February 26, 2015

"One thing those of us who are pro-union need to ask ourselves is why so few Americans belong to unions presently."

"It is facile, lazy, and simply wrong to blame the anti-union efforts of Reagan, Walker, the Kochs, Whole Foods, Walmart and the like. If you say it is the anti-union policies of the past thirty five years, then you are simply ignoring the fact that when American unions formed in the 19th century and struggled to build in the first third of the 20th century, the anti-union sentiment of the corporations and most politicians was much stronger than today, and the lot of the average worker was harder. Lazy people blame others. If those who originally fought to create our unions had such an attitude, unions would never have been established in the first place. Part of the problem is that the Left failed to criticize unions as their leadership often evolved to having more in common with the bosses than with their own members. As the Left moved away from worker issues in the Sixties to Civil Rights, the anti-war movement, feminism, and cultural issues, blue collar workers became alienated from those who were now largely content to support labor by merely singing Woody Guthrie and Weavers songs. The Left largely came to look down their noses at workers because of attitudes regarding culture and the war, only honoring workers when their issues were tied to something else, such as the largely Mexican-American United Farmworkers Union or access to jobs for women."

A comment at the NYT on the article titled "Scott Walker Is Set to Deliver New Blow to Labor in Wisconsin."

72 comments:

Mick said...

All unions turn into political arms of the left.

Unknown said...

There is a lot of good in that comment and clearly that makes the commenter a RACIST

cubanbob said...

For the most part, what does a union really do for its membership that is worth the dues? Sure some auto and steel workers did great with unions but the majority of them wound up losing their jobs as the industries outsourced, shrank and just went bankrupt. As for public sector unions, it's hard for the average private sector taxpayer to care since the extra union costs provide the taxpayer with no compensating benefit in return for higher present and future taxes.

Jane the Actuary said...

Having grown up in the Detroit area (Dad was an engineer at GM), no one there is neutral on unions. They are either the backbone of middle-class prosperity, or the destroyer of US manufacturing.

The reality that union supporters leave out is that the work rules (you can't do X unless you're a Y, so if you're a Z, just go ahead and sit around until it gets done) put a major dent in productivity, and contract demands at the automakers, implemented during times of prosperity, have saddled those companies with unmanageable expenses and inflexibility during bad times.

buwaya puti said...

He's partly right.
The left intelligentsia grew away from the "workers" indeed. I suspect much of this was due to upward mobility separating the classes. Its hard to speak credibly to people you despise. Motives also count. Much of left wing rhetoric of the present is not at all motivated by sincere moral purpose, however mistaken. Much more so than in the past it is dishonest.
Still, this is not the main reason for the decline of unions.

Hagar said...

Also note that Big Labor today is not "Big Labor" at all. The industrial unions that constituted "Big Labor" back when, have shrunk to insignificance, and the AFL-CIO membership today is overwhelmingly AFSCME and NEA/AFT, and the leadership is SEIU, none of which even existed in the days of "Big Labor."
"Big Labor" today is another government fiction.

EDH said...

Why does the NYT headline use the word "Labor" when the word "unions" is more precise?

The Drill SGT said...

Part of the problem is that the Left failed to criticize unions as their leadership often evolved to having more in common with the bosses than with their own members.

Unions now exist for the sole benefit of union Bosses....

Kyzernick said...

I suspect it's not so much that the "intelligentsia" grew away from the unions. Methinks the unions just became less of a rallying cause, and so the "intelligentsia" declared their mission accomplished and moved on to other things. Sort of the same thing, but that highlights how the Left just uses causes to get ahead without ever doing anything beneficial along the way. Hows that War on Poverty going?

paminwi said...

Union leaders vs their members: remember Mercury Marine in Fond du Lac? Leaders basically told the members your vote is about "the union" and not your personal livelihood.

Hagar said...

In New Mexico, ~11% of the labor force is unionized, and it consists of the aforementioned AFSCME, NEA/AFT, and SEIU and employees of firms that specialize in government funded work and so practically are required to be unionized.
Unionized labor in private business is nearly non-existent.

Brando said...

The problems for unions is not that anyone is making it harder to form a union or to engage in union activities--those things are protected by law and if enough workers want to join a union, they can. The problem is the unions don't make it worth it for enough workers to want to join. Why pay dues to an organization that you feel does nothing for you? Most workers today don't believe that if their union went away, their job would get worse or disappear--in fact, many increasingly believe the unions make things worse by preventing innovation, certain rewards, or even indirectly causing job loss. The mass drop in union membership over the years is due to this increasingly popular point of view, not ignorance--it's not as though workers fifty years ago were much more worldly than today's.

The reason unions have gotten into this jam is they've been unaccountable for so long--they're exempt from anti-monopoly laws, so there's no real competition once they're the recognized union for the workplace (workers don't really get to vote on whether to let the Teamsters or the "United Truckers" represent them each year). They way the unions are governed entrenches the bosses, who collect the dues and don't really have to worry about how the average worker feels about the union itself--only the most active members even know about what goes on. They've been using dues and resources to support various leftist causes only marginally related to labor, which further alienates the substantial portion of the membership that may not want such causes supported with their dues. And in the end, if the union doesn't offer enough incentive to join, they'll keep bleeding members.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting how so many low-information people think that the unions are ran by a "boss", as if they are a top-down corporation instead of a direct democracy that votes for their leadership.

Much like those who think "all unions" are a political wing of the left, their ignorance is a huge factor in why they have such a negative opinion regarding workers who choose to organize as a group.

T Rellis said...

I don't watch tv, but I did start watching a show on Netflix "filthy riches." In it are two guys who dig blood worms from tidal flats in Maine and sell for about 40¢ each. In the show the worm broker was having issues with worm diggers that were bringing in worms that had been cut, apparently one dead worm kills a bunch of the others and ruins the product.

Now these two guys are independent and when the broker of the dead worm issue they said "we can't have that, we're all in this together and if you're not in business, we're not in business."

If there were a worm diggers union....

Ralph Hyatt said...

Union rules concerning seniority can alienate young workers who will then be less receptive to union membership.

If you belong to a union it might be years before you get to take vacation during the Christmas holidays. Other benefits are also tied to how long you have been in the union.

So are you going to be willing to pay dues so that old guys who you might perceive as coasting towards retirement get all the bennies while you work your tail off?

MadisonMan said...

The comments on that article at the NYTimes are surprisingly coherent. And mostly anti Union.

Terry said...

You are hilarious, Madisonfella. Ever heard of the ILWU? Tried to kill a guy who stirred up the pot back in the 60's. Took out on a boat a few miles offshore and threw him over the side. He was a good swimmer, though, and made it back. Jail sentences for union leadership!
Then there was Gary Rodrigues, boss of the ILWU in Hawaii. He formed a shell corporation that union members had to pass their health care dollars through. Put his daughter in charge of it. Stole millions from the members of his own union.
I used to belong to the ILWU, Madisonfella. What union do you belong to?

Laura said...

As membership shrinks, union management faces the dilemma of how to persuade robots to join.

Artificial intelligence?

Jim Gust said...

I'm astonished that the NYTimes published that comment. Dangerous.

Jim said...

I grew up in a Baptist church composed of families headed by men that worked in steel mills, auto plants, and manufacturing. I don't believe I even met a Republican until I was in high school. But all of the people I looked up to when I was young hated the "dole." They were pro death penalty, anti abortion, pro-cop FDR Democrats. It seems that the Democrats are guilty of Marxist "false consciousness" by emphasizing social issues over bread and butter issues. This false consciousness is why the "What's the Matter With Kansas" crowd vote the way they do.

Alexander said...

Protip: Simply telling the opposition they are ignorant is not a way to spread your position. Especially when there is very little "direct democracy" that the outsider can see.

For instance, they sure don't seem to be a fan of a secret ballot, do they?

And where's the democracy in forcing people who don't want to be a part of your union pay fees anyway?

But no, you'd rather call everyone ignorant. But that world lost its touch quite some time ago, I'm afraid.

Jason said...

Unions exist for two reasons:

-To fund political operations

-To protect the worst employees of an entity (this is painfully evident in public sector unions)

Its really no more or less than that.

Fewer Americans belong to unions because they're of no service to anybody.

buwaya puti said...

Well, historically many if not most unions did become political arms of the left. And in the US nearly all of them are, and aren't run by the workers, for political purposes. As noted they exist mainly because they are (effectively) legally required in government funded enterprises (which are top down organizations run by "permanent" staff of a high-turnover workforce, see SEIU) or are public employees unions.

Mark Caplan said...

American trade unions are now among the loudest voices favoring mass immigration from Third World countries. Union bosses see tens of millions of low-paid, unskilled immigrants as potential dues-paying union members even if wages for American workers are driven into the dirt.

Ralph Hyatt said...

"It's interesting how so many low-information people think that the unions are ran by a "boss", as if they are a top-down corporation instead of a direct democracy that votes for their leadership."

I think pretty much everybody knows that union bosses are elected. Some of them may even have awareness of what happens when someone challenges the democratically chosen leader.

From http://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/68 a well known right-wing site.

Dirty Tricks

Privately, the UAW staff spread more vicious attacks: Victor was said to be senile—a laughable charge to anyone who had a conversation with him or heard him speak—and just a giant ego who could not stand being out of the limelight.

Local leaders were told that they risked serious problems if Victor and Sophie were invited to union events. That the leadership stooped so low was a sign of how much they feared New Directions and the inroads it was making in the ranks. The story of New Directions in the UAW needs to be told in greater detail than is possible here.

Tucker had the membership and local leadership support to win the 1986 election but saw it stolen. In 1988 the Department of Labor filed an unprecedented three suits, the courts finally forced a revote, and Tucker won easily.

In 1989 New Directions challenged for two regional director seats, including Tucker's, and there were moves toward independence from the Administration Caucus in other regions and locals.

The UAW administration responded by pressing all staff to make $500 contributions to their campaign fund to battle New Directions—clearly a bigger enemy than the corporations. Locals were threatened: support for New Directions might cause the corporations to close their plants.

SGT Ted said...

Why does the NYT headline use the word "Labor" when the word "unions" is more precise?

Because "Labor" is the Commie/Socialist term. They don't give a shit about workers. Not really. Workers aren't college educated and thus, not part of the credentialed aristocracy.

Peter said...

It's surely not a coincidence that the high-water mark of unionization in the USA was in the 1950s, when much of the industrial plant outside the USA was still rubble. Why would GM care about its labor costs and burdensome contractual restrictions so long as Ford and Chrysler's costs were similarly hobbled? Until the 1970s, few U.S. companies faced any significant foreign competition for domestic markets.

Union contracts increase the price of labor even while (due to union work rules) decreasing its value. That's something a company can afford when all its significant competitors are similarly burdened, but can put it at severe disadvantage when competing with those who are not similary burdened.

In a competitive world, what is the union's value proposition to labor? Would you rather earn high wages and work under often-absurd work rules for a failing, shrinking company (how's your seniority?), or would you have more opportunities at a company that is thriving, and perhaps expanding?


(And then, as always, there is the "agency problem": agents are supposed to prioritize the interests of their clients, yet inevitably put their own interests first. BUT that was as true in 1954 as now.)

Ralph Hyatt said...

By the way, I found that by going to bing.com and searching on "uaw union leadership struggle." It was the third link presented.

Ralph Hyatt said...

I find this quote interesting:

"clearly a bigger enemy than the corporations"

Do most people now think of the company they work for as an "enemy?"

I think the answer to that tells you a great deal about why private sector unions are dieing.

SGT Ted said...

Madisonfella, why are you ignoring and downplaying the very real criminal and violent activity that unions use to intimidate and control their opposition? Old school unions ties to organized criminal gangs is well known.

When Trumpka gives pep talks to his membership, he talks like a thug.

How come you can't acknowledge the very real problems with unions? Why are you such a suck-up to union fat cats?

Independent George said...

It's one thing when unions were workers trying to protect themselves from getting left to die in a mine. It's another thing entirely when it became about ensuring that every job needed a $70/hour electrician on hand to put up a set of lights, and that you had to hire three old-timers before you could keep the 25-year old kid that did as much work as the rest combined.

And now that it's about forming a voting block to ensure that "poor public servants" can continue to get six-digit pensions... that's something else entirely.

SGT Ted said...

Labor unions have always been a creature of the left.

All the old time pro-union propaganda is shot through with socialist and communist anti-capitalist language. The WWW were the most blatant, but very representative of their origins in socialist/Communist circles.

The Commies of the 60's used to revere the old time union actions and songs like Joe Hill. Google
Joe Hill and the 3rd link is Marxists.org. But, nooo, their just ordinary Amuricans. What bullshit.

The pretense of non-partisan union organizing is an historical revision; a very convenient fiction.

dbp said...

""Scott Walker Is Set to Deliver New Blow to Labor in Wisconsin.""

I know how the WSJ Best of the Web Today will categorize the story: Update from the War on Drugs.

Sebastian said...

"The Left largely came to look down their noses at workers because of attitudes regarding culture and the war."

A portion of the Left always did look down on actual workers. Even the USSR had trouble creating the New Soviet Man.

chuck said...

...came to look down their noses at workers

The left didn't arrive there after a journey, the new left began there. They despised the patriotism, traditional values, and lack of revolutionary fervour of working people. And by working people, I mean folks who punched a time clock or did sweaty work. I was always amazed at how clueless the radicals were about actual work. Reminds me a bit of Trotsky, who claimed membership in the proletariat because he worked full time making revolution.

garage mahal said...

Small government is inserting itself between a worker and a private business telling it how it must conduct itself. Really, it is small!

Ralph Hyatt said...

"Small government is inserting itself between a worker and a private business telling it how it must conduct itself. Really, it is small!"

That's pretty incoherent. What does that mean?

SGT Ted said...

Garage hates it that the People speaking through their representatives are rejecting unions and their thuggery.

When Government supports unions and bullies private companies and tax payers into having to fund and support unions against their will, he is ok with that.

Garage hates representative democracy when it doesn't go his way.

Tom Perkins said...

@ garage

Any government big enough to mandate the legal relevance of unions without regard to the individual worker's wishes is too big no matter how small it is otherwise.

Codeburner said...

I was jawboned into joining a union right after I was hired at utility company. The union vp was my supervisor.

I attended a couple of their meetings. The union hall had a beer machine (a soda machine loaded with cans of beer) with very cheap beer. Many of the people attending could barely stand up by the time the meeting was half over. A fight had to be broken up.

The meeting itself seemed to be mainly devoted to fighting over which union officials would be sent to a meeting in Key West. They planned to spend the time on fishing boats. They also bickered over what kind of free items would be given to the losers.

When the Dukakis election rolled around I used that as an excuse to quit the union when the local sent him a large donation. No vote of the membership was needed.

I was harassed by my supervisor for the next 15 years. I told him I would rejoin when they published a annual audit of how the spent the union dues. He would flatly refuse saying that they don't want the management to get that secret info. Not to long after I quit the president of the union, a manager himself, signed a new contract without even reading it. And this was before Pelosi's famous statement.

Codeburner said...

I should mention, this was a public union for a city in Florida. Happily Florida is a right to work state.

Rusty said...

madisonfella said...
It's interesting how so many low-information people think that the unions are ran by a "boss", as if they are a top-down corporation instead of a direct democracy that votes for their leadership.


What's interesting is that you believe that.
The rank and file will vote the way the union bosses want them to vote.
Obviously you've never belonged to a union.

Anonymous said...

I had a job once that sucked. The boss was crooked. That proves all jobs suck and all bosses are crooked.

That is the same "logic" all these "belonged to a union once" people are using to justify Right To Take.

Anonymous said...

The rank and file will vote the way the union bosses want them to vote.

What union were you in where these "union bosses" forced you to vote a certain way? Did they actually walk into the polling booth with you and mark your ballot?

You made some serious allegations - have anything to back it up or are you just repeating a story you heard from someone else?

Delayna said...

The Left has been working--almost since the American Revolution began--to undermine the concept of equal rights and privileges for all people. While covering themselves in language of freedom and compassion, Leftists want the oldest form of government in the world. Every one of them wants to be (and sees himself) as the Son of Heaven, the Pharaoh, the godlike absolute monarch who will rule without hindrance or question. Everyone else must be a slave. They'll take willing slaves, if they can fool you into volunteering, but you *will* obey.

The Left must be destroyed, salt poured on the ashes and the mockery of children given to it forever. It's our only chance.

mccullough said...

Traditionally, union jobs were blue-collar jobs dominated by males. There was never a secretaries union. Manufacturing became more automated, more women joined the labor force, and lower-skilled manufacturing jobs went overseas. You also had laws like the federal fair labor standards act (1938), adding disability insurance to Social Security (1956), and OSHA (1969)along with state workers compensation laws.

Several causes, some good some bad, have led to the decline of private sector unions. Indiana and Michigan recently passed right to work legislation, as the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 permits them to do.



mccullough said...

Plus, unions have had a terrible history of race and sex discrimination. Unions, like a lot of institutions, have done some good things and some bad things.

Moneyrunner said...

"Scott Walker Is Set to Deliver New Blow to Labor in Wisconsin."

So much for the war on drugs.

Wilbur said...

Madison:

I, too, was in a public sector union in a small Illinois city. I did sweaty manual labor. It's how I paid my way through university and law school.

I've been in the union hall when outside "executives" were brought in to fire up the beer-boozy rank and file on a strike vote. Secret vote? Stop, you're killing me.

I've been on strike. I've walked a picket line.

The Laborers Union represented us. I received a glossy magazine every couple of months extolling the virtues of our fearless leader, one Angelo Fosco, in our never-ending struggle against the forces of evil trying to keep the working man down.

I was warned more than once by our union steward that I was working too hard and too fast and to cut it out. He didn't have to say "or else". It was implicit.

Now, how ignorant am I about unions?

Ralph Hyatt said...

"You also had laws like the federal fair labor standards act (1938), adding disability insurance to Social Security (1956), and OSHA (1969)along with state workers compensation laws."

Yeah, I was thinking that too, that a lot of the decline of unions has been caused by the Government providing what unions used to fight for: better working conditions, protection from arbitrary actions by employers, and some assurance of income if you are hurt at work.

Fen said...

I saw the evil of unions while working in college for Macy's.

Retail staff were *required* to join a union, it was part of accepting the job. And the union took its dues out their first 3 paychecks.

So you get these 1st generation immigrants trying to get a job, any job, so they can put food on their table because their kids are going to bed hungry.

And when they finally do find a job, the union takes a 1/3 of their first 3 paychecks right off the top. Because the union knows turnover is so high in retail, they want to get their cut up front, before the worker burns out and quits (retail is hell).

And these are the people who claim they "care" about the working class...

The Godfather said...

I've stood for the union, walkin' the line,
Fought against the company;
Stood for the U. M. W. of A.
Now who's gonna stand for me?
I got no house and I got no pay,
Just got a worried soul;
And this blue tattoo on the side of my head
Left by the number nine coal.

Someday when I'm dead and gone
To Heaven, the land of my dreams,
I won't have to worry on losin' my job
To bad times 'n big machines.

William said...

The newspaper industry is burdened by some of the most bothersome unions in existence. The NY Times always had an anti-union bias. It's the chunk in their leftist armor.......I worked in a union shop. The union delegates militantly represented the interests of the union delegates. The rest of us not so much.......I suppose that a union does put some upward pressure on wages and retirement benefits, but that same pressure ultimately causes the industry to lose its profitability. The benefits of union membership depend when in the life cycle of an industry you became a member. There were plenty of union members who benefited from their membership in the UAW or Steelworkers Union, but many of those benefits enfeebled the industries that they unionized.

Fen said...

madisonfella" It's interesting how so many low-information people...

No, what's of interest is that you can mouth "low-information" voters without choking on the term.

Maybe its a bug. Do it again please. Lets see if you can go 2 for 3.

n.n said...

Roosevelt, Reagan, Walker, the Kochs, Whole Foods, Walmart and the like.

n.n said...

Oh, and for the teachers' unions: Think of the children! It's not just about the most expensive education system on the planet. Pro-choice religion or moral philosophy justifies capital punishment of wholly innocent human lives when we are uniquely vulnerable.

And the other unions, protecting your turf will not prevent displacement and replacement by Obama's Dreamers et al.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Monopolies are bad, unless they're monopolies on labor (enforced by law) in which case they're good.

Big Labor tied itself almost exclusively to the Left. The Left doesn't worry much about losing Big Labor, so the political economy of that situation means the Left won't fight too hard for Big Labor--they'll do enough to keep 'em active but it's not worth risking other votes/support that might be lost to the Right.
Case in point, with Walker: the teacher unions flat out opposed him. They failed to defeat him in 3 elections (he won, they lost). they gave him no reason to think he could ever win them over in any way--so now they have very little influence over him. You can see the same pattern in the waning influence of blacks with the Left and in a similar dynamic for anti-open borders people on the Right.

Birches said...

NYT commenter is right, back in the day, the hardest workers were pushing for the union. These days, the hardest workers don't join the union.

Spouse worked for FedEX equivalent for many years. Every year was required to go to Union info meeting. Said there were two reasons the union reps gave you for joining: #1 If you get fired, we'll get you your job back. #2 If you get divorced, or adopt, or need a lawyer, we'll provide one.

He passed every year.

Robert Cook said...

"The Left must be destroyed, salt poured on the ashes and the mockery of children given to it forever. It's our only chance."

Charles Koch, is that you? C'mon, Charlie...the frothing at the mouth gives you away!

traditionalguy said...

Unions are favored by King Obama. So he will probably use his new Internet Agency to order an annual internet fee be paid to the Union of Democrat Politicians until his Global Warming Tax is imposed by the UN Treaty being negotiated in Paris.

You folks are so behind the times...not even digitized minds yet.

Krumhorn said...

If there ever was a single sentence that epitomizes why unions are on the outs with the American public, it is this statement of Albert Shanker when he was the head of the UFT:

When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.

- Krumhorn

ken in tx said...

My Dad has been a strong union man, United Paperworkers, all his working life. Unfortunately his working life was cut short before retirement. The mill where he worked was under threat from the EPA to buy expensive anti-pollution equipment or face enormous fines. During the same time period the union thought this would be a good time for a strike. The mill was privately held and the owners just threw up their hands and quit.

This was before the pension laws were reformed and my Dad lost his pension, after working for 27 years.

Ironically. he is still a loyal union man.

gerry said...

Even the USSR had trouble creating the New Soviet Man.

Yeah. 35+ million murdered men and 35+ million murdered women.

Omelets, eggs...

I Callahan said...

small government is inserting itself between a worker and a private business telling it how it must conduct itself. Really, it is small!

Stop it, Garage. That's not what happened and you know it. Government did the OPPOSITE - it stopped the union from forcing people to join it.

You're beyond disingenuous. You're lying through your teeth now.

Bushman of the Kohlrabi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
30yearProf said...

When Americans learned from Jimmy Hoffa that Union leaders were just crooks in the employ of Organized Crime to steal from both employers and employees. When Americans learned that a $1.00 spent on teacher compensation resulted in -$1.00 in educational value. When Unions began to act as mouthpieces for Liberal politicians and not for their, for example, gun toting employee/members. Alternatively, when Unions lost interest in the needs of their member and found a need to push every plank in the Democrat Party platform (the nuttier the better).

30yearProf said...

When Americans learned from Jimmy Hoffa that Union leaders were just crooks in the employ of Organized Crime to steal from both employers and employees. When Americans learned that a $1.00 spent on teacher compensation resulted in -$1.00 in educational value. When Unions began to act as mouthpieces for Liberal politicians and not for their, for example, gun toting employee/members. Alternatively, when Unions lost interest in the needs of their member and found a need to push every plank in the Democrat Party platform (the nuttier the better).

Alex said...

Basically the Democrat party abandoned white male union workers the last 30 years in favor of victim-status groups.

Alex said...

New York Times readers are very very sad. I do like the delicious taste of their tears!

Martin said...

It's actually pretty simple--to the extent a union succeeded in taking a disproportionate share of revenues for its members (i.e., was "successful") it undermined the company's or industry's ability to compete. Over time, you got fewer and fewer union members, each one making more and more, until finally you had a relative handful of very well-compensated employees working for a few remaining bankrupt or near bankrupt companies. Think UAW, USX, coal miners, railroads under ICC regulation).

When some unions grew up enough to understand that their members needed viable employers, some companies were able to turn around. But for many it came too late, if ever.

All the rest is pretty marginal compared to this fundamental truth.

The Godfather said...

"Labor" makes you think of the horny handed sons of toil, not school teachers.

jr565 said...

People don't need unions anymore. The environment changed. Back when there were no unions, unions were necessary. But now you can get decent paying jobs with benefits in a non union shop. And unions actually become detriments to hiring.