reading this post and looking back at some other jobs I’ve worked I can see the need for unions in more places. I think there should be more to make sure the unions are doing there jobs properly however.

  20. September 4, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    THANK YOU for this. I know I’ve said this before, but the pay at my unionized teaching position is roughly four times higher than the pay at nonunionized colleges ($4,000 per class as opposed to $1,200). AFT is about the only thing keeping academia from collapsing into automated information delivery.

    Amerith, I can’t believe your union charged an initiation fee and $100 monthly dues. My union dues are about $23 a month. What union was it?

  21. exholt
    September 4, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    I know this is going to sound socialist,

    It is socialist. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that so long as there are practical means for ensuring the enterprise is able to maintain afloat without the profit motive…especially during situations when the costs of running such an enterprise is greater than the return generated from the sale of the institution’s service/products. Government subsidies, private donations, negotiated agreements with suppliers/contractors/company personnel, etc?

    Corporations are there to provide employment. When people are employed, they have money to keep the economy moving. The spending eventually comes back to the very corporations providing employment. What is the point of just making a profit?

    The Mainland Chinese “State Owned Enterprises”(SOEs) which existed from the 1950s till the late 1980s/early ’90s were created and run on such principles. Unfortunately, due to bureaucratic mismanagement where Maoist ideology was privileged over practical realities, expertise, or even basic competence, the vast majority of those SOEs became money losing sinkholes for the Central government due to problems such as overstaffing of firms to 5x the number necessary and the fact that one’s pay was based more on how the local Communist party cadre perceived your loyalties to the state orthodoxy rather than on your skills and work ethic.

    In the aftermath of Maoist inspired policies such as the Cultural Revolution which left China’s economy in the dumps not too far removed from the war-torn 1940s, Deng Xiaoping felt he had to implement market reforms to make up for the years lost.

    Unfortunately, one of the effects of those reforms was that a lot of the inefficient overstaffed SOEs ended up being sold off to private investors or closed down because they could not be sustained without excessive government subsidies. Though some of the laid-off workers were able to start their own businesses and become quite successful, the vast majority who were raised with the idea of working a lifetime job with meager, but guaranteed benefits with the same job description for years and decades ended up in the cold with inadequate pensions…if they got any at all. Those who had more privileges in this system due more to their greater visible adherence to Maoist ideology than to their skills and work ethic were especially hit hard as there wasn’t much of a demand for Maoist political hacks at this point.

  22. Cecily
    September 4, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    I hope this is an opportune time to ask a question I’ve had for a while. I’m for unions in principle, but I did have a bad experience the only time I was in a union-represented position (we could join or not, they bargained on behalf of the whole bloc.) In a way my question speaks to #13:

    Shouldn’t unions be organized along lines of common experience and interest in the workforce?

    At my job, we were all lumped together into the same union (under the rubric that we all worked for the government.) However, there were more blue-collar than white-collar jobs at our facility, and therefore all the bargaining centered on getting the concessions the blue-collar workers wanted, often agreeing to things that were detrimental to the administrative workers.

    Perhaps I should have been happy to help my brother worker, but it was hard to sustain the belief that the union had my good at heart when I was ‘bumped’ by a laid off worker from a different facility and the union reps were actually angry at my boss for extending my notice period and giving me two weeks’ paid vacation for my job search (she knew I was going through a messy divorce.) My job was less physically taxing than the majority group’s, but I made as little money as they, and the union showed no sign of caring about me.

    Does unionization require that workers with different needs unite to the detriment of some?

  23. CartoonCoyote
    September 4, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    Jaqui583: Fellow CAW member here!

    You could make pretty much the same arguments for and against labour unions as you could against police forces. We’ve all had bad experiences with both, I’m sure; e.g. shifty cops/incompetent floor reps, corrupt precincts/collaborationist locals. Yet those who expect labour unions to be perfect and consider them a net negative because they fall short would look at you like you were nuts if you said that the police should be abolished for the same reason.

    Anybody who makes under $250K a year and shits on labour unions as a concept has Stockholm syndrome out the ass.

  24. September 4, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    It is worth pointing out that in many cases, Unions aren’t abusive in the US because they were broken, and have no power to abuse.

    Here in Australia, I lost my job because I worked harder than the union allowed me to. So I’m no friend of the organizations.

    So here’s another tip:

    Unions exacerbate global warming:
    High carbon heavy industries are more heavily unionized than renewable energy sources, so union-dominated governments favor dirty technology. In addition, unions team up with their employers to fight against air quality controls, transport efficiency measures, and other environmental jobs.

  25. Luna
    September 4, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    I was shop steward in the last union I was in. It was a decent union.

    My mom has been screwed left, right and centre by her union. They’re unbelievably bad. They don’t protect the workers at all. Corrupt as all hell.

    My husband’s union is clueless, but ok. They don’t understand the problems brought to them because they’re too diverse. And they have made it nigh on impossible to fire the incompetent moron they hired. The guy is beyond stupid (he’s in IT but can’t figure out what a hostfile is? That’s the least of it.) Guy says they’re going after him because he’s been sick and on leave a lot. So the union says he can’t be fired for being sick. But that’s not the problem. Anyway…

    Point is… some unions are awesome. Some are corrupt. Some validate the myths, some don’t. It’s just like anything else. There’s good, there’s bad.

  26. September 4, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    Unions exacerbate global warming:
    High carbon heavy industries are more heavily unionized than renewable energy sources, so union-dominated governments favor dirty technology. In addition, unions team up with their employers to fight against air quality controls, transport efficiency measures, and other environmental jobs.

    Lemming, this isn’t true. Workers associated with the International Trade Union Confederation (representing 168 million workers in 153 countries) are active in their countries’ efforts to abide by the Kyoto Protocol; it’s the United States that lags behind, though that is changing now. Some unions here were always on board with incorporating green technology, such as the Steelworkers, who spearhead the Blue-Green Alliance and the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers). Other unions are waking up to the idea that there is more job opportunity in green practices.

    Meanwhile, it was pResident Bush who brought FutureGen to a screeching halt (because Texas wasn’t chosen as the site). As for efficient transport, the U.S. emphasis on tracks rather than railroads relates directly to union busting, as did the dismantling of the streetcar systems throughout the country.

  27. shah8
    September 4, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    Working at a much faster pace can be disruptive to everyone else, no matter how “good” you think your own productivity is. It can also affect people’s pay unnecessarily by busting bonus curves. It’s a social world out there, gotta make nice!

  28. September 4, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    Great post and interesting chart for Point 7. Does seem as if unions offer advantages pay-wise, but is reduction in sexism one of them? While both men and women do better in unions, the gap between male and female pay in unions and ouside of unions is pretty close to the same. To what do you ascribe the gap between men’s and women’s pay for unionized work? Same dynamics as for work in general, or different ones?

  29. September 5, 2008 at 8:22 am

    octo, that particular chart doesn’t break down how the unionized work is shuffled between men and women; I strongly suspect that much of the gap can be explained by sex-segregation in jobs, and that is why the spread is the similar.

    Look at it this way: elementary schoolteachers are heavily unionized, and disproportionately female. It’s a lower-paying field than mine, which is moderately unionized, and almost all-male. There’s a huge gap between the pay of journeylevel electricians and elementary teachers (or secondary, or most community college teachers, for that matter). But within those union environments, the men and women are getting the same pay.

    Closing the segregation gap has to be part of closing the pay gap.

    As for reduction in sexism—I don’t know. I have spent almost my entire working life as a union electrician. Before getting into this, I worked in childcare, was a waitress, did some pinch-hitting as a receptionist, and odd-jobs as a teenager. I don’t have really anything to compare it to personally. We have a saying out in the field: “Put it on my check.” That’s what you say when someone complements you on your work. It’s a truism that once the compliments start coming, the layoff is on the way. (Human nature, I guess. No one wants to be the ‘bad guy’ handing out the second check, so compliments come first.)

    Workforce sexism is kinda like that—-“put it on my check.” ‘Notherwords, how nonsexist is the work environment when men aren’t necesarily telling “pussy jokes” within earshot of women, but they’re taking home larger paychecks? And how nonsexist (or nonracist) can a work environment be when workers aren’t allowed to talk about who is making what kind of money—-where the amount on the paychecks, and the standards needed to make X amount of money aren’t common knowledge amongst the workers—not written policy? What is being hidden?

    But it’s more than the higher pay. Having a union gives me mechanisms for fighting sexism that don’t exist in the nonunion environment. There is also a strong culture of fighting back in a union environment. Hearing stories from female friends and relatives who work in nonunionized workplaces, I think mine is hands-down far less sexist. That’s the “personal” judgement, based on who I am and where I come from. I still think the objective measurement would bear out than women are better off in unions (pay, advancement, level of sexual harassment, etc.).

    Oh—and those pussy jokes. Tradesmen get to bear the brunt of the asshole, chauvinist-pig image, but lemme tellya—as a person who has done a lot of work in office buildings, schools, hospitals, government buildings, and has been de facto invisible while doing it—-let’s just say that men who are disrespectful to women wear any kind of collar. Executive types just have better PR.

  30. Sailorman
    September 5, 2008 at 9:11 am

    M

    2.“Unions raise the cost of goods and services.”
    Because price gouging, market manipulation, monopolies, mergers and acquisitions couldn’t have anything to do with it.

    Of course they do. They probably have a lot to do with it; maybe even most of it. But what does that have to do with the question of unions’ effect?

    5.“Unions protect deadbeats; incompetant union workers can’t be fired.” No union contract forbids an employer from firing a worker who is drunk, high, lazy, incompetant, etc. ….

    Two things here:
    First, functionally speaking, adding another layer makes it more difficult to fire bad workers. It’s a side effect of the (good) goal to make it more difficult to fire good workers. Good goal, good end result, but it has a side effect.
    Next, the issue more often becomes how one defines “incompetent” and how that meshes with other internal rules like, say, seniority. It can certainly be difficult to fire people who are not really pulling their weight but who are not drunk, high, etc.

    9.“Unions mean less flexibility in the workplace and more rules to follow.”
    How is abiding by a union contract different from abiding by any other contract? Granted, the union will be there to advocate for the enforcement of any laws or policies that were previously ignored in a nonunion environment, but flexibility? Labor unions are in the forefront for advocating flexibility in the workplace.

    I don’t get your answer here. The more contracts, and the more detailed they are, then (generally) the less flexibility. Employers in union environments need to follow their own rules AND the rules of the union contract. More rules. less flexibility.

    This may be OK–as you note, unions have significant benefits–but it still happens.

    Oh yeah, one more thing: Unions are designed to be protectionist of the members, which is the entire point. But they do not just fight against corporations. They ALSO fight against nonunion workers.

    In a nonunion world, I might get fired if my job could be done for less by someone else. If I’m in a union, I might have seniority which prevents me from getting fired. This sounds like a 100% good thing, until you add in the effect on the third party: you know, that person who can do my job as well, for less, and who can’t get hired.

  31. exholt
    September 5, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Working at a much faster pace can be disruptive to everyone else, no matter how “good” you think your own productivity is. It can also affect people’s pay unnecessarily by busting bonus curves. It’s a social world out there, gotta make nice!

    Does that mean that workers in a factory…or any work environment should not be angry with co-workers who have the same or higher pay despite routinely slacking off or even sleeping on the job due to factors such as seniority and publicly demonstrated institutional loyalties??*

    Does this also mean I have no right to be angry with co-workers/classmates on group projects when the vast majority of them decide to not pull their weight leaving me and one or two others to take up their slack?

    Does this mean that as an instructor, I should let this behavior pass when I assign and grade such group projects instead of penalizing the slacking students with Fs for riding the coattails of those who end up doing all the work because the harder working students are taking the assignment more seriously?

    * That was the experience of two aunts who were forced to work at an SOE factory during the latter stages of the Cultural Revolution.

  32. LeilaK
    September 5, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    Those of us who are pro-union shouldn’t try to deny that fact that some unions are not doing the best for their workers. There are unions whose dues are going to pay bureaucrats doing very little to help

    However, rather than just scrap the whole idea of unions, we should be looking at how things got that way. Unions, particularly in the US, have followed a “business unionism” model, whereby they act in effect as an arbitrator between unions and business, rather than representing the workers. Many unions also are quite bureaucratic, which money going to high union exec salaries, rather than organizers on the ground. The good news is that we union members can actually do something about this, by exploiting the democratic system in place in most (all?) of our unions. We can elect our coworkers to union positions, and reform it from the inside.

    Side note: “I know this is going to sound socialist…” Let’s try not to treat “socialist” or “communist” as a dirty word – the legacy of McCarthy is still here, but we should be fighting against it.

  33. exholt
    September 5, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    “I know this is going to sound socialist…” Let’s try not to treat “socialist” or “communist” as a dirty word – the legacy of McCarthy is still here, but we should be fighting against it.

    Agree with your saying socialism as a general economic ideology shouldn’t be regarded as a dirty word as its elements have successfully been incorporated into many pluralistic democracies all over the world…..including the US.

    I do, however, regard Communism as it has been practiced by Marxist derived regimes with much scorn.

    From the experiences of some family members who lived in Mainland China during the Maoist era and other similarly situated Chinese, the Maoists had no hesitation to brutalize, imprison, and kill anyone who was perceived to be a dissident….including those who were attempting to issue constructive critiques. They remembered what happened during the 50’s era Anti-rightist campaigns in the wake of the 100 Flowers Campaign, the millions killed through mass starvation in the wake of the ill-conceived Maoist instigated Great Leap Forward economic policies from 1958-1961, and the 60’s era Cultural Revolution which not brought about more brutalizations and killings of unknown millions, but privileged loyalty to Maoist ideology over competence to such an extent that by the aftermath, China’s educational, technological, and economic infrastructure were shattered to the point it wasn’t too far removed from the ravaged conditions of war torn China during the 1940s.

    What’s more ironic is that in a society which supposedly privileged the workers and peasants, the “unions” which were allowed to exist had no power to strike or ask for better wages and working conditions because…….they were controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Any attempts to protest….or even advocate for better wages and working conditions meant the worker(s) concerned ended up risking being labeled “counterrevolutionaries” and punished accordingly with imprisonment, forced labor, or worse.

    As such, I will continue to regard Communism in the sense of Marxist-Leninism and Maoism as severely flawed tyranny-enabling ideologies which need to be studied, but regarded as warnings of what could go wrong when deeply flawed ideologies are implemented on a actual society filled with living breathing human beings.

  34. LeilaK
    September 6, 2008 at 1:00 am

    exholt – definitely with you on the “state socialisms” of the China and the USSR. I don’t actually regard them as communism – I think state capitalism is actually a better phrase to describe them. However, those regimes have nothing to do with Marxism in the way Marx and Engels meant it, and as it has been practices by revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky.

    But I’ll leave it there – not exactly the thread for it…

  35. Sailorman
    September 6, 2008 at 11:06 am

    # jacqui583 says:
    September 4th, 2008 at 10:52 am – Edit

    Excellent post! As a CAW member in Canada, I can never understand why there is such an anti-union mentality out there. Non-union workers sometimes seem to resent us when we are able to save jobs or make gains where they often can’t. But rather than working to unionize themselves to improve their own position they’d rather tear us down. I just don’t understand it.

    Um…. individual choice? Self determination? A good understanding of personal worth that happens to use different weightings than those of other union members?

    In order to GET something from a union, you have to GIVE something to a union. Maybe it’s money. Maybe it’s hours. And maybe it’s a whole bureaucracy that you might not particularly like, or trust, or want to get involved in.

    Here’s an easy one: I know plenty of people who do not want to get involved in contracts where their skills are viewed as secondary to their seniority when determining employment. They want to get bumped only by better people, not older people.

    Many of those people not only want to avoid unions and will prefer empooyers who are nonunionised, they actively dislike unions. Why? Well, the whole concept of a union is to get a monopoly on the employer, thus preventing the employer from hiring “scabs” or non union members. But that means that the interests of the unions and the interests of the folks I know are materially at odds.

    The union is actively working against my friends’ abilities to get hired without agreeing to union rules. My friends are actively working against the union’s attempts to force them to either join the union and comply with union rules (which they detest) or go jobless.

    Unions sure as heck aren’t helping them. They’re hurting them. And unless you want to take an uber-patriarchal view that you “know what’s best for every individual,” you need to acknowledge that.

    Now, as a society-wide thing I still think unions have a decent net benefit, problematic though some situations are. There’s a big difference between “this is the best choice for every individual” and “yeah, some folks get screwed, but the overall average gain justifies the harm.” The latter is, basically, what governments (and unions, and other groups) are FOR. But the concept of “all workers must join unions and it is a net benefit to all individuals” is as crazy as the concept that employers will watch out for their employees’ interests.

  36. greyfox280
    September 7, 2008 at 12:01 am

    La Lubu, I noticed your in IBEW. It so happens I went through the electrical program in Job Corp. and am now working on a degree in communications (I think…maybe sorta…) at the local community college! As a 25-year-old guy who considers himself a feminist, how bad is sexism on a job site? I’m just wondering…

  37. September 7, 2008 at 8:48 am

    Great post! Full disclosure: I am a card carrying member of the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) and we have been successful in organizing unions for groups such as baristas and bike messengers. Of course, anecdotally we can identify bad union situations, especially in the U.S. where, as someone mentioned previously, the system is broken. Does that mean we should eliminate them? For some positions, including teaching in many states, unions are necessary for salary increases and job stability (but yes, you can still get fired if you suck).

  38. teedub
    September 8, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    For my entire working life, I have worked as a low-mid level white collar non-union employee while attending college (for 10 years). I just started with a new company 7 mos ago that has a union blue-collar work force. My opinion before this company were that unions were a good thing. My opinion after having worked at a union-ized company is they suck. There is zero focus on the customer (internal and external) in a union environment. For some reason, they think there is some divine right to paying customers and they can take as much time and make as many mistakes as they like, while stilll getting orders that pay their wages and not get fired! No matter what you say above about unions not preventing the firing of a lazy worker, the reality is different. There is no sense of urgency to get and fulfill the order and you can just forget about any last minute urgent request from a customer. “That’ll just have to wait until tomorrow since I can’t possibly do this task in the 20 min remaining before I leave, even though it only take 5 min to complete” attitude is company wide with old timers ie: senior operators the worst. Also, the pre-break break and the post-break break. What is supposed to be 15 min turns into a half an hour. I can’t tell you how much business I have lost because of union employees not concerning themselves with the customers.

    The union certainly does NOT advocate for all workers and for union-supporters to think and advocate that union = better while ignoring all the complaints about them is just absurd. Perhaps better for the lazy, unconcerned workers but certainly not better for the company or shareholders or union employees who actually want to do more than’t what’s expected. Unions also prevent merit raises, which is where the bulk of my raises and bonuses have come from in my life. If I work harder, I receive more money. I don’t expect to cover for the “senior” employees who do less than the bare minimum and earn more $$. Whew! ok, my rant is over. Normally I agree with most everything written on this blog, but the subject of unions is where I diverge from the pack.

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