Thrawn Rickle 15

Unions

© 1994 Williscroft

An acquaintance of mine was explaining to me about unions.

“A union is an association of workers,” he said, “that protects their interests. It makes sure the members get top dollar for their work, and that management doesn’t take advantage of them. It represents the workers in contract negotiation, giving them more clout together than each worker would have individually.”

“I suppose there is a special advantage for all automotive workers to band together...”

“Of course,” he answered, “there is strength in numbers.”

“And this applies equally to garment workers, meat packers, and even teachers?”

He said it did.

I find that a little bit surprising. I always thought that Ford competed against General Motors, and that they each competed against Chrysler.

I had gotten the distinct impression that if I work for ABC Shirt Company, and if I and my fellows and the management of our company have made ABC more successful than XYZ Shirts down the street, what do I care what the fellow who works for XYZ earns? In fact, I want him to be out of a job, because our company put his company under; that way we can make and sell all the shirts, and my wages will go up, and he can come and work for us. If I get along good with my boss, but he doesn’t, and he and his fellows decide to go on strike, why should I join him, and hurt my boss, and lose money, and set up somebody else to be the big cheese in shirts?

If my boss is smart, he will ensure that I and my fellow workers have a meaningful say in how his business operates–after all, our livelihood is just as dependent on his success as is his own. In a small company this might amount to nothing more than making sure we know what is happening, and listening to our input. In a larger firm, we probably will need to elect one or more representatives who can speak for us, and who sit on the board of directors.

It is intuitively obvious that management and workers in a company have the same interests. Nobody will argue that the senior decision makers should be appropriately compensated. The same is true for the founders and the capital risk takers. None of these people will receive a cent, however, unless the firm can competitively produce and sell its widgets. This takes workers who have nothing common with the guy down the street who also makes widgets, and everything in common with local management.

The concept of a union that crosses company lines doesn’t make a lot of sense in today’s world. Management that is sufficiently enlightened to pass a meaningful piece of the action to each worker, and workers who understand that their wages depend upon management’s success, together make a great deal more sense than a consolidated work force pitted against reluctantly cooperating industry-wide management teams.

The problems of layoffs and other management methods to keep the bottom line in the black cannot be ignored, but they can be effectively addressed within the cooperative framework of management and labor working together in a single company.

So long as individual workers–whether they build cars or teach children–remain more interested in their personal benefit while ignoring the health of, and their common interest in the company that supplies their employment, America will continue to slide towards second-class nation status.