Rethinking Unions III: Worker Interests

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What are the common interests of workers? Do present worker associations, unions, further those goals? This is the heart of any real examination of labor but I can’t recall reading anybody seriously addressing the question.

Workers, in general, have an interest in labor being in short supply relative to jobs in order to drive up the cost of labor. They have an interest in having effective, portable lifetime education available to them at affordable or even free rates. They have an interest in being able to get decent medical care. They have an interest in not being shackled to an abusive employer for any reason. They have an interest in being able to retire from work before their bodies or minds give out and have a dignified retirement that cannot be taken away by anyone.

How do today’s unions stack up in terms of satisfying workers’ interests? I don’t think that they stack up well at all. Unions do create labor supply shortages but it’s on a firm-by-firm basis, forcing employers to exclude non-union dues paying members from employment. If you are not a member, you’re not a real worker in their eyes. Unions provide health insurance through employers but the way that they do it shackles employees to their employer. Union educational programs are not generally portable or accredited or open at all to any sort of healthy competition. And with the coming crackup in Medicare and Social Security, a whole generation of workers is going to feel the betrayal in their pensions.

A worker association that offered accredited education standards and classes meeting those standards would be far superior to present. An association that worked hard to create labor shortages for everybody would raise wages while improving the whole economy. An association that backed associational healthcare would remove the shackles from a lot of workers. And an association that supported a Chile style retirement system would be able to sustainably keep faith with our elders as far as the eye could see.

3 thoughts on “Rethinking Unions III: Worker Interests”

  1. Union educational programs are not generally portable or accredited or open at all to any sort of healthy competition.

    My nephew completed a union apprenticeship in the elevator repair and installation union (I’m sure the name is different.) He is now a management employee of the company and doing well. He already had a BA and four years in the Marines. If the unions spent more effort on apprenticeships and less on vandalism, I would be more supportive.

  2. Ken Hoop – The Boston Consulting Group has predicted this year that within the next 4 years we’re going to equalize with China wages (when taking into account the superior productivity of American workers). At that point, international outsourcing should dramatically slow and jobs should be moving to places like Oklahoma, Alabama, and the Dakotas. China will hit the wall as their growth slows. The drain away from union friendly places to non-union friendly places should continue unabated. The move away from China has already started and other than India, there is no other country on Earth that can put such a big downward pressure on wage rates.

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