Thursday, September 17, 2009

Evolution of Unions

I am, generally speaking, pro-union, but there are caveats in that position.
I unreservedly support, in and of itself, collective bargaining. There is a type of union that doesn’t involve collective bargaining, however, a type that was actually formed in the Middle Ages and that I didn’t know still existed. I’m uncertain what I think about this form of union, even when it exists in a wholly uncorrupted form.

In the Middle Ages cathedrals and churches were built by masons who belonged to, wait for it, a union. It was called a “guild” rather than a union, but anyone who wanted a church built called the guild and said, “Send me some masons to build my church.” (Well, they wrote a letter to the guild because there weren’t any phones then.) In between jobs the masons hung around in the “guild hall” and drank mead, telling jokes and having a good time while waiting for the next job.

You know what’s coming next, don’t you. Those masons evolved into the clannish and secret group known for a while as “Freemasons” and today once again as “Masons,” the same group that has author Dan Brown in such a state of anxiety. All of today’s Masons are “suits,” and none of them could stack bricks if their lives depended on it.

Modern trades formed similar unions; pipefitters did, I know, and I believe millwrights. No doubt other trades did as well. That type of union fell out of favor, though, largely because it tended to become corrupted. Membership was supposed to be gained only by means of a test of skill, but people started gaining membership through patronage and graft. The jobs were supposed to be allocated on a “first in first out” basis, but that process also became subject to graft and patronage. Eventually the union movement became one of collective bargaining.

Recently a post at Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis was a letter from a reader describing a union in Canada on the model of the Mason Guild of yore, so apparently that type of union does still exist. The writer makes it sound like a pretty good deal for all involved, so… Read the guy’s letter and let me know what you think of it.

Mish responds by going off on government employee unions, which I think is a little unfair. While I lean strongly pro-union, I am overwhelmingly anti-government employee union. It would be interesting to compare what the writer describes to actual labor unions, but to compare it to the thuggish lobbying groups that call themselves government employee unions is nonsensical. Mish blasts government employees themselves, which is a little farther than I would go, but otherwise I would echo his remarks.

1 comment:

  1. I read the post, and liked what the union person wrote. I did think the government employee union rant by Mish was a bit harsh, but in many respects accurate. There has been too much pressure and influence by P.E.Unions over politicians and public policy (in my humble opinion). These policies and behavior is and will continue to be bankrupting civil entities.

    To set the record straight, I am represented by a union and pay union representation fees, but am not a member and pay no union dues. There is a state law that says if the union has a membership of more than 50% of the workforce, they can force all employees to pay for the costs of union representation. I do not like that law, but it was pushed through the Democratic controlled legislature and signed by a Democratic governor well know for soliciting union support.

    I support collective bargaining, but do not like many of this and other unions' stances.

    Were unions part of GM (etc) downfall? Yes, as well as other factors. Saturn started out as a great concept and probably would have continued to do well, but there was a lot of union influence and any innovation was eroded and erased until it was just another GM shop. And now it's gone.

    I am not anti-union. I am anti-bullying by any organization, group, party, etc that seeks to further its agenda to the exclusion of others and the common good.