Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only shake you down once a year, but when we do we really mean it. It costs a lot to keep the site afloat, and our growing audience, well over TWO million unique viewers a month, eats up a lot of bandwidth — and bandwidth isn’t free. We aren’t supported by corporate donors, advertisers or big foundations. We survive solely on your support.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How to Get Rid of Labor Unions

by DAVID MACARAY

Since the late 1970s pundits have criticized organized labor for its inability to “think outside the box.”  Specifically, they’ve scolded unions for not being visionary enough to abandon their traditional Us vs. Them mentality in favor of innovations infinitely more imaginative and, potentially, more economically rewarding.  What they have in mind is something resembling profit-sharing.

Thank you, pundits.  Thank you, academia, politicians, social commentators and amateur labor “experts” (who hold court at the local donut shop) for passing along this insight and advice.  Your observations about becoming more team-oriented would have been immensely helpful….if you knew what the hell you were talking about.

In truth, unions have sought profit-sharing in one form or another for over a hundred years.  There have been obstacles.  For instance, on those occasions where the union and company were willing to try it, it was the membership itself who objected, fearing—rightly, in many cases—that they were being tricked into accepting some glamorized form of piecework.  Conversely, when the membership and company wanted it, it was skittish union leadership who balked, largely for the same reasons.

And when the union leaders and the membership were willing to give it a try, it was management who chickened out.  Finally, on those few occasions when the union, the rank-and-file, and the company management all agreed to take the plunge, the results were uniformly spectacular.  They were dazzling.  Which was why they failed.

Say what?

It’s true.  Typically, profit-sharing ventures are discontinued for the simple reason that the workers (even mid-level management employees) are discovered to be making way more money than anyone had anticipated, and upper management can’t stomach that notion.  They can’t accept it.  If you don’t believe it, look it up.  These programs regularly “fail” because they become too successful.

If companies wanted to do away with unions, they would come up with a profit-sharing template that was so fair, so clearly delineated and reasonable, it couldn’t help but appeal to both labor and management.  Of course, they’d have to adhere to it (not counting minor tweaks) no matter how “successful” it became, because abandoning it would not only defeat its purpose but would expose management for the greedy bastards they were.

Consider the arithmetic.  When the criteria are satisfied, the company is raking in the dough.  Why?  Because it was management who established the criteria in the first place.  The benchmarks were their invention.  Correspondingly, when the criteria are satisfied, the workers—who also agreed to them—are being commensurately compensated for their performance.  And what workforce is going to object to that?

A typical schematic in an industrial setting has four categories:  production, safety, quality and waste.  The union and company jointly establish a benchmark for each category.  When you surpass a benchmark, you make money; when you fall short, you don’t.  Naturally, there is a base wage below which you can’t fall, so no one is going to lose anything.  Again, these benchmarks aren’t going to be unreasonably lofty or unattainable because they were mutually agreed to by both parties.

Moreover, everyone in the facility—both hourly and salaried—gets an equal share.  That means that every employee from the forklift driver to the cost analyst, from the machine operator to the janitor, from the shipping clerk to the mechanical engineer, is motivated to contribute.  Everyone profits equally, which, to those who recall the early 1980s, is reminiscent of Japan, back in its glory days.

This format isn’t to be confused with piecework.  Piecework was a primitive sweatshop concept begun in the 19th century, where textile employees worked themselves into a froth by getting paid by the “piece.”  Union workers are smart enough to be skeptical of any schematic that would tie their wages to unrealistic and ever increasing production goals.  They need to be reassured.

And the argument that carries the day is this one.  You remind the workers of how much the facility has already improved in these four key categories—how much the tonnage has increased, the waste has diminished, the quality has improved, and the number of industrial accidents has declined—and how little they have benefited from those gains.

Indeed, you drive home the point that the only thing these workers have gotten in return for the dramatic improvements was their pitiful 3-percent raises (and they practically had to pull teeth to get those).  Once these discrepancies are introduced, and the notion of “sharing in the wealth” is made clear, the membership usually goes for it.

Which is how companies could more or less eliminate labor unions.  By inviting their employees to participate in the profits.

But companies don’t want to do it.  They don’t want to part with their wealth—not in the form of taxes, not in the form of contractual wages and benefits, and not in the form of profit-sharing.  In short, they want to keep it all.  Which is what the pundits don’t seem to understand.  And which is why the unions maintain those pesky Us vs. Them postures.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”. He served 9 terms as president of AWPPW Local 672. He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

 

 

 

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is “Nightshift: 270 Factory Stories.” He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 28, 2016
Eric Draitser
Stop Trump! Stop Clinton!! Stop the Madness (and Let Me Get Off)!
Ted Rall
The Thrilla at Hofstra: How Trump Won the Debate
Robert Fisk
Cliché and Banality at the Debates: Trump and Clinton on the Middle East
Patrick Cockburn
Cracks in the Kingdom: Saudi Arabia Rocked by Financial Strains
Lowell Flanders
Donald Trump, Islamophobia and Immigrants
Shane Burley
Defining the Alt Right and the New American Fascism
Jan Oberg
Ukraine as the Border of NATO Expansion
Ramzy Baroud
Ban Ki-Moon’s Legacy in Palestine: Failure in Words and Deeds
David Swanson
How We Could End the Permanent War State
Sam Husseini
Debate Night’s Biggest Lie Was Told by Lester Holt
Laura Carlsen
Ayotzinapa’s Message to the World: Organize!
Binoy Kampmark
The Triumph of Momentum: Re-Electing Jeremy Corbyn
David Macaray
When the Saints Go Marching In
Seth Oelbaum
All Black Lives Will Never Matter for Clinton and Trump
Adam Parsons
Standing in Solidarity for a Humanity Without Borders
Cesar Chelala
The Trump Bubble
September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail
[i]
[i]
[i]
[i]