|Whatever happened to Unions?|
I've never been a great one for unions, not because I'm opposed to the principle of "In Union There Is Strength," far from it. Too often what I've seen both inside and outside of American unions is a kind of leadership pragmatism that ultimately doesn't serve the interests of workers. It primarily serves the interests of the union leadership. It's that simple.
This problem goes back almost to the origination of labor unions, and we can easily see parallels in the political system. Of course. Those in charge are going to make sure their own nests are feathered first and foremost; everyone else can either wait their turn, or recognize they're going to get little or nothing in the end anyway.
Just like certain Democratic presidents, labor union leaders too often concede the contest before it is even engaged; they dismiss the needs and interests of the rank and file as either "impractical" or "inappropriate." They seem to negotiate on behalf of owners and management, and every time they do, more concessions are demanded from them. A Take It or Leave It contract is then presented to the membership, with the statement from leadership that "this is the best we could do and the best you're going to get, take it or leave it," and nine times out of ten, the members go along because they don't see any viable alternative. "National" has already said they think the contract is a good (enough) one and they won't sanction a strike. And so it goes.
This has been going on it seems like forever. Understandably, workers don't see any point in unions that refuse to lift a finger on behalf of workers. Instead, they are always working out more concessions with management.
That's not what a union is supposed to be for.
So workers abandon unions as useless impediments -- which they often are, though not always.
And always, union leadership doesn't "understand." Those who are invested in unions blame the workers -- always -- for "voting against their own interests" by voting with their feet. Retaliation against recalcitrant workers -- by the unions -- is not uncommon.
It's the same sort of thing that happens with politicians and those who are invested in the political system. They always find ways to blame the electorate for their insufficient enthusiasm when politicians refuse to serve the interests of the People.
They resist any notion that they should actually do what the people want, actually represent the public interest, and actually fulfill their part of the bargain they made with the People when they were put in office.
Unions and politicians have a tendency to "blame it on Reagan," and while Reagan isn't blameless, the fact of the matter is that union leadership isn't blameless either. They conceded when they shouldn't have; they sometimes fought when they shouldn't have. But worse than that, they became complacent and they were far too easily bought off by the Big Money Interests. It was so commonplace to see union leadership in the back pockets of management and owners that workers threw up their hands in despair. With nowhere else to turn, the workers abandoned unions in droves.
Much the same has happened with the political system. It's easy enough to see that politicians of both parties serve their personal and their party's financial interests first, the People often not at all.
The People tend not to like that, surprisingly enough.
It's probably not possible to reform and revive the union movement in this country. It's similar to the problem with the political system. They don't serve the People, and it may be due to Original Sin; something was not right at the outset, and so that flaw carries on throughout the life of the institution -- and ultimately causes its demise.
A very different model is required, and more than likely the model will derive from the collective and cooperative worker-owned and operated enterprises that have long been common abroad and are not unknown in this country. Part of the point, of course, is to integrate workers.
Rebuilding on that model and building a better future through its utilization will take a great deal of time and patience, but I see encouraging signs that it is happening right now, so I am hopeful that this approach to "labor" will become commonplace, indeed, the expected norm.
The current situation is unsustainable.