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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

When Unions Compete, Do Workers Win?

Is competition the answer to the decline in unionization?  This editorial answers in the affirmative: 

Workers of the world ... disunite!, By Jonathan Cutler and Thaddeus Russell, Christian Science Monitor:  The growing rift between insurgents in the AFL-CIO and the leadership of the labor federation looks increasingly like civil war. … The recent establishment of the Change to Win Coalition, which will probably be a rival federation to the AFL-CIO, could be the best thing to happen to the American labor movement in decades.  Anyone who still cares about the labor movement agrees that it is in crisis. Unions today represent only 15.5 million - or 12.5 percent - of the nation's 124 million workers, the lowest percentage in decades … The AFL-CIO claims to have 13 million members. Most American workers have no experience with unions and those who do often complain that union leaders are not responsive to their demands. Indeed, these twin crises - dwindling numbers and bureaucratic inaccessibility - have plagued the labor movement since the merger that created the AFL-CIO in 1955. The new competition among unions will create more dynamic unions and will force labor leaders to be accountable to their constituents.

Following months of threats to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO, five of the federation's largest member unions have now established the Change to Win Coalition and forcefully implied that if the AFL-CIO does not meet certain demands for restructuring, the coalition will offer a new, independent alternative ... Barring unexpected concessions by the AFL-CIO to the insurgents at the federation's convention July 25 to 28, it appears that we will soon have two competing labor federations in the United States for the first time in 50 years.  The heyday of organized labor in America, from the split of the CIO from the AFL in 1935 until the merger in 1955, occurred during another civil war within the labor movement. These were the years when organized labor constituted a vibrant movement full of drama and passion that inspired a generation of labor activists.  As unions battled for the allegiance of workers the rival federations grew exponentially, labor's story was headline news, and union membership reached its high point in American history.  … Competition among unions leads not only to the creation of better options for the already organized rank and file, but also to the organization of new industries as unions animated by the rivalry generate enthusiasm among the unorganized. Employees participating in union representation elections have been far more likely to vote for union representation over "no union" when the election involves more than one union vying for workers. Rivalry has also forced down initiation fees and union dues. When unions compete, workers win…

I thought this an interesting contrast to the post below this one since Nassau Senior believed combinations [labor unions] would fight to maintain the notion that wages should reflect the needs of a family rather than the forces of supply and demand leaving markets in an unnatural state.  This was one of the reasons he opposed unions.  Quoting Senior (the cite is Three Lectures in the post below this one), the arrogance of the poor fostered by unions led to a situation where:

“rent, tithes, profit, and capital, are all eaten up , and pauperism produces what may be called its natural effects – or they are the effects which, if unchecked, it must ultimately produce – famine, pestilence, and civil war.”

If Senior were in my family, an uncle or brother in law or something, we’d argue on holidays.  The next post explains why there would be plenty for us to argue about.

    Posted by on Wednesday, July 6, 2005 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Income Distribution, Unemployment | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (1)


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