The Fallacy of Unions
Because it had always been that way, none could think differently. From time immortal, labor was that what did much of the work of production. There is now a generation, maybe two, on this earth, most of whom will never know labor; will seldom see it performed. The energy for their world will not come from the sweat of the back’s of coal miners. So, if it wasn’t (production = material + labor) what was the real equation for production? The input was work, not labor. Today, machines, can and do, do the work. These machines doing the work are becoming more and more intelligent.
Without the help of governmental restrictions on immigration, the unions would never have been able to organize the coal miners; they had no leverage as long as there was a constant flow of poor and desperate immigrants. Point Pinole Regional Shoreline Park is nearby. The Park was once site for the manufacture of gunpowder and dynamite. Originally, the company had been located in what is now known as Glen Canyon Park in San Francisco (owners had one of the original licenses to manufacture dynamite). In 1869, an explosion destroyed every building on the site (including the fence around the plant), killed 2 and injured 9. So, they moved the plant to what is now the Sunset District of SF (area was sand dunes then). Blew up again. This time they moved across the Bay to Berkeley. When the plant in Berkeley blew up, it killed everyone on site. Wound up at, the then remote, unpopulated, Pt. Pinole on San Pablo Bay. The point? They never had any trouble hiring immigrants, mostly Croats, it seems, to work in the plants.
Today, in the meatpacking industry, it is much the same as it was in the 19th century. See Propublica’s ‘Battle for Waterloo‘.
Tyson hires desperate immigrants because it knows they will work in the dangerous plants for low pay. This, a consequence of Reagan’s busting of the meatpacker’s unions, unions that were much a consequence of Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle’. Welcome back to the late 19th; thanks, Ronnie. Tyson, probably John H., dropped a dime on a call to the White House. Got what he wanted, the essential designation, and kick-started Mitch’s crusade for immunity from prosecutions. Could have made the changes necessary for worker safety, but that would so late 20th century. Surprise, Tyson doesn’t hire line workers directly; uses a contractor.
Walmart pays better than it used to, but still doesn’t pay very well; doesn’t have to. Suspect that their biggest margins are from monopsony, cost of labor may not even be too big a factor for the bottom line, but why pay more than you have to? Let the taxpayer take up the slack. They line up for these low paying jobs. Glad to get them. Sam was from Arkansas and Arkansas is very much a southern state; a right to work state. A mentality that was never one to give workers their head.
Same can be said for Amazon, Target, … They don’t have to, so why should they? They needn’t fear the union. Labor has leverage when there’s a shortage. There’s a glut. Labor has leverage when it can threaten to bring things to a halt. It can’t.
Abandon all hope? No, but the answers lie not with the past. They will come from today’s reality. First, we must preserve democracy. Democracy is the key. With democracy, we can pass laws for worker safety, wage standards, …; laws for better distribution of wealth. Without democracy, all hope is lost for the non-investor, not wealthy, class. The money behind the likes of Cruz, McConnell, …, understands this full well; thus the direct assault on democracy. They’ve no fear of unions; know that unions are of the past. They do fear redistribution in a time of gross labor surplus; fear that in a free and fair election, they would see their share greatly diminished.
My last real job at NASA was working with a contractor who was the mayor of Hercules CA; site of the dynamite factory back in the day.
First — effective or not — workers should be able to join a union if the (just) want to, no? Only effective path to that seems to be regularly scheduled cert/recert/decert union elections, no? Wrong about either? Explain.
Second, Walmart had 88 big boxes in German which they closed (because didn’t understand German consumer saith Der Spiegel). No union but labor covered by legislation setting up sector wide labor agreements. Centralized bargaining done in French Canada, most of continental Western Europe, Argentina, Indonesia.
Sector wide goes hand in hand with high union density every where. Instant answer to immigration monopsony. Sector wide all the more critically required in an (all) immigrant country like ours.
Again, a union is a business — employees should be able to organize at will — without running a losing economic gauntlet — whether or not business is successful. Ask German workers — just to pick a great example — if they think unions are a thing of the past.
You might want to think about upgrading your writing/editing skills, but otherwise spot on. Ken is correct with regards to local unions negotiating local contracts with specific firms. OTOH, sector wide labor bargaining is the cat’s meow.
The fallacy of fallacies is that clumsy attempts predisposed with their own biases easily toss out the baby with the bathwater.
Not really persuaded except that public support is essential and right now unions do not enjoy wide spread public support and that is a problem. Unfortunately neither does the government. And one or the other is essential to standing up to the power of capital. When willing workers are plentiful some mechanism is required to with hold essential labor from capital unless certain conditions are met. Those conditions can be applied directly by labor law or they can be applied by a third party such as a union which is empowered by labor law. Either way the government needs to be involved and in recent memory it has been AWOL. The reason is that capital has captured government. How do the people wrestle control of the government back from capital? Baby steps I guess. I think the blueprint is Constitutional. Every two years we get to fire the House of Representatives. One third of the Senate.
January 15, 2020
United States Union Membership Rates, 1992-2019
Private wage and salary workers
1992 ( 11.5)
1993 ( 11.2) Clinton
1994 ( 10.9)
1995 ( 10.4)
1996 ( 10.2)
1997 ( 9.8)
1998 ( 9.6)
1999 ( 9.5)
2000 ( 9.0)
2001 ( 8.9) Bush
2002 ( 8.6)
2003 ( 8.2)
2004 ( 7.9)
2005 ( 7.8)
2006 ( 7.4)
2007 ( 7.5)
2008 ( 7.6)
2009 ( 7.2) Obama
2010 ( 6.9)
2011 ( 6.9)
2012 ( 6.6)
2013 ( 6.7)
2014 ( 6.6)
2015 ( 6.7)
2016 ( 6.4)
2017 ( 6.5) Trump
2018 ( 6.4)
2019 ( 6.2)
Trying to paragraph properly:
Before the recession, Amazon was looking among cities for another headquarters and New York City was chosen by the company for the geography along with a tax incentive. Thousands of select and routine but importantly stable jobs would have been created by Amazon in New York City. However, there was general union-centered opposition to Amazon and concern about the tax breaks offered and local political figures such as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez successfully fought against gaining the Amazon headquarters. Paul Krugman as well decided Amazon did not matter to New York.
The decision of Amazon not to locate in New York struck me immediately as a terrible workforce loss to the city. Krugman and AOC were profoundly mistaken. They failed to understand what Amazon was becoming, and what was necessary to secure New York no matter the condition of the economy.
Get the company, fix perceived problems as they develop.
Darn, I am sorry.
Obviously I meant to say every two years which should accelerate the process. 🙂
Ken Melvin wrote an excellent essay and though I did try to be careful I do not understand how to post. Sorry to have posted poorly; please delete what distracts from the Melvin essay.
I am not sure what you are doing wrong.
Everything looks fine.
Back in the day, a cold day in Feb., I was aboard a Victory Ship out of Port Chicago (ring any bells?), loaded with ammo, bound for Viet Nam. I got off, caught a water taxi, in SF. As Twain might have said, the coldest day of my life was on the bridge of a Victory coming down through the Carquinez Straits on that cold, rainy, in Feb..
Have a Sandwich, man. You’ve earned it.
IOW, absolute mon.
Although I am a retired IBM mainframe technology and network infrastructure large system performance analyst, I am still an onion man.
Yep, onion. High end salaried tech workers do not generally have unions. It would be mutually insulting to both the high end salaried tech workers and the unions. I have always liked onions though, which grow here despite the fact that VA is a “right to work” state.
OTOH, my dad was a taxi driver for a while, a highway construction worker, and worked in a gold mine in SW VA long ago. He even worked in the Fredericksburg, VA, Sylvania plant one whole day. He liked working outside in the fresh air a lot more than in a stinking factory. I worked in the Orange, VA stinking Virginia Metal Products factory for most of the summer after I graduated high school taking sheet metal panel halves off the conveyor as they emerged from the drying kiln end of the primer. Neither of us were ever in a union, although VMP was an open union shop despite the zip code. However, we did grow onions in our garden.
Given my experience or lack thereof, then whether I am discussing unions or onions, then to some extent I am just talking out my butt since mostly I eat diced onions on chili or plain beans unlike unions, which I have never actually had myself or has anyone that I know. I was surprised that you noticed my joke with myself. I was just putting up an extra comment to save my name and email again after clearing cache when the funny bug bit me.
IOW, had I wrote “I am still a union man,” then that would have been a baldfaced lie.