In this post, Lexington Green talks about the Retro-Left’s infatuation with old-style labor organization and law. Unions are a 19th and early-20th century solution to the problem of protecting workers and enhancing overall social and political stability. One can argue whether they represented the best solution in the past, but I don’t think that in the modern economic climate anybody can argue that they remain the best solution going forward.
When I was young a small business owner gave me a really good piece of advice when I headed out to get my first job off the farm. He told me that even though I would be working for somebody else I should always think and act as if I was running my own business that sold labor to my employer, whom I should think of as my business’s customer. Thinking of the employer/employee relationship this way changes the entire psychological dynamic. You view your employer more as an equal and you begin to think of ways that you can add value to your services instead of thinking of ways to wheedle more benefits from your feudal overlord. I’ve always thought of myself more as president of Shannon Love Inc., fine provider of scut labor than as an oppressed peon.
The real problem with unions in the contemporary world is that they are basically an economic drag. Traditional unions do not add any value, in fact, they seek to reduce the value of labor by driving up its cost. This works best when the employer is a monopoly (like government) or a quasi-monopoly (like mid-20th century automobile manufactures), but it fails miserably in a competitive environment. Unions need to evolve into a form that protects workers while adding value. They need to make union labor more valuable to employers, not less.
I think unions should think of themselves as employee owned companies that sell the labor of their members. These neo-unions would be self-contained HR departments like some temp firms are now. The neo-unions would be paid like vendors and in turn would provide salaries and benefits to their members. They would be in charge of hiring and firing of their own members. Members would be protected from employer abuse while at the same time being accountable to their fellows. Poor workers would get ejected from the neo-union while good workers would prosper and command higher incomes. Better yet, such neo-unions could function in the free market without resorting to government coercion and threats of violence as old-style unions must.
Neo-unions could start small, perhaps by functioning like bonding agencies. Individual workers could increase their value in the market place by “bonding” themselves, by submitting to things like drug tests, background checks, credit and work-history checks, all performed by the union before the individual went looking for a job. Right now a reliable person with a good history has no way of distinguishing himself from a bullshit artist in the market place. Neo-unions could help with that a lot. Over time they could acquire more functions.
Traditional unions were based on the idea that workers shouldn’t have to compete in the market place. Competition was for owners only. That era has long since passed. People interested in bettering the lives of the working class need to move on as well.