Labor Unions

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Vox Imperatoris
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Labor Unions

Postby Vox Imperatoris » Sat May 08, 2010 12:07 am UTC

In my experience, people on the left and the right believe very strange things about labor unions. The typical leftist argument goes: without labor unions, workers have no form of collective bargaining and are susceptible to all sorts of mistreatment by their employers; therefore, the government should guarantee the existence of labor unions. The typical rightist argument goes: labor unions are corrupt, inefficient, and promote make-work nonsense while being a vehicle for the Democratic Party; therefore, labor unions should be abolished or heavily restricted by the government. Both of these arguments are flawed because they rest on the same false dichotomy between government-backed unions and government-outlawed unions. Since the legitimate power of unions comes from their power to bargain collectively with an employer who cannot afford to fire them all, unions should neither be encouraged nor discouraged by the government. Unions should be voluntary, informal groupings of workers who come together as a whole to make demands of their employer, rather than what they currently are: elected, government-backed bureaucracies that employers are legally required to bargain with, even if they could afford to fire all the union members.

The current process for forming a labor union in America is completely illogical. A certain number of workers must petition for a union election, whereupon all the workers get together and vote on whether they want a certain union to represent them. If the "Yes" vote wins, you've got a union and there's nothing the employer can do about it. Meanwhile, the employer is doing everything it can, bringing in "rapid response teams", and passing out propaganda because they know that if they union wins they'll never get rid of it. Much resentment is built up between the two sides because they are both intent on screwing each other if their side wins. The problem with his system of union elections is that the workplace is not a democracy. Workplaces are (or should be) privately owned by employers who can run them however they like, within the bounds of the contracts they have negotiated with the workers. The fact that 50% +1 of the workers vote for a union is no indicator that a union makes economic sense in that workplace. With skilled craftsmen, unions make a lot of sense: no employer can afford to fire a whole workforce of skilled employees, so he will be forced by market pressure to cave in to their demands. On the other hand, with Wal-Mart grocery baggers, unions make no sense because they are not a scarce commodity. Instead of adopting a reasonable policy, though, what labor unions are currently pushing for is the elimination of the secret ballot in these elections so that they can better pressure workers to vote for them, the Orwellianly titled Employee Free Choice Act.

The way unions should be formed is by workers getting together informally and creating their own organization within the workplace. They should then approach the employer with their demands, threatening to strike if he does accept them. Now, the employer is completely free to fire them if they strike, but if the union is justified by the scarcity of the position, it is economically impossible for him to do so. If some workers choose not to join, they will not be affected in any way, whether or not the negotiations succeed. There should be no formal election process that sets up the union as a permanent mouthpiece of the workers, guaranteed by the government. The only exception to this rule is for public sector workers, who should never be allowed to unionize. For public sector workers to unionize is nothing less than collusion against the public interest, and government should not be forced to cave into demands from its employees to unionize, ever. California is the perfect example of what this leads to: government workers who make far more than the average private sector employee (a California prison guard in his 20s with a high-school education can easily make $100,000), cannot be fired under reasonable conditions, and retire on massive pensions (only to be rehired and make double salaries), and a government that cannot afford to pay them without cutting services people actually need.

Labor unions can be agents for good, but only if they are kept in check by market forces. Somehow, the left and the right have both come to nonsensical positions on this issue by ignoring this fact.
Last edited by Vox Imperatoris on Sat May 08, 2010 12:23 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby b1ackcat » Sat May 08, 2010 12:19 am UTC

A very well thought out, sensible, and intelligent argument you make there. I completely agree.
At the place I just left, they have 2 full time employees doing the work that could EASILY be done by the 10-12 student employees they also have. These student employees have a huge amount of down time in their job. The office is looking to cut 100,000 from the budget. Sounds sensible that they would lay off the 2 full timers and get the students a small raise for the new responsibilities, right? Well, the 2 full timers are unionized on campus, so the department has no choice but to keep them there, even though the service they offer (a computer repair shop) bleeds money.
I definitely see a good use for unions, but they also definitely need some form of check to stop them from running companies out of business.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby dosboot » Sat May 08, 2010 3:53 am UTC

Maybe someone can spell things out more to me about employers being unable to replace striking workers even if they are able to.

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby nitePhyyre » Sat May 08, 2010 5:56 am UTC

While I agree with most of what you say, I think that if unions are as lassiez-faire as you suggest, it would lead to habitual violence on the picket lines.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Cleverbeans » Sat May 08, 2010 6:01 am UTC

Vox Imperatoris wrote:The typical leftist argument goes: without labor unions, workers have no form of collective bargaining and are susceptible to all sorts of mistreatment by their employers; therefore, the government should guarantee the existence of labor unions.


This is the historical motivation for the formation of labor unions. Typical examples of exploitation included all sorts of nonsense, like requiring all employees to purchase all their goods and services including their mortgage and housing from their employer. In one case a coal miner was killed while on the job and his wife and 10 year old son were forced to work in the mine at half his wage to pay off the note on the house. This type of behavior was very common as the industrial revolution took hold - labor lost almost all of it's value and many workers were unable to build sufficient human capital to maintain their standard of living, or even to buy enough food for their families.

Vox Imperatoris wrote:[/b] Unions should be voluntary, informal groupings of workers who come together as a whole to make demands of their employer, rather than what they currently are: elected, government-backed bureaucracies that employers are legally required to bargain with, even if they could afford to fire all the union members.


Again, historically this is how it started, the main problem of course is that employers would take retribution on anyone initiating union action. If the guy who mentions unions get fired every time the boss gets a whiff of it people stop talking about it. This sort of thing let to a lot of violence on both sides of the issue, employers were hiring private "security" forces who slandered, beat and killed voices of decent, and union supporters bombed building, beat scabs, and otherwise did bad stuff.

Vox Imperatoris wrote:Much resentment is built up between the two sides because they are both intent on screwing each other if their side wins.


Well the resentment was already there if the union is getting traction, so I think that point is moot.

Vox Imperatoris wrote:The problem with his system of union elections is that the workplace is not a democracy. Workplaces are (or should be) privately owned by employers who can run them however they like, within the bounds of the contracts they have negotiated with the workers.


If the negotiations are done in good faith and one party doesn't have a significant advantage over the other I'd agree that this would work. However it's not, employer have most of the power because they control most of the information, and employees are often in a position where losing their job hurts them a lot more than it hurts the employer giving them unreasonable advantages.

As a simple example take a small business with a single owner and a single employee. The owner has access to all the accounting information and know how profitable the company is. They couldn't make the profits without help, but they're the decision maker so immediately they have more control. Compound that with the fact they know how much profit is coming in and now they can pay the worker significantly less than their true value by abusing asymmetric information. It's like playing a variant of poker where one person gets to see both players cards and the other gets to see nothing. That's not a game I'd voluntarily enter into, however I currently have no alternative other than to form a union or starve to death.

Also consider a situation where the employee makes significant changes to their life as a result of their employment. Say the move to a small industry town and establish their family. Now the employer gets some new equipment which makes half the workforce unnecessary so they lay off the work force. Housing prices drop since there isn't enough work to justify the previous level of construction, and even if they were willing to take the loss the market is illiquid and they're stuck with the note and no work. These are both common problem in countries without sufficient labor protections. I can certainly understand the importance of rewarding industrialization and the value of efficiency however if that comes with the caveat that we have to destroy peoples lives to protect economic growth I'm not willing to accept to do it. Many evils have been committed by the blind pursuit of economic growth and I really don't see the clock turning back on this one.

Vox Imperatoris wrote:On the other hand, with Wal-Mart grocery baggers, unions make no sense because they are not a scarce commodity.
.

That's true they're not a scarce commodity, and no employer would pay them enough to say, eat and pay rent if they could get away with it. Unfortunately supply and demand models break down when the utility received from compensation is objectively infinite. This occurs when people can't afford food, rent or basic medical treatment, and that includes the Walmart employee. Also lets not forget the opportunity costs associated with working unskilled labor, someone working these jobs aren't building the skills required to move into better paying positions. Once they're replaced with technology, say RFID tags or self-checkouts, they don't have transferable skills. They should be compensated for this in a meaningful way and unions are likely the only way that's going to happen. After all billionaires who inherited all their wealth without providing a dime of value aren't generally keen on fair play.

Vox Imperatoris wrote:The only exception to this rule is for public sector workers, who should never be allowed to unionize.


Public employees in a democracy require some of the strongest protections, because not only are they at the whim of political forces, they're at the mercy of the public. Teachers are constantly coming under assault by parents who have unreasonable expectations or are outright insane. Unions are a big part of their protection, they supply legal counsel and representation for the public sector since the government has a conflict of interest in these situations. Prison guards are in similar straits.

Certainly unions do have some problems. They can negotiate contracts too aggressively and bleed employers who overestimate their profitability, and certainly they add some bureaucratic baggage although I'd argue that baggage is no worse than a corporation's bureaucracy. All in all they're a natural and healthy emergent system in any functioning democracy, and their power will be limited in proportion to how well the use it.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Lazar » Sat May 08, 2010 6:52 am UTC

Much resentment is built up between the two sides because they are both intent on screwing each other if their side wins.

Are you talking about the union wanting to screw over the employer, or the workers themselves wanting to screw over the employer? Because the latter idea is risible - workers want a decent standard of living, one which amounts to a mere fraction of the compensation that executives and owners receive. As Cleverbeans indicates, the unregulated free market places nearly all the power, information and screwing ability (as it were) in the hands of the employer.

The problem with his system of union elections is that the workplace is not a democracy. Workplaces are (or should be) privately owned by employers who can run them however they like, within the bounds of the contracts they have negotiated with the workers.

But the United States is a democracy, and if the society democratically chooses to restrict or regulate the way that business are run, then that's the way it ought to be. (That is to say, the free market should exist inasmuch as it serves the society and the society allows it to exist.) Most developed nations have rightfully decided to establish protections for the rights of workers to bargain collectively, as a way of compensating for the exploitation that can result from asymmetric relationships between employers and employees.

Instead of adopting a reasonable policy, though, what labor unions are currently pushing for is the elimination of the secret ballot in these elections so that they can better pressure workers to vote for them, the Orwellianly titled Employee Free Choice Act.

And workers already experience far greater pressure from their employers to vote against unions. Employers use the existing labor law to draw out the process excessively, and despite the law they still very often fire pro-union workers, as the incentives of doing so outweigh the penalties. In the current system, many organization efforts are stifled despite having majority support. If the workplace isn't a democracy, then why should we pretend that it is?

The way unions should be formed is by workers getting together informally and creating their own organization within the workplace. They should then approach the employer with their demands, threatening to strike if he does accept them.

As Cleverbeans pointed out, this would just be turning back the clock to the days of the Industrial Revolution. The possibility of violence and intimidation would be tremendous, and it would be practically impossible for workers to organize at a level higher than one workplace. If a company has 10,000 workers across the country, how are those workers going to take collective action to counterbalance the singular power of the corporation? They can't if they can only do it "informally". What they can do is create a representative organization called a labor union. And as the biggest contingent of society, working-class people will seek government protection of their right to organize without intimidation.

Labor unions can be agents for good, but only if they are kept in check by market forces. Somehow, the left and the right have both come to nonsensical positions on this issue by ignoring this fact.

I would counter that businesses can be agents for good, but only if they are kept in check by society. There are be cases (as in public sector unions) where your observation may hold true, and unions have committed misdeeds; but in the overall picture, today's unions are an anemic check on exploitative market forces and need to be encouraged. When wealth inequality has risen to record levels, pensions are done away with, employers rampantly commit abuses against their workers, and rises in the cost of health insurance far outweigh rises in worker compensation, I don't say to myself, "What we need to do is curb the power of labor unions."
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby bosonicyouth » Sat May 08, 2010 11:42 am UTC

Vox Imperatoris wrote:Since the legitimate power of unions comes from their power to bargain collectively with an employer who cannot afford to fire them all, unions should neither be encouraged nor discouraged by the government. Unions should be voluntary, informal groupings of workers who come together as a whole to make demands of their employer, rather than what they currently are: elected, government-backed bureaucracies that employers are legally required to bargain with, even if they could afford to fire all the union members.


I agree entirely with this part, but not for the same reasons as you. As someone who identifies as an anarcho-syndicalist, my ideal society has no government legislating to either facilitate or regulate unions. Rather, a voluntary and co-operative federation of labour unions would replace the government in most facets of society. In the early days of the labour movement, the idea of a general strike was taken seriously and there were powerful militant unions like the IWW in the US and Australia, and even more notably the CNT-FAI which for a short time almost virtually replaced the government in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War.

Many of todays unions began as government- or company-backed unions as a compromise to ease the tide of industrial militancy and to prevent more radical unions from forming. I'm willing to bet that if the government-backed bureaucracies you mention dissolved today and workers self-organised, the tables would be turned even further against the employers.

b1ackcat wrote:I definitely see a good use for unions, but they also definitely need some form of check to stop them from running companies out of business.


Today's unions operate on self-interest just as much as anything in the free market. A reasonably sensible union wouldn't do anything to ensure a company's bankruptcy and put their members out of work.

In regards to unions in democratic countries today, Lazar and Cleverbeans nailed it. From a utilitarian standpoint, employees vastly outnumber employers and collectively stand to gain or lose a lot more than employers do. There is no reason a democratic society shouldn't include a democratic workplace.

Now to prepare counter arguments to "if workers got their way all the time, there would be no entrepeneurs"...

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Sat May 08, 2010 11:50 am UTC

Cleverbeans wrote:As a simple example take a small business with a single owner and a single employee. The owner has access to all the accounting information and know how profitable the company is. They couldn't make the profits without help, but they're the decision maker so immediately they have more control. Compound that with the fact they know how much profit is coming in and now they can pay the worker significantly less than their true value by abusing asymmetric information. It's like playing a variant of poker where one person gets to see both players cards and the other gets to see nothing. That's not a game I'd voluntarily enter into, however I currently have no alternative other than to form a union or starve to death.

While I can see how this might have been problematic some years ago, in modern times I don't think these concerns would manifest themselves all that often. Wage efficiency here just doesn't call for open information about profit margins, so long as it is reasonably easy to get information on alternative jobs that match your skill set the profitability of your employer is completely separate from your own wages (outside of economic slumps, or those working in executive positions). Modern IT has become quite good at this, so an employer can only bid down your wages as such if they possess some form of localized monopoly on the labor market. This certainly is a situation that can arise, but it wouldn't be all to often.


Cleverbeans wrote:Also consider a situation where the employee makes significant changes to their life as a result of their employment. Say the move to a small industry town and establish their family. Now the employer gets some new equipment which makes half the workforce unnecessary so they lay off the work force. Housing prices drop since there isn't enough work to justify the previous level of construction, and even if they were willing to take the loss the market is illiquid and they're stuck with the note and no work. These are both common problem in countries without sufficient labor protections. I can certainly understand the importance of rewarding industrialization and the value of efficiency however if that comes with the caveat that we have to destroy peoples lives to protect economic growth I'm not willing to accept to do it. Many evils have been committed by the blind pursuit of economic growth and I really don't see the clock turning back on this one.

I'm having a hard time staying with you on this one... in short, you're in favor of deliberately forcing a company to adhere to inefficient manufacturing methods if it might cost jobs? Applying this over the years would have quite the severe quality of life, but pretending for a second you can stopper technological shifts without too big of an impact on such long term concerns this logic just flatly does not work. I think that any such shift in a factory can essentially be broke down to two primary motivations by the owner - either they need to update to compete with the shifting market, or they are looking to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace. If the case is the former, then the factory simply has no choice; it either lays off some workers and updates technology, or it lays off every worker and sells off what capital they possess. In the later, it is unlikely the factory will have much cause for layoffs; if a factory is in possession of a superior manufacturing technique, then they will just continuously expand in both capital and workforce as they look to edge out competitors. I suppose you could technically argue that if there was some way to institute a global slowing on a certain technology this could still be workable, but even at that it would be a net gain to social welfare if you'd just let the factory modernize and cut the newly skill less a check every month.


Cleverbeans wrote:Public employees in a democracy require some of the strongest protections, because not only are they at the whim of political forces, they're at the mercy of the public. Teachers are constantly coming under assault by parents who have unreasonable expectations or are outright insane. Unions are a big part of their protection, they supply legal counsel and representation for the public sector since the government has a conflict of interest in these situations. Prison guards are in similar straits.

What company isn't at the mercy of the public? Having to cope with unreasonable customer demands is a threat in every conceivable productive function almost by definition. I'd agree that outright baning public sector unionizing is a little stiff, but this reasoning isn't exactly why I'd say that.

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby PeterW » Sat May 08, 2010 4:02 pm UTC

Remember that unions are not all about industry and manufacturing. Most of the really powerful unions are public-sector unions: municipal workers, teachers, government employees. In Greece those are the groups violently protesting against austerity measures needed to keep the economy from collapsing. In the US those are the groups that always get the pork, no matter which party wins.

When we look at public sector unions, we have to look not at violent strikes and economic power but rather at political power. A shocking statistic:
The chart shows that public and private sector pay rose in parallel from 2001 to 2004. Then the lines diverged. Since early 2005, public sector pay has risen by 5% in real terms. Meanwhile, private sector pay has been flat.

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Vox Imperatoris » Sat May 08, 2010 4:43 pm UTC

Lazar wrote:
Much resentment is built up between the two sides because they are both intent on screwing each other if their side wins.

Are you talking about the union wanting to screw over the employer, or the workers themselves wanting to screw over the employer? Because the latter idea is risible - workers want a decent standard of living, one which amounts to a mere fraction of the compensation that executives and owners receive. As Cleverbeans indicates, the unregulated free market places nearly all the power, information and screwing ability (as it were) in the hands of the employer.


Are you serious? Maybe the fairy tale version of a union never makes an unreasonable demand, but the way unions are currently set up leads them to make demands that employers just can't fulfill. Look at GM, which was driven into the ground by labor unions, and compare it to successful foreign automakers, like Mercedes, Toyota, and Hyundai, in right-to-work states where workers aren't unionized.

The problem with his system of union elections is that the workplace is not a democracy. Workplaces are (or should be) privately owned by employers who can run them however they like, within the bounds of the contracts they have negotiated with the workers.

But the United States is a democracy, and if the society democratically chooses to restrict or regulate the way that business are run, then that's the way it ought to be. (That is to say, the free market should exist inasmuch as it serves the society and the society allows it to exist.) Most developed nations have rightfully decided to establish protections for the rights of workers to bargain collectively, as a way of compensating for the exploitation that can result from asymmetric relationships between employers and employees.


No, society does not have unlimited popular sovereignty to do anything it wants. Thirty seconds of examining the implications of that should convince you that it's a terrible idea. Government must recognize the right to property and the right to contract, which provides the basis for employers being in control of their workplaces and permits workers to have their agreements for contracting their labor backed up by law. There is no "right" to bargain collectively; that implies that employers don't have the right to contract freely and that their employees are bound to them, like feudal serfs (medieval lords could not get new serfs, either). That's what kills me when people refer to anti-union positions as "feudalism": what they're calling for is feudalism, where the master and serf are each bound to the other and the only difference between right and left positions is who's holding the whip.

Instead of adopting a reasonable policy, though, what labor unions are currently pushing for is the elimination of the secret ballot in these elections so that they can better pressure workers to vote for them, the Orwellianly titled Employee Free Choice Act.

And workers already experience far greater pressure from their employers to vote against unions. Employers use the existing labor law to draw out the process excessively, and despite the law they still very often fire pro-union workers, as the incentives of doing so outweigh the penalties. In the current system, many organization efforts are stifled despite having majority support. If the workplace isn't a democracy, then why should we pretend that it is?


America isn't a 100% free country, so why not bring back slavery? I wouldn't use that argument. Anyway, how can something be considered to have majority support if a majority of the workers don't vote for it in a secret ballot? Majority support is not something that exists whenever you say it does.

The way unions should be formed is by workers getting together informally and creating their own organization within the workplace. They should then approach the employer with their demands, threatening to strike if he does accept them.

As Cleverbeans pointed out, this would just be turning back the clock to the days of the Industrial Revolution. The possibility of violence and intimidation would be tremendous, and it would be practically impossible for workers to organize at a level higher than one workplace. If a company has 10,000 workers across the country, how are those workers going to take collective action to counterbalance the singular power of the corporation? They can't if they can only do it "informally". What they can do is create a representative organization called a labor union. And as the biggest contingent of society, working-class people will seek government protection of their right to organize without intimidation.


I don't know if you're aware, but we have invented telephones. There is also an Internet and many other ways to organize movements long-distance. Workers can negotiate, in secret if they must, and form an organization that will present its demands to the employer as a group. What I mean by informal is not that it can't have some sort of structure, but that it is not backed by the government. That allows for unions to make unreasonable demands that employers cannot afford and which lead to inefficiency and waste.

Labor unions can be agents for good, but only if they are kept in check by market forces. Somehow, the left and the right have both come to nonsensical positions on this issue by ignoring this fact.

I would counter that businesses can be agents for good, but only if they are kept in check by society. There are be cases (as in public sector unions) where your observation may hold true, and unions have committed misdeeds; but in the overall picture, today's unions are an anemic check on exploitative market forces and need to be encouraged. When wealth inequality has risen to record levels, pensions are done away with, employers rampantly commit abuses against their workers, and rises in the cost of health insurance far outweigh rises in worker compensation, I don't say to myself, "What we need to do is curb the power of labor unions."


Sure, businesses need to be kept in check by society. That's why they shouldn't be able to use force or fraud on people and violate their rights. I'm not arguing for sending unions back to the 19th century, when striking was illegal and companies could get government-backed injunctions to order workers back to their jobs. I'm not saying employers should be able to hire private armies to beat strikers into submission. What I'm arguing for is free interaction between employers and employees. Sometimes this leads to "inequality" between the negotiators because the strengths of their positions, in reality, are not the same. The current system encourages unions to ignore reality and substitute their own.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Cleverbeans » Sat May 08, 2010 6:16 pm UTC

Bubbles McCoy wrote:Wage efficiency here just doesn't call for open information about profit margins, so long as it is reasonably easy to get information on alternative jobs that match your skill set the profitability of your employer is completely separate from your own wages (outside of economic slumps, or those working in executive positions). Modern IT has become quite good at this, so an employer can only bid down your wages as such if they possess some form of localized monopoly on the labor market. This certainly is a situation that can arise, but it wouldn't be all to often.


I disagree, it's very difficult to find localized wage information, and employers often do have a local monopoly on labor. If you're a pulp mill worker in Hinton, Alberta there isn't really an alternative other than to take the wage given and the wage difference for a draftsman in Houston is very different then the wages in Kansas City. I think the partial information problem can largely be solved by requiring employers to supply wage information, perhaps normalized for cost of living, and preventing employers from taking action against employees who openly discuss their wages. This has it's own downsides since in general people feel they deserve to be compensated more than they're worth, but if profit margins were transparent they would be better able to understand why they were being offer that wage. Notice too that wage negotiations immediately make the employer/employee relationship adversarial, it's you versus them. I don't think this promotes efficiencies, they psychology of competition leads to petty acts. Game theoretic assumptions oversimplify these sort of things, that's why people don't save enough for retirement, or opt out of health insurance when they don't have the capital to cover an emergency, or gamble... etc.

Bubbles McCoy wrote:I'm having a hard time staying with you on this one... in short, you're in favor of deliberately forcing a company to adhere to inefficient manufacturing methods if it might cost jobs?


No, that's obviously no good either. They should maintain their employment if possible, or assist them with retraining and relocation to a reasonable degree. They're still going to be making more money from the improvements in efficiency without the social cost. I'm confident this will in fact slow economic growth, but that's absolutely a price I'm willing to pay for the ethical treatment of others.

Bubbles McCoy wrote:What company isn't at the mercy of the public? Having to cope with unreasonable customer demands is a threat in every conceivable productive function almost by definition.


No company is at the mercy of the public, they always have the ability to refuse service. Bouncers do this for a living, banks refuse loans based on credit scores, and otherwise exercise various forms of service refusal. The entire insurance industry is based on unequally charging people based on risk. Public sector employees do not have this luxury, they're required to provide service, and they're required to provide it equally.

Vox Imperatoris wrote:I don't know if you're aware, but we have invented telephones. There is also an Internet and many other ways to organize movements long-distance. Workers can negotiate, in secret if they must, and form an organization that will present its demands to the employer as a group.


Telephones have been around pretty much as long as unions, and your ignoring the fact this has already been tried and failed miserably. It only takes one person who doesn't want to unionize to rat everyone else out, and when they're already being heavily exploited it's really easy to bribe someone into betraying "secret" union movements. Ford set up task forces to intimate and spy on union supporters, they literally had a division devoted entirely to this.

You seem to be laboring under the assumption that employers are all nice people who act in good faith - they're not, they're often just some asshole on a power trip fucking with people's lives because they get off on it. You've hopefully seen Office Space, or The Office, or read Dilbert or The Grapes of Wrath at some point in your life even if you've never experienced it first hand. The Objectivist fantasy of rational agents motivated by productive impulses and capital reward who fairly compensate each other although very attractive is incredibly naive.

Vox Imperatoris wrote:Sure, businesses need to be kept in check by society. That's why they shouldn't be able to use force or fraud on people and violate their rights.


Exactly, and the way society keeps businesses in check is by electing officials who pass legislation requiring fair and ethical practices. It's called social democracy, and it's been wildly successful. I can understand your hesitance to accept inefficiency or waste, but that doesn't give blanket protections to do evil things and thankfully we live in a free country where we can stop them by voicing collective opposition.

Don't forget too that unions aren't nearly as popular at they once were, and employers in general work hard to keep unions out. Oil field workers in Northern Alberta are great examples of this, they do really dangerous work in awful conditions working really long shifts of intense labor, but they're compensation directly reflects this. Big bonuses for safe and timely project completion, recognition and rewards for seniority and loyalty, and all done to keep unions out. This is the desired outcome, voluntary ethical treatment, and unions provide.

The Wagner Act wasn't signed into legislation in a vacuum, it exists because during the depression employers committed some of the most heinous crimes imaginable. The UAW rose out of brutal exploitation and what would easily be considered human rights violations today. These companies aren't failing because of the unions, they're failing because they treated people like animals for profit, and it took a while before that caught up with them. Now it's here, and the unions are starting to see they've pushed their case to far for to long. I fully believe over time that these forces will balance out, the unions have no incentive to destroy the companies they work for, you can expect internal reforms, or they'll fail just like any company would under similar pressures. Market forces still play a meaningful role here, and since a unions fate is directly tied to the fate of their employer they have incentive to act reasonably.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby PeterW » Sat May 08, 2010 6:41 pm UTC

Cleverbeans wrote:Exactly, and the way society keeps businesses in check is by electing officials who pass legislation requiring fair and ethical practices. It's called social democracy, and it's been wildly successful. I can understand your hesitance to accept inefficiency or waste, but that doesn't give blanket protections to do evil things and thankfully we live in a free country where we can stop them by voicing collective opposition.
If you think that regulations are always made with "fair and ethical practices" in mind, and are never distorted by interest groups' rent seeking and regulatory capture, then that is, in your phrase, incredibly naive.

Yes there is such a thing as market failure, but at least workers have the option of escaping unfair rules by working at a different place or starting their own company, and there are checks on the ability of markets to go totally off the rails. Government failure when it occurs is a much greater problem because there is no such right of exit. It's much easier to start your own company than start your own country.

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Vox Imperatoris » Sat May 08, 2010 8:11 pm UTC

Cleverbeans wrote:Telephones have been around pretty much as long as unions, and your ignoring the fact this has already been tried and failed miserably. It only takes one person who doesn't want to unionize to rat everyone else out, and when they're already being heavily exploited it's really easy to bribe someone into betraying "secret" union movements. Ford set up task forces to intimate and spy on union supporters, they literally had a division devoted entirely to this.


Yes, and when this was going on, unionization was against the law. Intimidation and spying on people is a crime, and employers who try it can be punished. And don't try the "corporations control the courts/legislature" thing: if they did, unions would still be illegal. Big business has more influence than it should in some areas, but not nearly enough to get away with what it did in the 19th century. Partly because unions are no longer dominated by Communist whackos, the mainstream public is no longer unilaterally against them. And that's one good consequence of organized labors' protests.

You seem to be laboring under the assumption that employers are all nice people who act in good faith - they're not, they're often just some asshole on a power trip fucking with people's lives because they get off on it. You've hopefully seen Office Space, or The Office, or read Dilbert or The Grapes of Wrath at some point in your life even if you've never experienced it first hand. The Objectivist fantasy of rational agents motivated by productive impulses and capital reward who fairly compensate each other although very attractive is incredibly naive.


Objectivism does not posit that everyone is a rational actor motivated by enlightened self-interest. It merely says that they ought to be, and are capable of doing so, but that most people do not currently measure up to this standard. Employers certainly are not better people than workers, and this is exactly why a pro-market attitude is significantly different from a pro-business attitude. This country used to be dominated by pro-business policies with regard to labor unions; now, at least in states without right-to-work laws (which are flawed, but are better than the current system is without them), the pendulum has swung the other way. Neither side endorses a pro-market attitude.

Vox Imperatoris wrote:Sure, businesses need to be kept in check by society. That's why they shouldn't be able to use force or fraud on people and violate their rights.


Exactly, and the way society keeps businesses in check is by electing officials who pass legislation requiring fair and ethical practices. It's called social democracy, and it's been wildly successful. I can understand your hesitance to accept inefficiency or waste, but that doesn't give blanket protections to do evil things and thankfully we live in a free country where we can stop them by voicing collective opposition.


The problem is that your concept of "rights" greatly extends peoples' civil rights beyond the scope of their objective natural rights. There is no such thing as the right to heathcare or an eight-hour workday, because these are things that impose positive obligations on other people, rather than negative refrainments from action. (Look up the distinction between negative and positive rights.) The "rights" that social democrats are always clambering to defend are almost always positive non-rights. Social democracy, as a philosophy, is inherently flawed because it attempts to extend the political principle of "one man, one vote" to society in general, but people are not societally equal in the same way they are metaphysically and politically equal. People have many differences, and these differences are going to lead to inequalities in outcome in a free society.

Don't forget too that unions aren't nearly as popular at they once were, and employers in general work hard to keep unions out. Oil field workers in Northern Alberta are great examples of this, they do really dangerous work in awful conditions working really long shifts of intense labor, but they're compensation directly reflects this. Big bonuses for safe and timely project completion, recognition and rewards for seniority and loyalty, and all done to keep unions out. This is the desired outcome, voluntary ethical treatment, and unions provide.


This is just too funny. You're taking an example of corporations taking care of their workers in order to prevent them from organizing and attributing it to the actions of organized labor. This is exactly why, in a free labor market, corporations couldn't just run roughshod over the workers: if they did, workers would organize and strike, and employers would have to cave. It also shows why unions are not necessary when employers act rationally. Far from requiring all employers to be 100% rational, unions in a free market are labors' weapon against irrational employer demands. On the other hand, if employers' demands actually are rational, the union loses, as it should.

The Wagner Act wasn't signed into legislation in a vacuum, it exists because during the depression employers committed some of the most heinous crimes imaginable. The UAW rose out of brutal exploitation and what would easily be considered human rights violations today. These companies aren't failing because of the unions, they're failing because they treated people like animals for profit, and it took a while before that caught up with them. Now it's here, and the unions are starting to see they've pushed their case to far for to long. I fully believe over time that these forces will balance out, the unions have no incentive to destroy the companies they work for, you can expect internal reforms, or they'll fail just like any company would under similar pressures. Market forces still play a meaningful role here, and since a unions fate is directly tied to the fate of their employer they have incentive to act reasonably.


Yes, unions have incentives to act rationally because they're inherently tied to their employers, but that doesn't mean they always do so. As you yourself point out, people are not always rational actors. The irrational union demands at GM would have resulted in them all losing their jobs if the government hadn't bailed them out.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Lazar » Sat May 08, 2010 8:59 pm UTC

Are you serious? Maybe the fairy tale version of a union never makes an unreasonable demand, but the way unions are currently set up leads them to make demands that employers just can't fulfill. Look at GM, which was driven into the ground by labor unions, and compare it to successful foreign automakers, like Mercedes, Toyota, and Hyundai, in right-to-work states where workers aren't unionized.

GM failed because it failed to innovate and make cars that were desirable and profitable. You are aware that German and Japanese auto workers are unionized, right?

There is no "right" to bargain collectively; that implies that employers don't have the right to contract freely and that their employees are bound to them, like feudal serfs (medieval lords could not get new serfs, either).

No, it doesn't imply that employees are "bound"; they're still just as free to leave as they are in a right-to-work state. The reason why societies choose to defend the right to bargain collectively is that the negotiation between a large employer and an individual employee is set up for exploitation: as has been pointed out, the employer has nearly all the power and information. Worker exploitation is a market failure which needs to be corrected by democratic means.

America isn't a 100% free country, so why not bring back slavery? I wouldn't use that argument. Anyway, how can something be considered to have majority support if a majority of the workers don't vote for it in a secret ballot? Majority support is not something that exists whenever you say it does.

If a majority of the workers sign cards, that's majority support. As you can read here or elsewhere, workers experience far more intimidation from their employers during NLRB elections than they do from unions during card check - not to mention the fact that the NLRB process is drawn out as long as possible by employers, meaning (as I said earlier) that many organization efforts are stifled despite having majority support. The reason why card check is proposed is that the current system has failed us. The secret ballot was established in civil elections in the mid-to-late 19th century in order to protect the right to vote; if it's not serving that purpose, then it's useless.

The problem is that your concept of "rights" greatly extends peoples' civil rights beyond the scope of their objective natural rights. There is no such thing as the right to heathcare or an eight-hour workday, because these are things that impose positive obligations on other people, rather than negative refrainments from action. (Look up the distinction between negative and positive rights.) The "rights" that social democrats are always clambering to defend are almost always positive non-rights. Social democracy, as a philosophy, is inherently flawed because it attempts to extend the political principle of "one man, one vote" to society in general, but people are not societally equal in the same way they are metaphysically and politically equal. People have many differences, and these differences are going to lead to inequalities in outcome in a free society.

Surprise: your "objective natural rights" are just as illusory as any others. Humans are nothing more than intelligent animals, and we have whatever rights that we, as a society, agree that we ought to have. Any "positive" right can just as well be rephrased as a negative one, and vice versa. The right to life, liberty and property is utterly meaningless unless there are courts and police forces - and a positive obligation is imposed on society to provide you with these things. (Social democrats argue for the right to freedom from hunger and disease, while civil libertarians argue for the right to a police department, etc.) And it's nice to hear how social democracy is a flawed philosophy when social democratic societies have achieved the world's highest standards of living and political stability. You're suggesting that Dickensian Britain was less theoretically flawed than modern Britain? As I stated earlier, the free market ought to exist only inasmuch as it serves society. And it is well known that high income inequality is a societal bad which leads to crime and instability. While free markets are more efficient than centrally planned economies, they nonetheless need to be moderated by democratic means in order to achieve an optimal result for the people, and this is exactly what social democracies do.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Dark567 » Sat May 08, 2010 9:12 pm UTC

Lazar wrote:
Are you serious? Maybe the fairy tale version of a union never makes an unreasonable demand, but the way unions are currently set up leads them to make demands that employers just can't fulfill. Look at GM, which was driven into the ground by labor unions, and compare it to successful foreign automakers, like Mercedes, Toyota, and Hyundai, in right-to-work states where workers aren't unionized.

GM failed because it failed to innovate and make cars that were desirable and profitable. You are aware that German and Japanese auto workers are unionized, right?


Japanese automakers aren't completely unionized. In the US, not a single Toyota plant has a Unionized employee.(http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/28/business/28nummi.html) GM failed to make desirable and profitable cars because it was unionized. GM knew that it couldn't compete with Toyota in the traditional mid-size and efficiency cars(because it paid its employees much more) so it made a conscious business decision to move to larger cars and SUV's.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Vox Imperatoris » Sun May 09, 2010 2:02 am UTC

Lazar wrote:
Are you serious? Maybe the fairy tale version of a union never makes an unreasonable demand, but the way unions are currently set up leads them to make demands that employers just can't fulfill. Look at GM, which was driven into the ground by labor unions, and compare it to successful foreign automakers, like Mercedes, Toyota, and Hyundai, in right-to-work states where workers aren't unionized.

GM failed because it failed to innovate and make cars that were desirable and profitable. You are aware that German and Japanese auto workers are unionized, right?


Not the ones in America, which is what I was talking about.

And it's nice to hear how social democracy is a flawed philosophy when social democratic societies have achieved the world's highest standards of living and political stability. You're suggesting that Dickensian Britain was less theoretically flawed than modern Britain? As I stated earlier, the free market ought to exist only inasmuch as it serves society. And it is well known that high income inequality is a societal bad which leads to crime and instability. While free markets are more efficient than centrally planned economies, they nonetheless need to be moderated by democratic means in order to achieve an optimal result for the people, and this is exactly what social democracies do.


It's a good thing that technology and invention has totally stagnated between the 1800s and the present, or your argument would be invalid. Modern Britain is better than Dickensian Britain precisely because of these achievements (and because the poor are no longer denied basic rights or put in "debtors' prisons"), which come much faster when people have more freedom. Society of today would be much better off, not less, without social democracy because although free markets lead to inequality in the distribution of the pie, they make the pie unimaginably larger. Of course, studies have shown that many college students would favor a society in which everyone made, say, $20, over a society in which wages ranged from $40 to $1,000,000,000, even though everyone in the latter is better off. That is what I call insanity.

Surprise: your "objective natural rights" are just as illusory as any others. Humans are nothing more than intelligent animals, and we have whatever rights that we, as a society, agree that we ought to have. Any "positive" right can just as well be rephrased as a negative one, and vice versa. The right to life, liberty and property is utterly meaningless unless there are courts and police forces - and a positive obligation is imposed on society to provide you with these things.


Nice try. Negative rights only require you to refrain from violating other people's rights. Enforcing them is a consensual activity that people take because it furthers all their interests. We, as a society, can pretend whatever we want about which rights are real and which are illusory, but reality exists independent of social constructs, and it demands a certain set of rights, i.e. "conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival.” Humans are "intelligent animals", but that doesn't invalidate the fact that we are different from them in that we can rationally choose to obey a certain code of values, where a tiger cannot. That's why we have rights and tigers don't. But this thread is not about animal rights, thank God.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Sun May 09, 2010 10:24 am UTC

Cleverbeans wrote:I disagree, it's very difficult to find localized wage information, and employers often do have a local monopoly on labor. If you're a pulp mill worker in Hinton, Alberta there isn't really an alternative other than to take the wage given and the wage difference for a draftsman in Houston is very different then the wages in Kansas City. I think the partial information problem can largely be solved by requiring employers to supply wage information, perhaps normalized for cost of living, and preventing employers from taking action against employees who openly discuss their wages.

It is? I can probably get ten positions with salary listings brought up in the next half an hour that fit reasonably well within my qualifications. Companies can't hide the wage rate from workers, its kind of a given that they have to tell them so they will work for them. I suppose a company could technically set up shop in some remote area, attract a bunch of people who then settle and suddenly halve the wage rate in hopes of trapping them, but I don't think this is what I'd call a usual happening and a fine time for a union to step in (although I'd have to question the long term viability of such a company, even discounting the probable success of a lawsuit alleging deception). The internet allows for fairly free exchange of wage rates and cost of living in any city, I doubt it could ever become that problematic. Like I said, situations can arise where companies can exercise localized monopoly to their favor in the labor market where unions may end up being appropriate, but this wouldn't apply very often.

Cleverbeans wrote:No, that's obviously no good either. They should maintain their employment if possible, or assist them with retraining and relocation to a reasonable degree. They're still going to be making more money from the improvements in efficiency without the social cost. I'm confident this will in fact slow economic growth, but that's absolutely a price I'm willing to pay for the ethical treatment of others.

I don't think you quite got what I was going for there - companies generally only cut the workforce when they're loosing lots of money, technological improvements may make certain workers redundant across entire industries but generally not in specific factories. I'd agree that the company doing what it can to retrain workers upon departing an area is preferable, but I don't think most unions are made purely for the sake of ensuring good payouts. From what I understand, offering compensation for layoffs is fairly par the course among any position, though I can't claim authoritative knowledge in the realm of redundancy. At any rate, as unions are dependent on leveraging their value to a company to be effective, law is a much more effective means here than union would ever be.

Cleverbeans wrote:No company is at the mercy of the public, they always have the ability to refuse service. Bouncers do this for a living, banks refuse loans based on credit scores, and otherwise exercise various forms of service refusal. The entire insurance industry is based on unequally charging people based on risk. Public sector employees do not have this luxury, they're required to provide service, and they're required to provide it equally.

Do you think a bank teller is free to behave to customers as he pleases, or do they follow corporate guidelines when going about their job? Much the same, teachers are handed down a mandate by their employer as to what their job is, the welfare worker makes judgments based off of what parameters are set in Congress for who's deserving, etc. Companies can't refuse much service before they go bankrupt, let alone run into anti-discrimination law - really, I don't see how you can think they are exceptionally different here. I suppose you could make an argument that teachers and police are somewhat more beset by positions that require them to deal with what one might call undesirable customers, but it is hardly the sole providence of the government.

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby reddealer » Sun May 09, 2010 5:04 pm UTC

Vox Imperatoris wrote: Nice try. Negative rights only require you to refrain from violating other people's rights. Enforcing them is a consensual activity that people take because it furthers all their interests. We, as a society, can pretend whatever we want about which rights are real and which are illusory, but reality exists independent of social constructs, and it demands a certain set of rights, i.e. "conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival.” Humans are "intelligent animals", but that doesn't invalidate the fact that we are different from them in that we can rationally choose to obey a certain code of values, where a tiger cannot. That's why we have rights and tigers don't. But this thread is not about animal rights, thank God.


This argument does not make any advances. Once again, we find ourselves arguing over what these conditions are and what the hell "proper survival" is. But the problem is bigger than that because this argument is not based on material reality but different rights discourses. I think the argument Lazar made about this is sufficient.

Ultimately this debate is about how resources are distributed and decision-making should occur in society. One side thinks the rich and powerful should have full license to make whatever decisions they wish, and the other side thinks that workers who are profoundly affected by these decisions ought to have a say.

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Ixtellor » Tue May 11, 2010 3:38 pm UTC

Nice post.

Two things that jumped out at me:

1)
Vox Imperatoris wrote: If some workers choose not to join, they will not be affected in any way, whether or not the negotiations succeed.


Are you suggesting that workers who don't strike, don't receive the new benefits?

If yes, don't you forsee that leading to worker relation problems and jealousy? (ie Loss of Production. ) Also, what about new hires, do they get the old wage or the new wage/benefits?

If no, what about the problem of free riders. That tends to be the doom of many grass roots efforts. Enjoy all the reward with none of the risk. I understand the free choice aspect, but what about actual advancements in worker rights?

2)
Vox Imperatoris wrote:a California prison guard in his 20s with a high-school education can easily make $100,000


Citation please.

3) Do you believe unions lead to a middle class AND is a strong middle class something a society should strive for?

As the beneficiary of a strong middle class society, do you feel you would have achieved the same level of educational success in the society you seem to ascribe too.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby stevey_frac » Tue May 11, 2010 7:22 pm UTC

Unions are a necessary evil.

For instance, in Toronto last year, the garbage people went on strike, and held the city hostage for weeks. The union got everything they demanded, despite making those demands in the worst economic climate in over a decade. They earn more money then they would in equivalent private sector jobs. On average about 5%. Plus they have huge perks. Things like free paid therapeutic massage, lots of holidays, etc. The list goes on.

The flip side of the coin is my friend in the Bahamas. There are no unions, and the employers more or less hold the workers hostage. Wages are barely enough to live on.

We need to find some middle ground, Where a union can't make unreasonable demands only because they can hold corporations and municipalities hostage, and an employer is forced to work with his employees to ensure equitable wages and working conditions.

I also firmly believe that an employer should be allowed to fire his entire staff, and rehire non-unionized employees if they go on strike. Such a move wouldn't be taken lightly. But at present, I do believe there is nothing stopping a group of employees from demanding something ridiculous and forcing a business under.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby PeterW » Wed May 12, 2010 12:46 am UTC

stevey_frac wrote:The flip side of the coin is my friend in the Bahamas. There are no unions, and the employers more or less hold the workers hostage.
Are they free to leave their jobs and join another company? There is a big, big difference between "not being in a union" and "being held hostage."

And for that matter, "not making as much money I think they should" is different from "TEH SYSTEM IS UNJUST!"

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Vox Imperatoris » Wed May 12, 2010 2:13 am UTC

stevey_frac wrote:I also firmly believe that an employer should be allowed to fire his entire staff, and rehire non-unionized employees if they go on strike. Such a move wouldn't be taken lightly. But at present, I do believe there is nothing stopping a group of employees from demanding something ridiculous and forcing a business under.


This is exactly what I am saying.

Ixtellor wrote:1)
Vox Imperatoris wrote: If some workers choose not to join, they will not be affected in any way, whether or not the negotiations succeed.


Are you suggesting that workers who don't strike, don't receive the new benefits?

If yes, don't you forsee that leading to worker relation problems and jealousy? (ie Loss of Production. ) Also, what about new hires, do they get the old wage or the new wage/benefits?

If no, what about the problem of free riders. That tends to be the doom of many grass roots efforts. Enjoy all the reward with none of the risk. I understand the free choice aspect, but what about actual advancements in worker rights?


It all depends on the situation and what kind of contract the union decides to negotiate. This is why I think "right-to-work" laws are somewhat flawed. Unions should have the option of running a "closed shop", where only union workers can be hired, if that's what they negotiate, as long as the union isn't backed by the government and irremovable. That would certainly get rid of free riders. On the other hand, if the negotiations decided that union workers would work side-by-side with non-union workers, but union workers would get special benefits (in return for paying dues, etc.), that's fine, too. Whatever the situation calls for.

2)
Vox Imperatoris wrote:a California prison guard in his 20s with a high-school education can easily make $100,000
Notice the 90% at 50 pensions, too.

Citation please.


Obliged. This article isn't specific about the ages, but I know the average age of these guards isn't high.

He is especially proud that he won his members by far the most generous wages and benefits that prison officers get anywhere in the country. Under the last deal he negotiated, which expired in 2006, the average member of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) earned around $70,000 a year and more than $100,000 with overtime. (Since then, wages have gone up again.) Mr Novey negotiated pensions of up to 90% of salary starting at as early as 50—more than teachers, nurses or firefighters get, and matched only by the state’s highway patrol.


3) Do you believe unions lead to a middle class AND is a strong middle class something a society should strive for?

As the beneficiary of a strong middle class society, do you feel you would have achieved the same level of educational success in the society you seem to ascribe too.


I don't think the existence of unions contributes much to the middle class. Most union workers are working class, anyway. I don't think society should "strive for" specific outcomes that it thinks would be best; "pragmatic" decision-making tends to lose out in the long run to principled decision-making; as long as our principles are right, we know that they will lead in the long run to the best possible situation for everyone. As for your other question, no; I don't think I would have had the same opportunities in education if I were born in a housing project. Not only because my parents wouldn't have had as much money, but because their whole cultural outlook would not have been one optimal for success ("solidarity", community over the individual, etc.). However, that's why my parents worked hard to rise in their social station: to give themselves and their children more opportunities. My father was born lower-middle class, and my mother decidedly lower class, but my father worked hard to become a radiologist (which isn't his "dream job"), while my mother suffered from a family upbringing that did not highly value education. Still, through her natural ability and strength of character, she was able to become a hard-working and dedicated X-Ray technician (which is not a bad job in itself), and she caught his eye. Now, I suppose you might say, "That's just luck! She didn't work for that," but she wouldn't have done so if she had been a lazy, sloppy X-Ray tech, I promise you. That is to say that despite the almost total lack of good values which were instilled in her by her family, she was able to reject was she was passively "taught" and succeed. But because they both worked hard, and concentrated more on the long-term than on the short term (unlike my deceased alcoholic maternal grandfather), they rose in station and enjoyed more opportunities for themselves and their children.

The point is that social mobility is often more a function of values than just money, and you can't forcibly instill values in people. Sure, some people win the lottery, or are born fabulously wealthy, but those people also tend to squander what they have. Meanwhile, people who work hard, not just physically but with mental effort (which is in shorter supply) as well, tend to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that "fate" sends their way. I don't think all people somehow deserve to make the same amount of money for the same amount of work, though (besides, the only real measure of how much people "deserve" to make is how much other people agree to pay them): parents have the right to pass down money and values to their children, which is inevitably going to affect outcomes.

However, what I find ironic about socialists who say "they care" about the poor is that they are the arrogant paternalists who say that the poor are too stupid and ignorant to have a hope of success unless they are given a hand by their betters, while "heartless" free-marketeers say that the poor have just as much inherent potential to succeed as the rest of us: they simply need to choose the right values. (And it's not just "laziness"; a long-range point of view and a sense of personal responsibility are much more important than how many hours you work, although rich people do tend to work almost constantly, e.g. 100-hour work weeks.) I don't even know if they realize that when they talk about "irresistible environmental conditioning" and "wage slavery".
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby LaserGuy » Wed May 12, 2010 4:34 am UTC

stevey_frac wrote:Unions are a necessary evil.

For instance, in Toronto last year, the garbage people went on strike, and held the city hostage for weeks. The union got everything they demanded, despite making those demands in the worst economic climate in over a decade. They earn more money then they would in equivalent private sector jobs. On average about 5%. Plus they have huge perks. Things like free paid therapeutic massage, lots of holidays, etc. The list goes on.


I think this illustrates the problem specifically with labour unions in the public sector: the government isn't a business in the strictest sense of the term (or any real sense of the term) and shouldn't be treated as such. It is very difficult for a government to go bankrupt, and they can in principle finance a great many things on deficits for nearly indefinite periods of time, so long as the deficits are relatively small compared to inflation + population growth. Given also that governments tend to be short-lived, and are unlikely to see the long-term consequences of their actions, they often have strong incentives to avoid labour disruptions and little incentive to adopt any reasonable bargaining position. At the worst end of things, you can end up with situations where wages are being extracted from the poor (or the masses, at least) in order to pay for lavish wages and benefits far above what they themselves receive in compensation. There is a particularly incestuous relationship in government because the unions not only negotiate with the government as employees, but also mobilize their members in order to vote in union-friendly politicians who will give more favourable collective agreements. In an extreme case, the unions are acting both as employer and employee, and everyone else is paying for it.

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Vox Imperatoris » Wed May 12, 2010 4:53 am UTC

LaserGuy wrote:
stevey_frac wrote:Unions are a necessary evil.

For instance, in Toronto last year, the garbage people went on strike, and held the city hostage for weeks. The union got everything they demanded, despite making those demands in the worst economic climate in over a decade. They earn more money then they would in equivalent private sector jobs. On average about 5%. Plus they have huge perks. Things like free paid therapeutic massage, lots of holidays, etc. The list goes on.


I think this illustrates the problem specifically with labour unions in the public sector: the government isn't a business in the strictest sense of the term (or any real sense of the term) and shouldn't be treated as such. It is very difficult for a government to go bankrupt, and they can in principle finance a great many things on deficits for nearly indefinite periods of time, so long as the deficits are relatively small compared to inflation + population growth. Given also that governments tend to be short-lived, and are unlikely to see the long-term consequences of their actions, they often have strong incentives to avoid labour disruptions and little incentive to adopt any reasonable bargaining position. At the worst end of things, you can end up with situations where wages are being extracted from the poor (or the masses, at least) in order to pay for lavish wages and benefits far above what they themselves receive in compensation. There is a particularly incestuous relationship in government because the unions not only negotiate with the government as employees, but also mobilize their members in order to vote in union-friendly politicians who will give more favourable collective agreements. In an extreme case, the unions are acting both as employer and employee, and everyone else is paying for it.


The bold part is the most important reason why government is so inefficient: it is almost totally insulated from the negative effects of its actions. Only when governments do unsustainable things over and over and over again do they ever near the breaking point Greece is facing, the UK seems poised to face unless the Con-Lib coalition makes drastic cuts, and which the US will face in its time. If a business, even Wal*Mart or some other giant, spent like our government, it would be bankrupt in a month, while governments take decades.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Nem » Wed May 12, 2010 1:05 pm UTC

Of course unions make economically unappealing demands; companies are incredibly dishonest about their finances. You can't negotiate in good faith without agreed upon standards of information. Once you have those standards the threat is not that you'll fire them, the threat is that their actions are ultimately going to leave them unemployed when the company goes under.

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby nitePhyyre » Wed May 12, 2010 1:21 pm UTC

Vox Imperatoris wrote:
stevey_frac wrote:I also firmly believe that an employer should be allowed to fire his entire staff, and rehire non-unionized employees if they go on strike. Such a move wouldn't be taken lightly. But at present, I do believe there is nothing stopping a group of employees from demanding something ridiculous and forcing a business under.


This is exactly what I am saying.

This position will result in violence. Is that acceptable to the both of you?
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Dark567 » Wed May 12, 2010 1:29 pm UTC

nitePhyyre wrote:This position will result in violence. Is that acceptable to the both of you?


And anyone who commits violence should be arrested or in extreme cases shot. Getting fired from a job is never an acceptable excuse to commit violence and we as a society shouldn't be held hostage to the idea that we have to have these particular laws or there will be massive violence. The sentiment that if we don't give unions what they want(to keep there jobs in this case) or they will be violent, doesn't exactly make me sympathetic to them.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby bosonicyouth » Wed May 12, 2010 1:38 pm UTC

Good time for a comic!

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Ixtellor » Wed May 12, 2010 1:39 pm UTC

Vox Imperatoris wrote:Obliged. This article isn't specific about the ages, but I know the average age of these guards isn't high.


I actually looked it up before you responded at ca.gov and found the pay scales.

Yes they make a lot of money and the overtime allows for big money.

What is missing from your critique of the pay is the supply and demand of wages.
Does the supply of labor to that job outweigh the demand needed.
The glaring question - If the wage is so high, why is there a massive shortage of prison guards?

I think using unionized school teachers would be a better example. Good pay - easy job.(Hard to do well)

Vox Imperatoris wrote:I don't think the existence of unions contributes much to the middle class.


Since context matters, do you mean historically or today?

Also, if I were to analyze the every nation on earth and compare those with unions and those without, do you think there would be a correlation between those with large middle classes and those without?


Lastly, perhaps you can clarify what appears to be a contridictory statement:
Vox Imperatoris wrote: no; I don't think I would have had the same opportunities in education if I were born in a housing project. Not only because my parents wouldn't have had as much money, but because their whole cultural outlook would not have been one optimal for success


Versus.

Vox Imperatoris wrote:However, what I find ironic about socialists who say "they care" about the poor is that they are the arrogant paternalists who say that the poor are too stupid and ignorant to have a hope of success unless they are given a hand by their betters, while "heartless" free-marketeers say that the poor have just as much inherent potential to succeed as the rest of us: they simply need to choose the right values


In one breath you say that had you grown up in the projects you would not have the same values you possess today, and then in another breath (In highly biased language) go on to say that liberals want to help those families get the values they need, and conservatives assume those values will be self achieved.

Something you might think about or clarify.

I will end with this question:

Do you believe that some poor children do poor in school because they are hungry and can't focus or that others don't attend school because their parents make them work to help pay bills? If so to what extent do you believe thats true?

I ask because I taught at the poorest school in Texas and now have a better understanding.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby stevey_frac » Wed May 12, 2010 2:31 pm UTC

nitePhyyre wrote:This position will result in violence. Is that acceptable to the both of you?


Then we call in the police, lock up those who are unable to accept the consequences of their actions for a few days to let them cool off, and let them try it again.

I don't see why any business should be FORCED to endure a strike simply because his employees want to. If there are other people who want to do the work... have them do the work.

If the employees are in a position in which they have lots of actual leverage then they can feel free to leverage that. But why should striking impose nine kinds of risk on the employer and none on the employee. If the employees won't bargain in good faith, or have unreasonable demands, or just cost too much, the employer should be able to fire them all and rehire non-union. In fact, that one simple change would pretty much make things a level playing field.

If Toronto could have started to hire garbage men, and start firing the union ones, they would have broken the union, and they would have gone back to work, and taken the cities original offer of 1.5% per year for 4 years (or whatever it was)
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Ixtellor » Wed May 12, 2010 3:01 pm UTC

stevey_frac wrote:If there are other people who want to do the work... have them do the work.


Many places have laws that do exactly that. Right to work states in the USA for example.

stevey_frac wrote:But why should striking impose nine kinds of risk on the employer and none on the employee.


Strikers face tremendous risks and burdens. They face losing their homes, cars, quality of life is going to take a massive hit. See the Airtraffic Controllers, USA, in the 1980's. Every one of them permanantly lost their jobs and their livelyhoods.

If you go further back, strikers faced death at the hands of hired thugs and police. May Day Massacre.

How would you family function with no wages for 18 months?
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby folkhero » Wed May 12, 2010 4:04 pm UTC

Ixtellor wrote:I actually looked it up before you responded at ca.gov and found the pay scales.

Yes they make a lot of money and the overtime allows for big money.

What is missing from your critique of the pay is the supply and demand of wages.
Does the supply of labor to that job outweigh the demand needed.
The glaring question - If the wage is so high, why is there a massive shortage of prison guards?

What's really perverse is that they lobby for legislation that artificially raises the demand for their labor. They strongly supported the 3 strikes law. At best that's a deeply ethically troubling conflict of interest; at worst, they are gleefully putting people in jail for their entire lives to ensure their own job security and wages.
To all law enforcement entities, this is not an admission of guilt...

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Ixtellor » Wed May 12, 2010 5:17 pm UTC

folkhero wrote:What's really perverse is that they lobby for legislation that artificially raises the demand for their labor. They strongly supported the 3 strikes law. At best that's a deeply ethically troubling conflict of interest; at worst, they are gleefully putting people in jail for their entire lives to ensure their own job security and wages.
.


1) Freedom "defend to the death..."
2) It took a lot more than the efforts of prison guards to pass that horrific law, all of California is guilty.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby dosboot » Wed May 12, 2010 5:29 pm UTC

I still am waiting for a clarified idea of what power the law grants to employers and employees in a strike situation. Everyone keeps using this as an example, sometimes in contradictory ways.

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Ixtellor » Wed May 12, 2010 7:13 pm UTC

dosboot wrote:I still am waiting for a clarified idea of what power the law grants to employers and employees in a strike situation. Everyone keeps using this as an example, sometimes in contradictory ways.


Thats like a huge request:
National Labor Relations Act
Taft-Hartley Act
Federal Relations Labor Act.
TONS MORE ACTS.

What exactly are you asking? Be specific.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Sam Adams » Wed May 12, 2010 10:06 pm UTC

reddealer wrote:Once again, we find ourselves arguing over what these conditions are and what the hell "proper survival" is. But the problem is bigger than that because this argument is not based on material reality but different rights discourses. I think the argument Lazar made about this is sufficient.

Ultimately this debate is about how resources are distributed and decision-making should occur in society. One side thinks the rich and powerful should have full license to make whatever decisions they wish, and the other side thinks that workers who are profoundly affected by these decisions ought to have a say.

The "rich and powerful" are profoundly affected by these decisions, too. The rich and powerful have to compete with other companies that may or may not have union representation. The rich and powerful may have loans that need to be repaid, investors to attract, government regulations to deal with, the need to develop new products and process that will enable them to continue to compete, etc.

While it may be attractive to demand an employer open up his books (assuming that it isn't a public company that already has its books open), it is important to recognize that "the bottom line" is far from the only fact that needs to be taken in account. Not only that, some employers might decide that working with employees that have fewer demands might be more attractive.

PeterW wrote:
stevey_frac wrote:The flip side of the coin is my friend in the Bahamas. There are no unions, and the employers more or less hold the workers hostage.
Are they free to leave their jobs and join another company? There is a big, big difference between "not being in a union" and "being held hostage."

And for that matter, "not making as much money I think they should" is different from "TEH SYSTEM IS UNJUST!"

That is a very important point. Most of the problems that create unions (or the need to create them) is a result of too little opportunity. There are either too few jobs available for your skill set, or your skill set isn't broad enough to qualify you for the other jobs that are available. Company towns were the result of not having alternative places to work or shop. If your entire skill set consists of moving coal with a shovel, then 1. the company can find a replacement worker for you in about ten minutes and 2. if the company is paying more than the market rate for someone with your skills, there will be others lining up for your job.

Ixtellor wrote:Strikers face tremendous risks and burdens. They face losing their homes, cars, quality of life is going to take a massive hit. See the Airtraffic Controllers, USA, in the 1980's. Every one of them permanantly lost their jobs and their livelyhoods.

If you go further back, strikers faced death at the hands of hired thugs and police. May Day Massacre.

How would you family function with no wages for 18 months?

Probably get another job. You have to get another job anyway if the employer moves or closes up shop. You do have other capabilities other than doing that one job, don't you?

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby dosboot » Thu May 13, 2010 3:38 am UTC

Ixtellor wrote:What exactly are you asking? Be specific.


If you know the answers then maybe it's better for me to ask you to filter the most important parts for us. If you want a place to start though we've had at least one comment implying a company fired everyone who went on strike and another implying that a company generally cannot choose to do so.

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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Vox Imperatoris » Thu May 13, 2010 4:01 am UTC

dosboot wrote:
Ixtellor wrote:What exactly are you asking? Be specific.


If you know the answers then maybe it's better for me to ask you to filter the most important parts for us. If you want a place to start though we've had at least one comment implying a company fired everyone who went on strike and another implying that a company generally cannot choose to do so.


Well, the air traffic controllers' strike which was brought up resulted in them all getting fired by Ronald Reagan because they were striking illegally, against the public and against the terms of their employment. Mirabile dictu, they were somehow able to replace every single one of them.

In general, however, private companies are prevented by law from firing striking workers. They don't have to pay them during the strike, but they can't permanently replace them, either. The law varies by a lot in among the states, though. See at-will employment (although that's not nearly the whole of the issue, given that union workers are not at-will and have collective contracts which the employer has to respect).
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby folkhero » Thu May 13, 2010 5:21 am UTC

Ixtellor wrote:
folkhero wrote:What's really perverse is that they lobby for legislation that artificially raises the demand for their labor. They strongly supported the 3 strikes law. At best that's a deeply ethically troubling conflict of interest; at worst, they are gleefully putting people in jail for their entire lives to ensure their own job security and wages.


1) Freedom "defend to the death..."
2) It took a lot more than the efforts of prison guards to pass that horrific law, all of California is guilty.

1) Freedom is speech is great, I'm all for it, I'm not advocating the union members go to jail for their lobby for 3 strikes. The fact that I don't think it's illegal doesn't mean I don't think it's terribly immoral. What I am saying is that if you're making your living on the public dime and you're willing to try to game the system in a way that will ruin lives so that you can turn those public dimes into public quarters, the public has every right to throw you out on your ass.

2) I agree, but I don't understand how that makes it any less of a perverse conflict of interest.
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Re: Labor Unions

Postby Sam Adams » Thu May 13, 2010 6:01 am UTC

folkhero wrote:2) I agree, but I don't understand how that makes it any less of a perverse conflict of interest.

Of course it is a serious conflict of interest. Unionized public workers are the ones pushing for more taxes. As a result, workers in the public sector (particularly in the federal government) have salaries and benefits that are substantially better than the private sector.

For example, average private sector salary is about $40K. Average Fed worker; about $70K.


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