Dis Union Over Here

It’s reported that the AFL-CIO is – finally – splitting, with the giant SEIU and Teamsters (and less-giant United Food Service Workers and Unite Here) departing the fold to form a separate, more active organization.I’ll gladly echo Marc Cooper here:

What Stern proposes as an alternative may or may not be the right prescription. What we do know is that the current course of the AFL-CIO is not tenable. It’s stagnant, stalled and mostly a piggy bank for Democrats, many of whom don’t give a damn about labor.

But he doesn’t go nearly far enough. The paralyzing mutual embrace between Big Labor and the Democratic Party is a marriage that is awful for both parties…Labor, who is taken for granted by the Democratic leadership and ignored when real interests are at stake…and the Democrats, who are locked into a set of sclerotic positions by labor leaders who have a veto on candidates.

A wild and wooly time will surely follow, as new alignments, positions, and alliances are formed. That’s good.

Because for the Democrats who insist on running an “Anyone But Bush” campaign in ’08 forget that Bush won’t be running, and they’ll need a stronger reason for voters to support them.

9 thoughts on “Dis Union Over Here”

  1. You do realize that this is all a trick by the Bush administration to deflect attention from Karl Rove, don’t you?

    Seriously though, the hastening of the death of archaic institutions like labor unions is probably a good thing for those of us who believe in things like lower taxes, free trade, school choice, personal retirement accounts, and market-oriented health care reform.

  2. “Seriously though, the hastening of the death of archaic institutions like labor unions is probably a good thing for those of us who believe in things like lower taxes, free trade, school choice, personal retirement accounts, and market-oriented health care reform.”

    I’m not a fan of organized labor by any stretch of the imagination, but while I’ve been publically calling for the death of the AFL/CIO and other long corrupt labor legacy institutions for years now I think that it is going to far to right off labor unions in general as ‘archaic institutions’.

    In the past half century or so, labor unions evolved from organizations that protected workers and encouraged professionalism, to being yet another form of worker explotation that sheltered tenured members from the demands of a free market economy while imposing a tax on the income of lower ranking employees. As such, labor unions effectively devolved back into institutions that maintained the worst of the medieval guild systems while not even doing what those guild institutions did to increase skill and professionalism.

    Traditional labor unions are going to die. They are going to die not because they cannot serve a purpose, but because they are not serving that purpose. Traditional labor unions were able to leverage management to reduce corruption at the management level because their labor really was more valuable than non-union labor. There was a cost to replacing union labor with non-union labor, and as such labor unions could force management to pay them a greater percentage of the profits because there would be at least an equal drop in profits if the labor was replaced with lower cost but less professional and conscientous non-union labor.

    But labor lost sight of the real economic reason for its power, and began to see premium wages as something that they were simply entitled to. In addition, new alternatives to non-union labor emerged. Labor unions found themselves competing against extremely eager and conscientous workers abroad who would ask for lower wages. Rather than realizing that they were now employed in a profession which because of the growth in the supply of individuals capable of doing the work could never demand the wages of a previous time when the supply of such skilled labor was scarce, the labor unions continued to act as if the profession was at the cutting edge of technology and economic value. In addition, domestic organizations arose which were effectively competiting unions of skilled craftsman who were willing to do the job for less money. These craft ‘contractors’ began to takeover work that would have previously been union. This wouldn’t have ammounted to much, but because union ranks had become swollen with workers with alot of tenure and little reason to work hard or well, the more competetive contractor organizations not only performed the work cheaper, but with less lost time, less waste, and fewer injuries.

    Today, if you go to major industrial sites around the country you’ll find that union employees consistantly lead non-union employess in lost time and on the job injuries. That’s no way to compete in a labor market. I don’t know how many times I’ve been on a union run factory floor and talked to a foreman contemplating layoffs, who would tell me in frustration how he was going to have to lay off all his hardest working guys with young children to feed, because they didn’t have tenure in the union. Instead, he’d be forced to keep on some guy five years from retirement with a comfortable pension already built up, and no reason to do anything but sit around and drank coffee all day.

    These things matter.

    Likewise, I don’t know how many factories I’ve seen closed and moved to Mexico because the tenured members of the union would rather not work, than work for less than $30/hour plus benifits. You can bet that the guys just starting families didn’t feel that way.

    But, while I think that labor has become utterly corrupt, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think management isn’t becoming equally corrupt. Their is a whole class of executives out thier that think they deserve six figure incomes for 4 hour work days that mostly involve socializing with other executives, and who do not seem to feel that thier compensation ought to be tied to profits or that they have any obligation to stock holders or anyone else for that matter.

  3. One of the most telling passages from the media coverage of the break up is this:

    “The convention boycott means the unions will not pay $7 million in back dues to the AFL-CIO on Monday. If all four boycotting unions quit the federation, they would take about $35 million a year from the estimated _$120 million annual budget of the AFL-CIO_, which has already been forced to layoff a quarter of its _400-person staff._”

    I’d be willing to bet that the 400 person staff doesn’t primarily do job training for union members or provide child care to working union parents, and I seriously doubt that they do spot checks on its members to make sure that they are performing work up to union standards. Instead, what you are looking at is primarily a political lobbying group. In other words, the AFL-CIO has become one of the large powerful wealthy groups that unions were originally designed to protect workers from, and isn’t doing anything to increase the economic fitness of the organization.

  4. One of the things that critics have failed to understand about unions is the positive social role they’ve had for workers over the years. Like churches, the unions serve as intermediary groups between the individual and the state.

    Unions have also been historical bulwarks of conservatism. The first organized opponents of communism were not capitalists, but European trade unions. And in the Sixties American unions stood four-square against the tinker-toy communism of the New Left.

    The Left turned its back on Labor long ago, in favor of Racial politics and the god-like “Environment”. Unions are dwindling and the ones that are left are strangling whatever sector of the economy they still have a death-grip on.

    This is all really too bad, in a lot of different ways.

  5. I’ve been told that one of Gore’s (and Kerry’s) problems was the number of UAW jackets at NRA conventions (never having been to one, I can’t testify to that personally). Tough to convince some of those guys that the Dems actually respected them and their values rather than wanting them to play the pliant public to the Dems’ philosopher kings.

    To the extent that unions (and any other group) decide to conduct an auction for their votes rather than simply always going one way, it’s better for the unions and for democracy.

  6. BTW:

    On the subject of unions becoming what they claimed to fight, a member of my family left active participation in his union–don’t recall which one–in the 1940’s, saying exactly that.

  7. Labor unions are rent seekers. They get higher than market wages by threatening the destruction of the companies that provide their jobs.

    When such higher than market wages threaten the viability of the unions and the company they cry to the government for help.

    In places where unions are still strong (France and Germany for instance) they have strangled the economies they inhabit.

    Creative destruction – the key to the advace of economies – is something unions are not comfortable with. Unions are still mired in the class struggle.

    Fortunately unions – except for government unions – are a dying breed. We will in the long run be richer for it. In fact we are already richer because labor and capital are more easily redeployed in America than in France and Germany.

  8. As a former trade unionist (Painter’s Local, Birmingham, AL) I can tell you that my experience isn’t that unions are “archaic,” but rather that American unions are a COMPLETE AND TOTAL SCAM. Older union guys are, without exception (in my experience), lazy and obnoxious scumbags. The longer someone has been in a union, the more likely they are to feel entitled to everything and the less likely they are to actually work for anything.

    In my experience, union labor falls into three primary groups:

    1> Young guys kicking ass and taking names for a good wage on a safe job site. Many of these guys are immigrants (many of the very hardest working guys, in fact). Some are, in fact, obnoxious scumbags. None of them are lazy. THESE people build and maintain America. They are utterly invaluable to our society unless you plan on paving a road anytime soon. I’ve laid pavement. I wouldn’t do it again on a bet.

    2> Mid level guys who have figured out that they can work their brains harder than their bodies will allow. SOME of these people run the guys in group 1 and get things done under budget and before deadlines. They are known on job sites as “good superintendents.” SOME of these guys are experienced professionals who can accomplish more by overseeing four people than the five of them could get done by themselves. They are known on job sites as “good crew bosses.” SOME of these guys are just good folks who have been at it a while. They have no desire to manage others, but they do dependably high quality work. They are known on job sites as “damned good workers.” The rest of these mid level guys are people who have risen to their current level on the basis of an old adage: “shit floats.” Not quite lazy enough to have been fired for cause, yet beginning to get that way because of their tenured status. THESE guys get far worse every time they see a group 1 guy laid off, while they stay on, because of tenure.

    3> Senior level (30+ years) working men. A very precious few of these people keep the construction and service industries functional by starting their own companies and hiring their own people. On job sites, they are known as “THE guy in charge.” An even smaller segment of these people are the few genuine working experts on a job site that get the most crucial tasks accomplished. They spot errors on blueprints – and fix them. They are Journeymen and they are revered. A larger portion of these guys are just working men who have been doing it for a long, long time. In an hour, they may not accomplish as much as a group 1 guy. Over the course of a job, they will get far more done because they know all the tricks. The rest, the majority, of these “senior level” people are incorrigibly lazy bastards who endanger everyone they are around with equal parts incompetence and motivation sapping bullshit. They are dreaded on job sites and despised by their coworkers. They are how most of the world views the American Working Man. Bloated on entitlement, these pinheads stumble from one inflated paycheck to the next, looking for something to bitch about. THESE people are the end result of the American union “system.”

    Unions are an antiquated response to a flawed business philosophy which fell out of favor with corporate America decades ago. Unions have far outlived their institutional value and the American working class is paying the price.

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