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Who Represents You?

January 28, 2013

I’ve never worked in a union shop.  Okay, I did for two weeks once on a temp assignment.  But since I’ve been meaningfully employed, I haven’t done much interaction with unions.  I think the closest I’ve gotten in years is doing work with unions at trade-show setup and tear-down, and most of those interactions are fine once you establish the boundaries.  In general, when I see a union (like in my brushes with the educational system), they have a lot of rules in place to protect their members while occasionally making it head-scratchingly hard to do something simple.

So the decline in unions that John Fund points out today is not a huge surprise to me.  He points to many recent happenings: the recent vacating of the NLRB appointees, the increase in right-to-work states in the heart of union country, the confusion in the government cabinets… and we’ve all certainly seen that union membership is at its lowest (percentage wise) since the FDR administration.

It was the last paragraph that I noted, though, since I often think similar things:

If past giants of labor such as Samuel Gompers, George Meany, and John L. Lewis were alive today, they would no doubt shake their heads at just how much today’s hidebound and short-sighted union leaders have abandoned labor’s traditions and ignored the interests of union members to pursue political influence. Now even that influence appears increasingly shaky and unsustainable in today’s economic and political climate.

While I’m aware that everything is always better in the past, I still note that unions seem to have been a lot more focused on actually helping the workforce in the past.  Now they mostly appear there to protect the fringes of the workforce while feeding the coffers of the union leaders.  I guess I can’t call them union management, I’d find a dead animal on my doorstep if I did.  What is it about institutions of any type that they calcify to a state of protecting their internal interests over actually doing the job that they were scoped to do?  I see it everywhere, but unions seems to typify the habit.

Maybe if the union was more focused on negotiating a well-paying job with appropriate benefits and then getting out of the way, the workers would feel better about what’s happening.  But as is, I think many workers are just hoping they can reclaim their dues and try the workforce on their own.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2013 8:21 am

    Consider this…FDR and George Meany, both staunch supporters of the unions, thought it was a very bad idea for the unions to be involved in the public sector and were against it.

    • January 28, 2013 8:33 am

      In at least FDR’s case, that could have been because he didn’t want competition in being able to decide how the public sector worked.

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