Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Your Work is Done Here

Remember this quaint television commercial?

Not possessing even the rudimentary musical talents of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, a motley assembly of members of the United Auto Workers recently chose a different way to express their enthusiasm for their union and the benefits it brings to the American worker:

What we are witnessing is the reaction that many people display when they recognize that what has been an integral part of their life is now a dying way of life.

Union membership has declined for years; now in Michigan the legislature has swapped  the "closed shop" for "the right to work."

Unions in some ways are the victims of their own success. Those original goals--the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike, workplace safety, end to child labor, establishment of minimum wages, and  limitations on hours--all have been enacted in federal, state, and local laws.

Unions have hurt their own cause, too. Contracts which award wages based upon seniority rather than performance and make it difficult to terminate employees reduced the competitiveness of their company. It does not seem to dawn on union leadership that the well-being of union members depends a great deal upon the well-being of the company that employs them.

In other ways, Unions have fallen victim to developments beyond their control. Union membership and influence peaked in the years immediately after World War II. And so did America's share of the world's GNP. There is  a reason for that.  Europe and Japan lay in ruins and rest the rest of the world remained undeveloped.

It was not long, however, before Europe, and Japan began to  flex their industrial and technological might in competition with America. This competition has led both American and European companies to seek an edge by lowering labor costs. Production based upon unskilled and semi-skilled labor has moved to the underdeveloped nations. (One irony is that much of this production ended up in China. Who knew that capitalists in search of a working class to "exploit" would be enabled by the CPC and the communist workers' paradise that they run?)

 This development  is good for the people who live in those desperately poor countries. But it has eroded the industrial base that since the 1800s made Americans the most prosperous people in the world. With the reduction of this industrial base went the American union.

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