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Unions have been a necessary evil.

Unions are necessary to combat worker exploitation.

Companies sometimes make obsene profits expoiting their workers. Below subsistance wages, unsafe working conditions, replacement of warn out empoyees like used toilet paper, etc. These are the conditions that prevaled in the dawning of the indutrial age and resulted in the formation of unions.

In a healthy economy unions should not be needed as labor is scarce and employers must compete for employees. Exploited workers can just get a better job. In a depressed economy most are happy to get any job they can get and unions can depress the economy further by making it too expensive to do business and the union produced goods and services becme too expensive for the mass market reducing the number of jobs. Add to that the corruption that plagues most unions and the mob is supported at the expence of both employees and employers. The tables can turn and the unions exploit busines at everyone expence.

In the US at least, labor unions and their leadership are democratically elected to represent whatever employees (bargaining unit) they represent. As with any democratic institution, unions can appear tyranical on a particular issue. Any union or union leader that does not represent its constituents will not be in power for long.

In supporting union actions we should ask ourselves first if the workers are actually being exploited and second, can the business and market bear the cost of the union demands.

WE should look to how we can improve the union system so that the benifits can be derived without the detriments. Perhaps we can set thresholds where by objective analysis we can support positive union actions, oppose negative union actions and make no judgement on those in the middle.


BrainStorming: (add any ideas that come to mind here without judging them)

Create a union of unions dedicated to union integrity

  • Solidarity where solidarity is due.

Create a non-profit union watchdog orgnization: "Union Reports"

Try Readers Digest.

Broaden the constituency

The rhetoric is that the constituency is the working class. The perception is that the constituency is the membership.

Re-define union membership as something one undertakes because of their convictions, rather than a formality of employment.

The freemasons have the right idea with their bumper stickers...If you want to be one, ask one. Unions could do one better...include a phone number.

Adapt collective bargaining to a more (functionally) diverse workforce.

There aren't as many situations any more where there are gazillions of people of the same occupation working at the same price, so work is less of a commodity. The fact remains that most workers are smaller, less sophisticated, less informed and less legally counseled than their employers as "entities", so hopefully collective bargaining itself need not go out with the bathwater.

Help workers (affiliated and otherwise) in tangible ways.

Actively recruit from the -whole- general public for apprenticeships as well as organization memberships.

originally discussed in

LorraineLee reacts:

I strenuously disagree with the overall tone, which I see as anti-union.

'Unions do play an important role, and rather than knocking them we should define them in a positive way.  But at the same time it is wrong to ignore the facts.  The problems with unions are real and unless we deal with them unions could, and probobly would degrade the quality of our lives.  Every organization, not just unions, are at risk to become a cure worse than the desease.  We need to objectively evaluate constantly whether our organizations are upholding the priciples they stand for.' -- JimScarver

The American "system" is built almost entirely on an adversarial model. Everything from cola marketing to getting a job to being on trial is a contest. Why should management/labor relations be different?

'I hate the US and THEM mentality.  I don't think WE should promote it.  WE should stand for what is right, stand against what is wrong and tolerate everything else.  Unions and bussiness must collaborate for mutual success as neither can survive without the other. Advisarial engagement must be a last resort based on sound priciples.  THEM is US too.'

"'Fine. Adversarial is bad. But if me and my employer competing over the proceeds of our mutual success is bad, shouldn't me and 10000 other wannabees competing over the opportunity to be employed also be considered bad? You can ridicule me for being too thin skinned (IamAnAsshole, after all) but the effect on me of batting .000 on interviews for years on end is positively demoralizing'"

I don't think the labor movement's problems include outliving its usefulness. I do think it has some very real problems. Most are public relations problems and result from misplaced priorities. I think most of the misplaced priorities result from trying too hard to be philosophically "mainstream", and not trying hard enough to focus on the real issues.

My own real issues have more to do with getting a job than getting a raise. One issue for me is the fact that no activity feels more disempowering to me than trying to get a job. I feel like I'm in an InformationVacuum. While they're looking over my credit history, personality test scores and piss test results, questions like how many others are competing over the job are still fairly taboo.

'In many areas the unions control employment.  If you are not a member and are not related to a member you are out of luck.  It can be like being a party member in the old USSR.  Union politics control your destiny instead of management, often replacing one evil with a worse evil.'

There is a lot unions could do to improve the lot of the employee, and they must have bite to backup their bark to have power. Dehumanization of employees is rampant and we should do more than just hope it gets better.


Unions are not a necessary evil. They are not good. Collective bargaining is just an alternative way of doing business. It is suited well to certain business environments. In the blue-collar world, it serves to allow workers equal footing at the bargaining table and enforce contractual agreements. Sometimes unions get greedy, than they are considered bad. Sometimes companies get abusive, then unions are considered a necessary evil. The truth is that neither is perfect and there will always be abuses on both sides. That is the beauty of the system. It checks and balances, and the pendulum will swing for ever.

I have been a Teamster for 31 years and I thank God for the union every day. BillScarver

I thank God for the union and I'm not even a member of one.

While unabashedly pro-union, I would concede that some problems exist because of unions. The industries in which they have organized successfully seem to be the ones nobody gets into without some kind of inside pull. I'm sure that's not a coincidence. Like most organizations, unions seem to follow the path of least resistance, preferring to get better deals for existing bargaining units rather than organizing more. If advertisements in HR trade rags are any indication, the amount of opposition facing organizing drives must be incredibly fierce. The renaissance of alternative opinion of the 1960's took on what was probably the most progressive sector of society, academia, and protested the hell out of it, leaving less progressive and more powerful institutions relatively unchallenged. It seems the most progressive employers are constantly battling the unions, while people stuck in the contingency workforce find themselves as outside looking in on what in name is their movement.

UtahPhillips quote: "...get together and organize. Which is to say - learn how to get things done together that we can't get done alone. That's all a union was intended to be." and

Proud UnionOrganizer that hated unions until I was 28, when a friend schooled me. Collective action is not a hot subject in k-12 education. MarkDilley

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