Clash of the Titans LXXXVII: Unions

August 15, 2008, 11:30 am; posted by
Filed under David, Debate, Erin  | No Comments

In this corner, defending unions, is Erin!

And in this corner, opposing them, is David!

Unions are not the answer to everything, this I readily concede. Often, the face of a union is its representative to the union members, and the encounters with such representatives go something like this:

Enter a discontent, overweight (and overpaid) union representative to Place of Work. She has come to announce a change in appeals policy to union members at said Place of Work.

Lights come up, fluorescent and harsh.

Union rep: Blah blah blah, blah blah, change change, blah blah blah.

Narrator: What she\’s basically saying is, “Work, you poor saps, because by paying your dues, you get security you can\’t get on your own.”

Yes, many would say that unions do little more than whine for better pay, better conditions, and (often in my area) for the political casting-out-to-where-there-will-be-weeping-and-gnashing-of-teeth of any and all Republicans.

I ask only that the reader would consider for the moment the things that unions still do. They offer an alternative to an expensive (and truthfully, often wasted) college education, instead providing marketable skills, the model of a good work ethic, and a group of people who not only lobby for their needs, but also form a community.

I have seen teachers\’ unions work to get better books for their students and keep their jobs (taking pay cuts to do it); I have seen electricians’ unions work to ensure higher safety standards on industrial and residential jobs (would you like to have someone electrocuted while they install the power lines for your future plasma TV?); I have seen pipefitters’ unions work against the flow of dying industry to keep jobs within an 800-mile radius of their homes, in an effort not to have to resort to taking jobs in California, Alaska, or Iraq.

This summer I attended a union picnic, where I was introduced to at least two dozen men and women I probably will not meet again nor remember very long. But what stuck with me was the overwhelming sense that these people were there for each other: on the worksite and in each other\’s lives. And if that means nothing, yes, I guess unions are out of date.

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” — Ecclesiastes 3:1

There was a time when this nation needed unions, when they served an important purpose, protecting the poor. Women, children and immigrants were all exploited by employers with no compassion and virtually no government oversight. Children as young as eight or nine slaved away in factories, 16 hours at a time, for poor pay in unsafe conditions. Immigrants were forced to live in ramshackle housing, with exorbitant charges deducted from their meager pay to cover the cost of their food and housing — rendering them little more than slaves.

Those days are gone, yet the unions remain.

It reminds me of the story of the Chinese emperor who invited Mongols into his country to help vanquish foes from the South — only to find that when the war ended, the Mongols chose to settle down and stay, exacting their own methods of exploitation to lighten the purses of the Chinese people. Sometimes the cure brings with it the seeds of the next disease.

I don\’t know many people who would argue the US government does not do enough to micromanage small and large business owners these days. There are 30 different agencies listed on the US Department of Labor website that monitor the various employment practices and environments of American businesses, using nearly 18,000 employees to accomplish this noble task. We are well-regulated.

So what purpose do unions serve now? They are parasites. Unions have become bloated, self-serving political organizations used to control the actions, assets, and politics of the poor schmucks unlucky enough to trapped by them. That\’s all. They hold wages at an artificially high level and stifle productivity, while often protecting workers who are unmotivated, yet militantly committed to protecting their own livelihood.

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