Unionism, Bad for America
Unionism is the concept that traditionally business, especially big businesses are inherently going to exploit their employees. Therefore, in order to protect themselves, the workers form organizations called unions, in which all laborers who work at a certain craft, or in a certain industry band together. By this process of “joining forces”, the unions gain power in numbers. Unions traditionally try to protect employee interests by negotiating with employers for wages and benefits, working hours, and better working conditions.
Unions have been around for a long time. The first recorded union was in 1792, when shoemakers in Philadelphia met to consider matters of common interest. This earliest form of union was called a craft union. In 1886, the AFL (American Federation of Labor) was founded, and regulated labor activity in America for the next forty years. In the 1930’s, the AFL unionized the steel and automobile industry. A split in the AFL and the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) occurred in 1938, but the two later reconciled their differences in 1955, merging their over 16 million members. Federal legislation passed in 1959 gave union members distinct rights, and also required unions to report on their internal operations. Since that time, memberships in unions have significantly decreased.
There are many tactics that both sides can and do use to try and get the other side to yield first, when negotiations are under way. Unions organize strikes, which means that no workers show up for work, and instead stand out front in picket lines. Sometimes unions encourage people to boycott products from an industry or company. Managers can bring in strikebreakers, who work, but are not a part of the union. They can also use a lockout, which means that the management just locks the employees out, until they agree to the terms of the contract that the management draws up.
Unions in America today have grown smaller and smaller in the past 30 years. There are many reasons for this. The major one is that industries in other countries that are non-union have much cheaper labor costs, and therefore can offer products and materials at a much lower price than our US union-run, high wage cost factories. “During the 1970s and 1980s, a fifth of large unionized companies in the United States went bankrupt, unable to compete against companies with lower wage costs.” (Rachman, 308)
Unions do provide a lot of good services to its members, such as higher wages, better hours, more benefits, and safer working conditions. There is a price to pay for these services, though. Every union requires its members to pay dues, whether they are in the form of a percentage of each paycheck, or a flat rate. The money form dues goes towards lobbying politicians to pass union-friendly legislation, or better labor laws. The money also finances officers in the union organization, who are the ones calling the shots, as far as labor negotiations are concerned.
The fact that unions improve working conditions, wages and benefits for their members is not under inquiry. The question is how does it affect the overall picture in America today? The answer to this question is that it only hurts workers. When unions raise wage and benefit demands, they make it impossible for business to compete with foreign firms. This only leads to plant closures, and whole companies shutting down and declaring bankruptcy.
In the end unionism only ends up hurting the people it was meant to protect. In my mind, the employers are the ones to blame. If employers worked more on keeping employees happy and well adjusted, then there would be no unions at all. There would be no strikes or shutouts. If managers and CEOs were more aware of what their employees needs are, they would be more ready to meet those needs, and there would be no animosity towards each other.
Rachman, David J., Michael H. Mescon, Courtland L. Bove, and John V. Hill. Business Today. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1996.
Encyclopedia Britanica. Version 98.1.1. November 1997
Seligman, Dan. “Driving the AFL-CIO Crazy.” Forbes November 1, 1999. http://www.forbes.com/forbes/99/1101
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