Monday, September 05, 2011

Thoughts on Labor Day

Remember that what precipitated the fall of the communist dictatorship in Poland was a workers’ strike. One of my favorite movies is Norma Rae, and not just for the acting, but because it portrays the birth of what I consider to be one of the greatest processes known to man – collective bargaining for the workplace. That process was integral with a workforce which built the mightiest manufacturing nation the world had ever seen.

But the biggest weapon that collective bargaining holds in its arsenal, the workers strike, must be reserved for real causes, and when that weapon is abused by union leadership the workers’ cause loses legitimacy. Grocery workers in Southern California settled all issues but one, and are now prepared to strike because they are unwilling to pay any part of the cost for health care. They are not willing to pay, for full medical, dental and vision coverage for a family, a premium that is smaller than a senior pays per individual for Medicare that excludes vision and dental.

Initially framed as the share of cost that the worker must pay, the dialog changed to the “condition of the medical care fund” provided by the employers. Grocery chains have not been paying into that fund recently due to the lack of a contract, and the reason given for the threat of a strike now is a fear that the grocery chains might let that fund run out of money. That is a smoke screen and the union leadership knows it. The grocery chains have a commitment to pay for medical care and they will do so. That fund is merely a mechanism for payment of that care, and the state of that fund is not going to affect the commitment made by the employers. This argument is being made because union leadership knows it cannot maintain sympathy of the public with its unwillingness to share the cost of health care as everyone else in this economy is having to do.

This is the result of unions having paid leadership, electing officers who then no longer work in the jobs that they represent but become full time hacks taking money from the workers they represent instead of working beside them on a daily basis. These poltroons have to drum up “causes” to keep the membership aroused and agitated; to convince members that they are getting something from the union that they could not get if they did not belong. Otherwise they could not keep union dues coming in to pay their own parasitic salaries.

The problem is that members actually are getting something that the union obtains for them, the collective bargaining process itself, but that is not sufficiently visible and dramatic to keep new members joining up. So these leaders have to keep coming up with the dramatic gesture like “free health care” which serves the purposes of union leadership but harms the long term well being of union members.

1 comment:

bruce said...

I think the (potential) grocery strike would be very damaging to them, and I don’t think they really remember what happened last time, and its implications for today.

Unions have gotten a bad rap recently, and in some cases justifiably so. When they corrupt the political process and bend the advantages toward themselves without regard for the well-being of the whole, it’s bad.

And that applies to any group, not just unions, but they are getting the rap right now.

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