Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How to Get Rid of Labor Unions

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

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

May 24, 2018
Gary Leupp
Art of the Dealbreaker: Trump’s Cancellation of the Summit with Kim
Jeff Warner – Victor Rothman
Why the Emerging Apartheid State in Israel-Palestine is Not Sustainable
Kenn Orphan
Life, the Sea and Big Oil
James Luchte
Europe Stares Into the Abyss, Confronting the American Occupant in the Room
Richard Hardigan
Palestinians’ Great March of Return: What You Need to Know
Howard Lisnoff
So Far: Fascism Lite
Matthew Vernon Whalan
Norman Finkelstein on Bernie Sanders, Gaza, and the Mainstream Treatment
Daniel Warner
J’accuse All Baby Boomers
Alfred W. McCoy
Beyond Golden Shower Diplomacy
Jonah Raskin
Rachel Kushner, Foe of Prisons, and Her New Novel, “The Mars Room”
George Wuerthner
Myths About Wildfires, Logging and Forests
Binoy Kampmark
Tom Wolfe the Parajournalist
Dean Baker
The Marx Ratio: Not Clear Karl Would be Happy
May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail