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Doing Unions Right

Promoting the Balance between Capital and Labor
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Once upon a time in America (late 1800s), various capitalists like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie built business empires while leaning heavily upon the backs of the workers, who were often little better off than medieval serfs. Then various people came along to organize the workers, and Unions were born. One of the things that Unions had going for them, in the United States, was the fact that the majority of voters can get laws rewritten, and since the majority of Americans are laborers of one sort or another, such laws were passed as protected and even favored Unions.

The Unions acquired the power to force mighty business empires to a standstill, to ensure that the workers were no longer abused, and lo, it was good for a time. But then the Unions got greedy, and began to insist that Union Labor be allowed to be divided into tiny compartments, so as to provide high-paying jobs (and dues-paying Union members) to as many people as possible. For example, while one man may be sufficient to operate a digging machine, another man altogether might be assigned the task of turning on the digging machine. If he doesn't show up for work, the machine operator claims the right to get paid for waiting, for doing nothing until the other fellow arrives to turn the machine on. "That's not my job", says the machine operator, in spite of the fact that Capital has a contract with Labor to get a particular digging operation done, and that operator's attitude is totally nonproductive.

Another example of excess Unionism can be found in the American automobile manufacturing industry, where multiple representatives of Capital compete, while there is but a single represetative of Labor. Having all the power of a labor-monopoly, the Union can demand higher wages from Company A, via strike, while being supported by all the workers in Companies B, C, etc. Then the Union can demand higher wages from Company B, via strike, while being supported by all the workers in Companies A, C, etc. And so on. The various Companies have little choice but to pass increased costs onto the consumers, and so another round of inflation happens, that eventually causes the Union to repeat the cycle.

If participation in Unions has dropped in recent decades, it possibly can be traced to the simple cliche that "too much of a good thing is usually not a good thing". BUT, with Unions now diminished, Capital is once more taking the opportunity to abuse workers. "We can pay you as little as we want, because there's plenty more workers where you came from. Why do you think we moved most of our operations overseas?"

OK FOLKS, HERE'S HOW TO MAKE IT ALL FAIR.

This would have to be an International Law, because it has to apply to multinational corporations, as well as the average 10-person shop. Also, as used below, the definition of "Company" must include chains of command that lead to higher-up Companies, if any. Here goes:

1) Every Company having un-related employees must be Unionized. 2) No Union can be larger than the Company it works for.

REGARDING RULE (1) The dinky Mom & Pop shop down the street is exempt if Mom and Pop and the kids and other relatives are the only workers.

There will be a gray arera, regarding Capital/Labor relationship when a boss only has one or two unrelated employees. Suggestions are welcome!

All larger shops must be Unionized. The very DEFINITION of "Union" might be altered a bit, to allow more informality and greater flexibility. Anyway, the boss of a small outfit can no longer fire somebody arbitrarily, because all the coworkers can go on strike. (Of course, the coworkers might agree with the boss, but the potential for job-protection will be there.)

Furthermore, consider the case of the multinational conglomerate. All the little Company-sized Unions will integrate into a grand multinational conglomerated Union, in exact balance with the conglomerate of Capital. This Union can ensure that the conglomerate's workers in Thailand get paid the same, for the same work, as the conglomerate's workers in Japan or the United States. The entire conglomerate can be shut down, if pay (and other sorts of treatment) is considered unfair! (Side effects, of course, will lead to less searching by Capital for the cheapest possible Labor.)

REGARDING RULE (2) This is what keeps the greed of Unions under control, because the workers of Company A are in actual competition with the workers of Company B. Neither Union can ask too much of its employing Company. If this happened in Company B, for example, then the prices of B's products will rise, and customers will prefer to go to Company A -- and in the long run, Union B will have to relent. THIS is how Capital can fairly obtain the cheapest possible Labor!

Vernon, Jul 12 2002

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       <Scrolling to the top, rubbing sore scroll finger> This is one of those interesting ideas that will never in a million years happen. Reason being that business (Capital) doesn't want employees being able to shut down the company- period. They repeatedly state that they can provide employees what they need without encouragement from unions. Look what happened at the Las Vegas trauma center, which is totally shut down because the doctors were unhappy with lawsuit provisions. That is the Capital nightmare. Employees, on the other hand, might like this type of union, but on the other hand may find the concept of requisite unions to be intimidating- which explains the language "right-to-work."   

       I think as far as the gray arera goes, smaller companies don't need to have required unions- say if they have somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 employees. The reason being, each employee's presence is more greatly missed. And smaller companies have less resources to deal with the paperwork/ employee affairs issues.   

       Tear apart accordingly.
polartomato, Jul 12 2002
  

       Fishy for you, [Vernon]. In an ideal world it might work, but in that world it wouldn't be needed. //The boss can no longer fire somebody arbitrarily, because all the coworkers can go on strike.// In other words, the company is run by the union. Been there, done that. My employer pays my salary, so he can make the rules. Having been obliged to pay subscriptions to a union, I fail to see why I must be told by them what to do.
angel, Jul 12 2002
  

       All larger shops must be unionized, no matter where they are on the planet - If they are part of a conglamerate, they get paid the same. They must keep their wages low enough to have the fruits of their labo(u)rs attractive to the buyer, whether wholesale or retail.
Is that the Readers Digest version?
thumbwax, Jul 12 2002
  

       I read an entire idea posted by Vernon today! Woo hoo!   

       I want to give you a croissant, but the guy who clicks the mouse is on break. Try back in 10 minutes. Maybe 15.
mighty_cheese, Jul 12 2002
  

       Compulsory unions for all workers are generally associated with Communist Russia. Not that that's necessarily a reason against them, but workers should be allowed to choose what union to belong to. Apart from anything else, this helps prevent corruption (in theory).   

       I don't actually see very much novel about this idea. Workers at a company can already form a union to themselves (so rule 1 is baked), and the right to join a union is enshrined (to a varying extent) in all Western countries.   

       Rule 2 is that no union must extend outside the company it works for, but it can extend across national borders. There are already international trades union organisations like the ILO who work together, e.g. there has been a lot of international action protesting against casualization of docks and harbors. In British union law, workers cannot strike in support of workers at a different factory ("secondary" action); I don't know know the situation elsewhere.   

       Plus, it helps if workers in small organisations can have help from external labor advisers.   

       Trades unions do not guarantee workers rights in themselves. Only active unions together with active workers keeping a watch on the union, and with appropriate legislation, can achieve workers' rights. I don't see these proposals have anything positive to offer.
pottedstu, Jul 12 2002
  

       polartomato, I did happen to say that 'the very DEFINITION of "union" might be altered a bit to allow more informality and greater flexibility'. Less paperwork should be part of that! After all, merely replacing employer regimen with employee regimen does not an improvement make, which indeed is why there are "right to work" laws.   

       angel, the evidence seems to be that a company run by a Union stills require management with business savvy, to compete/survive over the long run. One of the reasons why Detroit got so bashed by foriegn auto makers was the relationship between Union-demanded wages and the price of American-made cars.   

       thumbwax, note that the wages at Conglomerate A might differ from the wages at Conglomerate B, with respect to the production of equivalent products. Only within either Conglomerate A or within B, would wages be the same, for the same work.   

       pottedstu, if Capital can retain consultants for business advice, then Labor should be able to do the same, with repsect to labor advice. Concerning "who will watch the watchers?", you may have noticed that there is something of a correlation between power and corruption -- and that competition tends to divide power. Thus it is the division of power (competition between Company-limited Unions) that will keep them in line. An employee in Union A might decides he likes the house rules of Union B better, for example. He can then work to change his Local rules, or he might decide to change Companies (and Unions).
Vernon, Jul 12 2002
  

       All larger shops must be unionized, no matter where they are on the planet - If they are part of a conglamerate, they get paid the same. They must keep their wages low enough to have the fruits of their labo(u)rs attractive to the buyer, whether wholesale or retail. Note that the wages at Conglomerate A might differ from the wages at Conglomerate B, with respect to the production of equivalent products. Only within either Conglomerate A or within B, would wages be the same, for the same woik. Union members can always switch.
Cut the idea body. Copy/Paste the above into the idea heading. You'll have the same idea at 1/15th the size.
thumbwax, Jul 12 2002
  

       I'm sure there are bylaws to cover disputes within the union such as:   

       We are at odds with a suboptimal element of our employment and we seek to assert our collective will to force a change. By doing so we feel our lot will be improved and, consequently, our efficiency will rise. Because our issue is one of satisfaction or some degree of satisfaction to achieve parity with all shops that stand congrent to us in mission and in goals/tasks, we feel our need to seek change is a workplace issue and falls therefore under union rule. Alternately, our issue in part is one of worker perceptions because we are not all decided what is the best course to take or what is the optimal goal for us in pressing our issue against our managers.   

       It would be a complex undertaking to maintain a chain of command while allowing workplace discussions to be made policy. The degree of self-governance involved would be significantly greater than is the case under present union shop rules. Arguments would arise and be handled in a way similar to the way things evolve in a mixed shop (where union membership is not required, but where all employees in a class must abide by the bargaining efforts of their union component). I think if you look at the benefits and ratings achieved under mixed shop rules, ¯Vernon, you'll see how your idea of unionization would behave in an organic workplace.
reensure, Jul 12 2002
  

       Ok, I spoke to my union rep, and he said the croissant was on its way. We just have to fill out a few forms, and it should be here by next week, or October at the latest.
mighty_cheese, Jul 12 2002
  

       Employers do not compete with workers, nor do landlords compete with tenants, nor do merchants compete with buyers.   

       The real effect of unions or minimum-wage restrictions, or of rent controls, or of price controls, is not to put workers, tenants, or buyers at an advantage over employers, landlors, or merchants, but is instead to benefit some workers, tenants, or buyers **at the expense of other workers, tenants, or buyers**.   

       If a union in a closed shop demands a $160/day for 7 hours of work and 1 hour of breaks, not only does this increase the employers' costs, but it also denies a job to a worker who would have been willing to work for $100/day but is unable or unwilling to join the union.   

       On a related note, one of the seldom-recognized problems with price floors and ceilings for any commodity is that a price floor renders any item whose value is below the floor COMPLETELY WORTHLESS in the marketplace while price ceilings render any item whose cost of production is above the ceiling completely unobtainable in the marketplace, i.e. INFINITELY EXPENSIVE. In other words, price floors and ceilings push real prices in exactly the opposite direction from their stated intention.
supercat, Jul 13 2002
  

       //That's why unions strive to develop nationwide, or industrywide, representation and why *this* shop by shop idea is a crockful.//   

       Unless everyone who wants to be in an industry can be and wants to be in a union, the union will serve to benefit itself to the detriment of non-members. Even if all workers were members of some union, the some total of the harm many workers experience from unions they are not in would exceed the benefits they receive from the ones they are in.   

       BTW, are you familiar with the Taft-Hartley Act? It mandated that the government either use union labor for its contracts or pay union scale to non-union workers. While supposedly intended to benefit non-union workers, it actually did exactly the opposite. Union labor does have some advantages over non-union, though such advantage is in many cases not worth the extra cost. Since non-union labor isn't worth quite as much as union labor, setting a price floor on labor made non-union labor worthless as far as government contracts were concerned. The Taft-Hartley Act didn't cause minority workers to be paid as much as union (white) workers; rather, it assured that they would be paid NOTHING.
supercat, Jul 13 2002
  

       supercat, I think the key phrase you used was "closed shop". This implies that the employer cannot hire somebody the Union doesn't want as a member, and if so, it likely is the fundamental reason why some states have "right to work" laws. Question: How do you think the Unions GOT the power to be a closed shop? Answer: abuse of the power that they previously did have.   

       The way I was envisioning the main idea, if the employer hires you, then you are automatically a member of the Company's Union. If the Union doesn't like it, tough. If various Union members try to bully, well, that is what surveillance cameras are for -- people doing illegal things should be expelled from a Company, no matter what a Union might say about it.   

       Remember that part of the reason for writing this idea was to make employers be nice to workers -- but NOT let Unions run roughshod over Companies. So, if certain details still need to be spelled out (NO "closed" shops!), well, that is why this idea is here on the HalfBakery.   

       UnaBubba, the real reason why Unions strive to grow is power, pure and simple. I'm pretty sure they don't need quite as much power as they already have.
Vernon, Jul 13 2002
  

       Perhaps there should be competing unions that the companies could hire out to. Just like contracting houses.
RayfordSteele, May 17 2004
  

       [RayfordSteele], the essence of what you wrote is embodied in my Rule 2 of the main text: No Union can be larger than the conglomerated Company it works for. This automatically means competetion between Unions, because they CAN'T draw on each other to support strike efforts. And, if they strike and get more benefits, then their Company's products' prices go up, and buyers will go elsewhere. So each Union will have to moderate its demands, lest it end up driving its employer out of business.
Vernon, May 17 2004
  
      
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