Posts Tagged ‘The Benefits of Labor Unions’

The future of labor unions

September 3, 2013

I think workers will always need to organize to protect their own interests.  Labor unions are a structure that exists for that purpose, but it is nothing more than a structure, just as a corporation, a government agency, a charitable organization or a church is a structure.  The people within the structure may or may not be faithful to carrying out the organization’s purpose.

Labor unions are much more democratic and much less corrupt than other institutions in American society, partly because corruption is much less tolerated in unions than in other institutions.  Corrupt labor leaders go to prison; corrupt bankers retire to enjoy their ill-gotten gains.  Under law, the government can, and has, appointed trustees to take over corrupt labor unions and clean house.  Nothing of the sort exists for labor unions.

I think there always will be a need for labor unions, but future labor unions may not be like those of the present day.  In the 1930s, the American Federation of Labor, consisting predominantly of skilled workers organized by craft, did not respond to the discontent of workers in great industries.  Workers acted on their own, and the CIO (Committee for Industrial Organization, later Congress of Industrial Organizations) was formed in response.

The Wagner Act of 1935 recognized the right of unions to exist and to make contracts through collective bargaining, but imposed on them the obligation not to strike for the duration of the contract.  Further restrictions on labor unions were imposed by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 and the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959.

The one-day work stoppages by Wal-Mart and fast-food workers remind me of what I read about the history of the 1930s, with workers taking their fate into their own hands and the recognized labor unions rushing to keep up with them.  These actions could represent a new direction for American workers.  I hope they do.


The case for labor unions in two graphs

September 1, 2012

These two charts show why labor unions matter.  The chart above illustrates the problem with the U.S. economy, which is that working people do not enjoy the benefit of economic growth.  The chart below illustrates some of the causes.  The weakened labor movement no longer has the power to stand up for the interests of wage-owners, and so the economic elite siphons off a greater share of the national income.

Notice that U.S. workers’ inflation-adjusted wages stopped rising about the same time the labor unions went into decline.  Strong unions benefit more than just their members.  The union wage sets a standard for all industry.  Eastman Kodak Co. in its heyday paid decent wages and offered job security, but one important reason for that was to keep the union out.  We newspaper reporters were paid for than we otherwise would have been because of the benchmark set by the International Typographers Union.

Hat tip to Robert Nielsen.