by Jack Campitelli | March 9th, 2011
Unions and Collectives have their roots in the history of production and plunder. Craftsmen come together for protection from government, then they became protectionists to keep all other craftsmen out of the group, then they moved into government. This has been going on a long time. Certainly 500 years or more.
Unionism in America arose from terrible labor conditions brought on by stupid and greedy or ignorant management. Unfortunately, the America that gave rise to the need for unions and collective bargaining doesn’t really exist anymore to the extent it did a hundred years ago. Well, that’s not true entirely, but the landscape has changed. Workers in cutting edge companies usually do not have unions because they don’t need unions. Unions create a direct drain on paychecks and takes the ability of the sense of “team” away from all workers. Unions are instantly and by definition divisive. Unions work on the premise that management, the suits, is an injurious force that must be controlled by the unions – the people. Modern management has left this concept behind. Modern capitalism has left this concept behind. And the reason is simple: the landscape has changed. If company A wants to pay me $10 an hour and company B needs me, they might offer $15 an hour. There are jobs for good workmen (or at least were) and the workman is free to move to an employer that values his skills more highly than his current employer just as a person in management is free to change employers. In the best companies, the lines between management and labor has all but vanished.
But unions have a framework and administration, like government, and it doesn’t want to die any more than government wants to cut off an arm or a leg because there’s no money (and never was any) to feed it. So unions sell themselves to their members by creating divisive beliefs in the work place that requires union bosses to solve the resulting problems. Most competitive companies are set up not to need the workers to have outside representatives since the framework of a modern company provides employee input from all workers (direct participation) and often makes wage increases a mute topic since employees oft times share in profits. How much union representation does an employee need who receives a slice of the pie along with management and investors?
Unions it seems never got the memo that they were killing off the companies that their dues paying members worked for. The jobs left Detroit and Cleveland for Tennessee and South Carolina then China. That’s the way life and economies work. There are no jobs for life. There is no right to a job. There is no right to a certain wage. Life is tough. Get skills. Constantly update your skills. Keep your eyes open for better employers if you’re dissatisfied. Those are your rights. None of them require unions.
Now we move to public employees and their unions or collectives. How government was stupid enough to ever let this get started would probably fill a book no one will read. Rule: No group of anyone gets to hold the taxpayers hostage. Once you take a job with government, you either show up for work and collect your paycheck or you quit and get a job in the private sector or work for a government sector you like better. Police, firemen, teachers, garbage men, should pledge a higher level of trust when then accept public employment: they can quit, but they can’t go on strike. They can ask for more money, but their options remain, quit or keep working. Striking in the public sector is hostage taking and they violate their troth with the people.
And the idea that you are guaranteed a job for life when you work for government is as dead as unions. Governments expand and shrink. So must its labor force. Jobs for life is a socialist idea whose time has come and gone. It has never worked and it sure won’t work today when a job can switch to India or China in a nano-second.
Some collective bargainer got various governmental units to recognize them and negotiated great benefit plans etc. for life. It’s like the automotive industry unions: they started something that now requires it to be killed rather than change. When the taxpayers offer jobs to people, the taxpayers representatives should set the rate of pay and benefits. And that rate should be JUST enough to fill the vacancies and not a cent more.
It’s such a simple equation. If government offers too little, no one will apply. So they have to keep offering more to fill the new jobs. And if government doesn’t keep pace with private sector salaries, then employees will drift away into the private sector. That’s plenty of “checks and balance” to keep everyone honest.
Government administration of taxpayer money is no different than managing your household budget. If you can’t afford something, you probably shouldn’t buy it. Part of your budget plan is to establish an emergency fund to handle the unexpected. Easy credit from Visa and MasterCard has made this concept seemingly outdated. But it’s not. As all of us saddled with debt know, it quickly becomes a hamster wheel you can’t get off of. Borrowing is a path government should never go down. Ever.
Since much of government and its management is anachronistic – outmoded – maybe collective bargaining for government workers is something that should not be entirely abandoned. And why should it? I think workers should be able to make their case. But in the end they have only two options: quit or keep working and keep the dialog going.
Spain, as you’ve undoubtedly heard, is one of the PIIGS countries that has had to go on a diet. As the government tried to shrink itself they discovered surprising anomalies: they decided they could no longer afford cars and drivers for various government employees and immediately sold the cars. Then they learned that 1) the drivers still had job income for life and 2) you could not make drivers do anything else except drive. But there were no cars to drive. Hmmm.
Management can only put up with so much of this “stuff” before they say, the hell with it and close the company and move production someplace where workers want a job. Unions apparently thought that the capital investment in plants and equipment was just too high for management to abandon it by moving away, so they pushed and pushed for more benefits and wages: that was their mandate after all – it’s what the dues went for. But finally the camel’s back was broken and production lines started to close one by one and new ones opened up down south or on the other side of the world. The companies may have gone bankrupt or dismantled themselves into ten segments in ten different parts of the world. The company many not look like its alive, but it is. It’s somewhere.
Union workers just don’t have a job in it any more. This is not a victory. And you did it to yourselves.
If unions were to hold an honest poll and ask new start-up companies if they would start a new business if they were saddled with a union, the answer would be universally, “no.” No investor or entrepreneur is stupid enough to do anything to attract unionism if they can help it. Companies will move wherever they have to in order to avoid dealing with union politics. It’s hard enough deal with world competitiveness – without having to deal with unionism. Companies can little afford to work in a atmosphere of class warfare between labor and management.
Unions have their origin in “socialism” — taking the hurt away from the downtrodden and their mission has always been sold on only two things: divisiveness or thuggery. In the early days, management wasn’t above using thuggery either but for the most part, that’s not true any longer.
The simple facts are that in many ways, the unions won rights for workers that are now part of the fabric of all companies. Until the need truly arises again, it’s time to fade. However, some industries and some companies make the argument for unionism compelling. The boss makes $10-million a year and I’m asking for $5 more an hour. Seems like a time for a union. There are no really easy answers to any of this. But unions must keep in mind the other side: press to hard and the jobs leave for China.
But there are no $10-million a year civil servants. So for public employees, the answer seems easier: take the job or quit the job. But striking has to be verboten.