FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

What Would a Country Without Labor Unions Look Like?

by DAVID MACARAY

What would a country without unions look like?  Before answering, we should clarify labor’s role, both historically and presently.  The purpose of a labor union is and always has been  to raise the standard of living for working people.  Simple as that.  And by “standard of living” we mean wages, benefits, and working conditions, all of which are acknowledged by federal labor law to be legitimate topics for discussion in collective bargaining.

Of course, anti-labor propagandists like to pretend that unions are cesspools of greed, corruption and ineptitude, and that the only things they care about are consolidating power and living high on the hog off the membership’s monthly dues.  That’s the rancid and misleading version of unions they try to peddle.  Unfortunately, misleading version or not, many people believe it.

Take my case, for example.  I was president of a local union for nine one-year terms, representing 700 employees at a Fortune 500 manufacturing plant.  Although we were hard-working, dedicated employees, we were also a fairly militant union who wasn’t averse to going on strike when the company got stingy.  Hard-working employees and frisky union members….a perfect combination.

Monthly dues were roughly $30, and my salary during my first term was $100 per month.  By the end of my ninth and final term, it had risen to $150.  Admittedly, compared to the salaries of local presidents across the country, mine was probably on the low side.  The average was closer to $200.  Still, even at $200, no local president was living large.

If there were no unions, working people would have no means of resistance.  Obviously, having no means of resistance is tantamount to having no leverage, and without leverage—without some form of bargaining power—we become sheep.  If there were no unions, the arrangement would devolve into your classic “buyers’ market,” with management in the driver’s seat, and working men and women along for the ride.

Historically, market forces tend to push wages downward.  If there was no union apparatus to prop up wages, working people would find themselves more or less in free-fall, eventually dropping all the way down to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour (which, if you worked 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, and never missed a day, pencils out to $15,080 per year).

As for the minimum wage, a significant portion of the Republican Party, along with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, would like to repeal it, believing the minimum wage to be an “artificial constraint,” and the people who rely on it to be more or less “takers,”  too afraid or too lazy to take their chances in a free and open market.

Virtually every industry in the country—from bottle cap manufacturers, to cauliflower growers, to guided missile makers—has lobbyists or trade organizations representing their interests.   What do working men and women have in the way of lobbyists?  Other than unions, nothing.  Other than unions, nothing and no one.

Indeed, even with unions, they usually find themselves out-manned, out-spent, and out-gunned, which is why the accusations of unions being “too powerful” are so ludicrous.  People have actually said to me with a straight face, “Unions were necessary back in the old days, but now they’ve gotten too powerful.”

Really?  Too powerful?  Here’s a stunning fact:  Only about 7-percent of all private sector jobs are unionized.  Consider that figure.  Seven-percent!!  That means that 93-percent of all private sector jobs in the United States are non-union.  Yet anti-union propagandists continue to portray organized labor has this gigantic, rampaging monolith.

It’s no wonder that statistics show the American middle-class continuing to disintegrate at an alarming rate, and the top 2-percent continuing to get richer every year.  The fact that the rich are getting richer makes eminent sense when you consider that, without any resistance, everything is going to be funneled upwards.  Why wouldn’t it?  Think of the phenomenon as “reverse gravity.”

Moreover, if there were suddenly no unions, even those well-paying non-union jobs out there would soon decline in quality as well.  Why?  Because with America’s businesses no longer having to compete with union wages, benefits, and working conditions, they would be free to jettison whatever the hell they wanted, and the whole enterprise would quickly become a race to the bottom.

Again, this is all about leverage.  It’s all about resistance and maintaining a healthy standard of living, and it’s all about our once vaunted middle-class being systematically assaulted and bled-out, and the country being transformed into one vast gladiatorial arena where everyone is treated as either a winner or loser.

In the 1950s, the U.S. was prosperous, optimistic, and buoyant with confidence.  During that period union membership was a staggering 34-percent.  Today, we’re struggling, polarized, and pessimistic.  And union membership barely moves the needle.

Yet you still hear people—not just conservative pundits and free market fundamentalists, but regular working folks—blame the unions for our problems.  It’s true.  Regular, good-hearted working folks are now hostile to the only institution capable of representing their interests.  How bizarre is that?

David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor,” 2nd Edition), was a former union rep.  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

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
July 21, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Kevin Zeese
Green Party Growing Pains; Our Own Crisis of Democracy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Red State, Blue State; Green State, Deep State
Paul Street
“Inclusive Capitalism,” Nancy Pelosi, and the Dying Planet
Anthony DiMaggio
Higher Education Fallacies: What’s Behind Rising Conservative Distrust of Learning?
Andrew Levine
Why Republicans Won’t Dump Trump Anytime Soon
Michael Colby
Ben & Jerry’s Has No Clothes
Bruce Dixon
White Liberal Guilt, Black Opportunism and the Green Party
Edward Hunt
Killing Civilians in Iraq and Syria
Matthew Kovac
Is the Flint Water Crisis a Crime Against Humanity?
Mark Harris
The Revolutionary Imagination: Rosa for Our Times
David Rosen
America’s Five Sex Panics
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia: the Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All
Jack Heyman
Class War on the Waterfront: Longshore Workers Under Attack
Kim C. Domenico
Marginalize This:  Turning the Tables on Neoliberal Triumphalism
Brian Cloughley
Trying to Negotiate With the United States
John Laforge
Activists Challenge US Nukes in Germany; Occupy Bunker Deep Inside Nuclear Weapons Base
Jonathan Latham
The Biotech Industry is Taking Over the Regulation of GMOs From the Inside
Russell Mokhiber
DC Disciplinary Counsel Hamilton Fox Won’t Let Whistleblower Lawyer Lynne Bernabei Go
Ramzy Baroud
The Story Behind the Jerusalem Attack: How Trump and Netanyahu Pushed Palestinians to A Corner
Farzana Versey
The Murder of Muslims
Kathy Kelly
At Every Door
David W. Pear
Venezuela Under Siege by U.S. Empire
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuelan Opposition Now Opposes the People
Uri Avnery
Soros’ Sorrows
Joseph Natoli
The Mythos Meme of Choice
Clark T. Scott
High Confidence and Low Methods
Missy Comley Beattie
Glioblastoma As Metaphor
Ann Garrison
Organizing Pennsylvania’s 197: Cheri Honkala on Frontline Communities
Ted Rall
What Happened When I Represented Myself as My Own Lawyer
Colin Todhunter
Codex Alimentarius and Monsanto’s Toxic Relations
Graham Peebles
Europe’s Shameful Refugee Policy
Louis Proyect
Reversals of Imperial Fortune: From the Comanche to Vietnam
Stephen Cooper
Gov. Kasich: “Amazing Grace” Starts With You! 
Jeffrey Wilson
Demolish! The Story of One Detroit Resident’s Home
REZA FIYOUZAT
Billionaire In Panic Over Dems’ Self-Destruct
David Penner
The Barbarism of Privatized Health Care
Yves Engler
Canada in Zambia
Ludwig Watzal
What Israel is Really All About
Randy Shields
Matters of National Insecurity
Vacy Vlanza
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: Through Eyes of an Activist for Palestine
Cesar Chelala
Dr. Schweitzer’s Lost Message
Masturah Alatas
Becoming Italian
Martin Billheimer
Lessons Paid in Full
Charles R. Larson
Review: James Q. Whitman’s “Hitler’s American Model”
David Yearsley
The Brilliance of Velasquez
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail