Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Big Labor splits

The Wall Street Journal weighs in on the troubles that Big Labor is having.

The AFL-CIO, the giant union consortium formed in 1955 by George Meany and Walter Reuther, is breaking apart this week in a dispute over how to revive labor's lagging fortunes. The tragedy is that neither faction is offering an agenda that will make workers more prosperous in our increasingly competitive global economy.
Instead, we are witnessing a fight over who gets to preside over a declining labor movement. Two of the largest and more successful unions, the Service Employees International and the Teamsters, are rebelling against the leadership of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. The irony is that it wasn't all that long ago, in 1995, that Mr. Sweeney won his job with his own coup against Lane Kirkland, the Cold War hero and more moderate labor voice.
In the wake of the GOP takeover of Congress the year before, Mr. Sweeney promised to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into electoral politics to stop the Gingrich Revolution. He staffed AFL-CIO headquarters with activists from the political left--environmental groups, culturally liberal outfits--and made the union consortium a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party.
...What's missing on both sides, however, is a vision of economic opportunity that might actually make workers want to join a union in the first place. Tactics aside, both factions continue to believe in the idea of unions that arose in the Industrial Age: Greedy management versus the exploited working man, seniority over flexibility, fixed benefits and strike threats over working with management to keep a U.S.-based company profitable and innovative in a world of growing competition. On the political front, both factions favor trade protection, higher taxes and government help to enforce restrictive work rules. This is the agenda of Old Europe, where jobless rates are above 10%, and it merely offers more economic insecurity in the U.S. as well.
...Without such a new vision, Big Labor will only continue its slide. All the more so given new Labor Department rules, recently upheld in court after an AFL-CIO challenge, requiring that unions disclose more details about how they spend hard-earned member dues. Some of the nation's largest unions will now have to disclose their spending by specific categories, such as political donations, grievance proceedings, or organizing. This sunshine will expose just how much labor money is being wasted on political activities that have little to do with improving workers' lives.
Union leaders seem genuinely to believe that their glory days will return if only they can defeat President Bush, or oust Tom DeLay as House Majority Leader. But their real obstacle is the reality of the modern global economy. Until they offer workers something more than class warfare, circa 1955, they will continue to decline.

Full disclosure: I don't come from a union background. My first exposure to unions was hearing my father tell the story of how, on his first day of college, he had to cross a picket line because the teachers were striking. He recounted how he was struck by how rude and intimiadating the striking teachers were to him and how he'd decided never to join a union because of the experience.

I myself was a member of the UFCW (I think that was the name) for about a month, working over Christmas break at a grocery store. I had no desire to join the union, but of course you're not really given any choice about such things, and so a portion of my paycheck was withheld to support a group who spent my money with no endorsement from me or accountability to me. I believe that unions served a valuable purpose in the early days of organization (incidents like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911 are a disgraceful reminder of the condition of workers in the early part of the twentieth century). However, using the hard-earned bucks of its members to
support the management's pet causes is a travesty of everything the unions originally stood for.

Update: Bonfire of the Vanities has some thoughts about the workers.


Todd said...

Unions deal or die.

I'm amazed they think they can't muster support when times are "bad," i.e. Republicans in charge.

" ... of course you're not really given any choice about such things, and so a portion of my paycheck was withheld to support a group who spent my money with no endorsement from me or accountability to me ..."

We could say the same thing about the profit we produce for managers and CEO's, I guess. We turn over a lot more to our bosses than we do in union dues with even less endorsement or accountability.

mrsdarwin said...

I would say that the difference is that an employee works for his manager and CEO; in theory, the union works for the employee. Therefore it should be accountable to the employee in all things, including whether or not to join, and how a member's dues are spent.