Category Archives: jobs

>OBSERVATION: Labour Loves Lost

>

While I owe the title of this blog item to Shakespeare — well, at least a bastardization of his “Love’s Labour Lost” — the subject is quite different from the Bard’s.

The week following our Labor Day celebration, I am still reading stories about the importance of unions … the need for unions… the power of unions … etc.

The power of unions depends entirely on the definition. In terms of real political power, they are paper tigers often claiming victories that are more coincidental than contrived. On the other hand, it is fair to say that they do exercise more power than their numbers and place in society deserves.

At this writing, they represent less than 12 percent of the American work force – and they continue to lose ground in the private sector. The only place where there is true union growth and excessive power is in the public sector. The dangerously powerful American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees union is a threat to the democratic process. It is the vehicle that assures the continued growth and unaccountable power of the Fourth Branch of our government – the bureaucracy.

Many see unionism as a borderless expanse that covers both the private and public sectors. This is not the case. The issues that separate the public and private sectors on the business side generally apply at least as much to the union side.

Private sector unionism in America is a dying enterprise. This is due to the fact that American workers are treated pretty damn well, by world and historic standards. Credit trade unionism for the improvement, if you like. I will not counter the argument. But like the buggy whip, it has lost much of its purpose in modern society.

Only in the public sector, were “management” is the political Siamese twin of “labor,” is there growth. As special consultant to the Chicago and Detroit boards of education, I experienced the neutering effect of having union member sitting on the “management” board and public officials beholding to the raw power of union money and precinct workers. To this day, schools flounder under union dictate contract provisions and excessive union influence in policy and operations. It is no accident that the deterioration of the urban school systems tracks perfectly with the rise of union influence.

We need to look at unionism in two ways and with two responses. For the private sector, we should treat them to benign neglect. Despite the bellow of labor leaders, such as the ALF-CIO’s John Sweeney, they are more like the Wizard of Oz, attempting to enlarge their “roar” by public relations trickery.

Public sector unionism is a whole ‘nother game. The power of unions to shut down critical government services is a threat to the democracy. Because government is susceptible to acquiring of inordinate power, it is critical to prevent any all-powerful union to “control” our public sector.

If ever a group of workers did not need representation, it is government workers. Without union solidarity, they already created tenure, high wages, primo benefits and cushy retirement plans.

Personally, if I had my magic wand, I would make all public sector unions disappear – and outlaw strikes against the taxpaying public. A free society cannot endure the oppression of institutional power groups. Ronald Reagan was right. Air traffic controllers should not be afforded the right to shut down the world aviation system. There is not a teacher strike in America that EVER helped students. Police and firefighters, noble as is their profession, cannot be allowed to walk off the job.

The danger is not just to the obvious. Paper pushers in obscure bureaus can wreak havoc on individual lives by blocking the flow of their work through strikes and other “job actions.” A missed welfare check or a delay appointment at a public health clinic can be deadly.