Rethinking Unions VII: Is anything better for workers than 2% unemployment?

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In a time of prolonged 8%+ unemployment it may be a fond distant memory, or for younger workers a mere tale of better times past but it is possible to have 2% unemployment. And 2% unemployment is arguably the best possible thing out there for workers. 2% unemployment requires no dues payments. 2% unemployment means employers are willing to train new entrants and retrain old ones. 2% unemployment means any time a worker takes offense, he can walk off the job and get a new one within a short amount of time. 2% unemployment means that if you want to work more hours you can and if you want to work fewer, your employer has no leverage to make you work more. 2% unemployment means that you don’t have to accept poor treatment, unsafe working conditions, or incompetent bosses because you can walk and not suffer for it.

Objectively, a 2% unemployment rate is the gold standard for improvement in labor conditions. So why do todays unions not make that a focus of their activism? And what would a labor movement that did focus on it look like?

5 thoughts on “Rethinking Unions VII: Is anything better for workers than 2% unemployment?”

  1. “it may be a fond distant memory, or for younger workers a mere tale of better times past”

    For two months in 1953, the unemployment rate reached down to 2.5%. For six months or so in 1969, it went down to 3.4%. Other than those two periods, one month in 2000 with a 3.8% rate has been the lowest since WWII. At no point has the rate approached 2.0%.

  2. My Dad, who was big in a particular union until he retired to become a USAID Labor Advisor, thought that 4% was probably the optimum level for unemployment. That put enough pressure on both sides of the labor equation.

  3. Unions have not served their members well the last few decades. Of course they have other agendas then their membership. Telling that one would be willing to theoretically double unemployment for leverage.

    Union bosses never had to serve welfare cheese for dinner. That’s for their victims.

    When you voted for Euro social democracy – BHO – you voted for 8% unemployment as the floor. Of course every time someone goes on the dole a Democratic voter is born.

  4. Mrs. Davis – Yes, and do you rate that good or bad?

    Joe Citizen – Take a look at the sub-national numbers. North Dakota, for example, is currently at 3% with a national rate of 8.1%. In the international system we’ve been dumping people into the world marketplace for decades in India and the PRC but that’s a good problem to have as they were being liberated from subsistence agriculture and communist repression respectively. China peaked last year +/-2 years so we’re getting past the worst of the global labor glut. That is going to make lower unemployment possible going forward as vast pools of international labor simply are never going to be available again. Africa is all that’s left and they just don’t have the numbers in single polities to rival India/PRC in their glut producing potential.

    John Burgess – I’m looking for a maximalist aim point here. Your dad very well could be right but you’re never going to get there in an adversarial system unless you’ve got a maximalist aim point that’s lower than 2%.

    VSSC – I recently looked at the unemployment chart from 1948-present from the BLS and the trend lines roughly map to higher and higher unemployment in keynesian dominant eras and lower and lower on supply side dominant eras. GWB is a mixed bag (as were his policies) and Obama is, of course, a disaster.

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