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The "controversy" of Craig Becker's potential recess appointment had me thinking more about unions this morning.  Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that the demise of unions is a complete myth, a fiction of progressive liberals.  Unions are alive and well in this country.  Indeed, unions are perhaps stronger than at any point in time in America.  Follow me over the fold.

What is a union?  At a basic level, it is a group of human beings that join together to make a single collective decision.  For example, a group of people could get together and say, "We won't work for you unless you pay us $10 per hour."  As long as the group sticks together, and as long as the group is sufficiently large, this collective decision is a pretty powerful negotiating tool.

People like to complain about unions because they make everything more expensive.  They make people lazy.  They are basically rackets.  Really, unions suck ass.  Right?

In reality, our economic system has become full of unions.  Or, more accurately, it has become dominated by a relatively small group of incredibly large, powerful unions: big corporations.

Essentially, every corporation is a union.  The only difference is that instead of a union of workers, it is a union of owners of capital.  For example, Wal Mart is essentially a union of millions of shareholders.  These shareholders (even if they don't appreciate it) elect a CEO to speak for their group.  This CEO can decide that he's going to offer workers minimum wage; if those workers don't like it, they can take a hike.  If Wal Mart's employees also unionized, they could plausibly push back.  In the absence of unionization, however, it becomes difficult.

When I hear Republicans (or citizens, really) complaining about workers' unionizing, I wonder why they don't complain about the fact that owners of capital are unionizing on a daily basis too.  Personally, I could care less if a person is anti-union -- I just want them to be in favor of a level playing field.  If someone is anti-union, then they should be anti-corporation too.  Not surprisingly, I don't know of any Republicans that fall into that camp.

We need to stop talking about unions as some sort of homogenous economic entity.  Some unions make playing fields un-level.  For example, I don't think I'd be in favor of a union of "small business employees" -- at least not unless we're prepared to allow small business owners to collude with one another.  But other unions are simply levelers of the playing field: for example, employees of the GMs and the Wal Mart's of the world.  I've always believed that the most truly American ideal is the ideal of the level playing field.  If you're against unions that level the playing field with owners of capital, then, in my view, you're just downright un-American.

Originally posted to Aaron Michael on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 08:29 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Rec'd for debate (0+ / 0-)

      Not sure where you are going here since by your definition pretty much anyone that is employed or in businesss would be considered a Union member, verses, say, a member of an organization, but if you are going to call unions that make playing fields un-level I guess you will consider all of them Un-American since the whole purpose of such unions is certianly to gain advantage in numbers.

      You might consider my example below of Union Pension Funds as one case where one worker's interests are served by another's loss. Nothing level about that.

      I'm not sure if I have ever seen a level playing field - the higher the magnification ratio the less level things tend to appear - but if I find any I will alert you that a Very American Thing has been found to exist, wherever it might be.

      Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

      by koNko on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 10:10:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Correction of incomplete statement (0+ / 0-)

        Sorry, my bad English and bad proofing. Should be:

        Not sure where you are going here since by your definition pretty much anyone that is employed or in businesss would be considered a Union member, verses, say, a member of an organization, but if you are going to call unions that make playing fields un-level Un-American, then I guess you will consider all of them Un-American since the whole purpose of such unions is certianly to gain advantage in numbers.

        Thanks.

        Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

        by koNko on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 10:55:48 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Corporations are not unions (0+ / 0-)

      People who are shareholders are not members of a "union". The analogy is deeply flawed. There is much more transparency, flexibility, and individual freedom in being a shareholder of a public company than being a member of any union. That is not a value judgment, or suggesting that one is better than the other. It's just that they are not at all the same.

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 08:32:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Union (5+ / 0-)

    has a fairly specific meaning when used in a political context without qualification.

    The Teabaggers are the GOP base

    by stevej on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 08:37:43 PM PDT

  •  The level playing field does not exist (6+ / 0-)

    It cannot exist as long as we think of the business world as some sort of Libertarian Utopia where individuals of good will negotiate with each other for goods and services.

    Bullshit.

    A typical business is a collective:  it engages in collective thought, has collective goals, has a collective experience pool, and collectivizes its intelligence for the express purpose of getting itself the best possible deal at the expense of the other party.  Larger businesses hire Human Resources specialists whose major purpose is securing the best possible deal for labor.

    On the opposite side of the bargaining table sits the single employee.  She has only the resources she learned as an individual in the job market.  She is denied tactical information such as pay scales, which dramatically limits her ability to negotiate fairly.  The younger she is, the less likely she will be able to negotiate a fair deal.

    Yes, corporations are unions.  So are political parties.  We need to shamelessly and smartly use ours to negotiate the best deal for the greatest number of people.

    •  In other words, change laws. (0+ / 0-)

      For impatient people who skimmed past your remarks. (;^o)

      Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

      by koNko on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 09:43:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  A bit more than that (0+ / 0-)

        We need to smash the notions that:

        1.  For-profit business has anything to do with rugged individualism
        1.  There is anything inherently inferior to government work vs. private enterprise
        1.  That a profit motive produces the best results

        The 'Pubs destroyed the meaning of the word "liberal" via relentless messaging.  I'm saying a little payback would be a hell of a lot of fun.

  •  why did you say this?.... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ChicDemago, greeseyparrot, koNko

    .

    I came to the conclusion that the demise of unions is a complete myth, a fiction of progressive liberals

    It is a myth and it's perpetrated by anti-union forces like Wal-Mart and the Chamber of Commerce but for no reason you blame progressives who are union allies. why?

  •  The premise of the diary is (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    koNko, VClib, RosyFinch

    deeply flawed.

    In the context of political economy - and in popular culture - 'union' has a very specific meaning - in a narrow sense, a group of workers who collectively bargain for higher pay, better working conditions, and shorter work hours, and in a broader sense, the above plus political organizing and the creation and dissemination of counter hegemonic ideas and values.

    What you are calling a "union of shareholders" - WalMart - is in reality a matter of class and of the relationship of one social group vis-a-vis another to the means of production.  Class domination and exploitation are very real, and muddling language as you have obscures these social injustices.

    If I could "untip" this diary (I don't mean a donut), I would.

    No public option. Well, at least we are no longer in Iraq or Afghanistan...

    by Pierro Sraffa on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 09:10:23 PM PDT

    •  Not necesarally (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      badger, greeseyparrot

      You seem to be suggesting classic Maxist theory (correct me if I'm wrong) which was based on 19th century economic conditions.

      The world has changed. Some of the largest and most powerful shareholder groups are union pension funds and that flips the table on your theory of class domination and exploitation. The managers of those funds are obligated to get the highest returns on investment just as Berkshire-Hathaway's CEO would like to get, except the latter seems to be more inclined to share some of the profits as charitable contributions while the former has no say in the matter and simply serves the financial interests of the share holders (pension fund members) as all good capitalists do. This, ultimately pits workers against workers as the interests of some become corporate profits. Funny, dat.

      Oh, and when such fund managers fail to return profits, they are shown the door and markets are blamed for being what they are, inherently risky.

      Furthermore, today multinational corporations have, essentially, replaced sovern colonialism with corporate colonialism which creates situations where governments struggle to regulate and where International Law or Agreements will be increasingly importiant to balance national and global economies.

      When Coca-Cola controls a dominant fraction of the world's soft drink market (they do) and their shares are held by organizations and individuals of different economic classes, from different countries (certianly the case) the lines become so blurred classical economic and class theories break-down.

      Your thoughts?

      On the other hand, I agree the diarist goes far afield in his thesis of what constitutes a union.

      Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

      by koNko on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 09:40:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  BTW the example of Union Pension Funds (0+ / 0-)

        Was not intended to single them out as a problem, but merely to illustrate the point that our modern, globalized world does seem to fit any classical economic theories, regardless of who founded them or what they hypothesize.

        I'm not picking on Unions, Marx, Marx, Lenin or Lennon here.

        Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

        by koNko on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 09:49:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Erik Olin Wright, a Univ. of (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          koNko

          Wisconsin-Madison sociologist (holds the C. Wright Mills chair), has written extensively on contradictory class position.  

          You may wish to take a look at his work.

          As for your claim, I see nothing that you have mentioned that is not covered extensively in Harvey's THE LIMITS OF CAPITAL.

          We Marxians have moved on from the CManifesto, you know.  

          No public option. Well, at least we are no longer in Iraq or Afghanistan...

          by Pierro Sraffa on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 10:01:01 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks, I will (0+ / 0-)

            It's a subject that greatly interests me, actually.

            Oh, BTW, greetings from China! Certianly we CH-commies have moved on from clasical Marxism to Market Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, but of late, the pendulum has swung back in the direction of Socialism since, certianly, Limits of Capitalism exist, no? China has certianly realized those limits.

            Actually, I tend to view (or at least analyze) many things in terms of class struggle (because it's a fact) but as I said, the lines become at blurred at times Chaos Theory might be a better approach than classical Economic Theory.

            Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

            by koNko on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 10:20:25 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  That people or social groups (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        koNko

        can occupy contradictory class positions - a worker with a pension fund, a dentist who owns municipal bonds, a CEO married to a wage laborer, a Chinese businessman with a standard of living below a GM worker - is obvious to the point of banality yet does not nullify any of the points I made.  

        The engine of motivation of capitalism remains the maintenance and expansion of dead labor [capital], and the growth of dead labor still presupposes the existence of wage labor.  Or to put it in neoclassical language, which you seem to prefer: under 'free enterprise' the satisfaction of human need is expressed merely and only as a positive externality in the search for profit.

        Besides, the largest shareholders of the world's wealthiest and most powerful companies are few - they are institutional investors, not workers or lumpenproletariat.  The wealthiest five hundred organizations of the world own over half of the world's wealth.

        Worker here equates to someone who primarily provides for himself or herself through wage labor - C-M-C.  This would include manufacturing and the service sector, as well as that section of workers mislabeled as "small business owners" - I say mislabeled because the guy who "owns" a dry wall business is often in reality a wage laborer that a large construction firm subcontracts with, with the large firm having shed its obligations with respect to wages, benefits, working conditions, insurance, etc.

        One can be a Marxian economist and live in the 21st century.  See David Harvey, or Moroshimo, or thousands of others around the globe.  Outside the US, neoclassical orthodoxy is not as dominant.

        Regards.

        No public option. Well, at least we are no longer in Iraq or Afghanistan...

        by Pierro Sraffa on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 09:57:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  We agree more than we disagree (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Pierro Sraffa

          And please note my example of the "few", is a class of institutional investor that represents "the many", and some of these "few" have incredible market clout.

          It becomes impossibly complex to define "ownership" once you get into markets, so I like to just ask, who/how many have what net worth? Well, the answer to that is appaling, Marx is rolling in his grave.

          For sure, one challenge of globalization is the dicotomy of compeating interests of "poor capitalist" verses "wealthy union member" (in relative terms) and that elevates the arguement back to the domain of systematic economic and political theory; suffice it to say Maxism did/does take that approach, I'm just not sure it has any ultimate answers.

          One point of disagreement. You say:

          The engine of motivation of capitalism remains the maintenance and expansion of dead labor [capital], and the growth of dead labor still presupposes the existence of wage labor.  Or to put it in neoclassical language, which you seem to prefer: under 'free enterprise' the satisfaction of human need is expressed merely and only as a positive externality in the search for profit.

          In theoretical terms, yes. In practical terms, no. Pleanty of capitalist enterprises exist for purposes other than profit alone, just as some Marxist ones came off the rails because they didn't exist for the benefit of society's needs alone, or simply did a terrible job meeting those needs. Been there, done that, in both cases. Either can work in balance, and to do so continually, need to be flexible.

          This last bit tends to conflict with anyone's hypothetical model, except the "let it fail" pure Capitalist one, but I can honestly say I have never met any Capitalists above the level of Farmers selling peanuts on the street who thought it applied to them - they always manage to stick thier hands out when the accounts go red.

          Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

          by koNko on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 10:49:14 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  There are no level playing fields. Ever. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greeseyparrot

    Corporations/companies are big and small, public and private and have many copeating interests depending on the business they are in and prevailing circumstances

    Likewise, workers may be organised or not, and fairly compensated or not, whether or not they are unionized (pleanty of unions have multiple-tier contracts with newer members an underclass, eg, UAW).

    Therefore, as you suggest, labor should have the basic right to organize if they wish, but it will never make the world fair.

    The only thing that can come close if to change laws business and labor to establish better minimum standards, otherise, you have the law of the jungle with whomever happens to be the most powerful in any situation prevailing, and as you note, in principle it doesn't matter if it's a union shareholders or workers, what you have in any case is a battle of strength.

    And who takes care of the weak?

    Only the law, and if it doesn't, they are on their own.

    Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

    by koNko on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 09:15:00 PM PDT

  •  I certainly WISH that unions were (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greeseyparrot, koNko, RosyFinch

    stronger than ever. I don't see it.

    Union membership has collapsed compared to the forties and fifties and too much of the population has a negative view of unions. A union rep here on Kos told me in so many words that unions were just basically
    "holding on," which was a pessimistic assessment.

    If we ever get back to 30 to 40 per cent union membership in this country or even 20 per cent again we can talk about real union clout. In the meantime I just see it as a wish.

    And another thing: I belonged to two unions in the motion picture studios in the early seventies and I noticed that too many working-class guys were conservatives and not Democrats. Very dismaying. A bigger wish: to see the working class of America return to the Democratic party.

    •  How to. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wildthumb

      Is very difficult since there are conflicting/comprating interests all over the map.

      When we ge to the Immigration Reform debates here, I think you will find all kinds of "illiberal" arguements dotting the map and I'd suggest keeping a bucket of wet sand handy in case your monitor spontaniously combusts as you scroll through flame wars.

      Ask me about my daughter's future - Ko

      by koNko on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 09:55:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Corporations are Unions? (0+ / 0-)
    This borders on the surreal.

    First of all, when it comes to corporate power and organized labor in the US, there is no "level playing field".

    Corporations are essentially totalitarian institutions. The Supreme Cult's recent Citizen's United decision officially grants these entities a degree of power that is intended to be meekly accepted as legitimate by the general population, including labor unions, but is in fact incompatible with a supposedly democratic society.

    The US is unique among industrialized nations in this regard, especially when compared with most European countries. In fact, it's off the scale. We live in a society largely run by business; the economic and legal standing of organized labor is microscopic in comparison.

    The people who make the really important decisions-- what gets produced and where, how production or financing is organized, how resources are allocated and who distributes them--are all made by people operating within what is euphemistically called "the business community". A cute phrase, deliberately intended to conjure a false vision of industrious but benevolent altruists, associating and operating solely for the common good.
    Nothing could be further from the truth.

    These are groups of individuals who are acutely conscious of class division, a wealthy leadership caste which over the years payed the courts well for creating the laws that protect them, of which GATT, WTO, NAFTA, and of course C. United are but a few. They have a documented history of using this corporate power to unleash acts of extreme anti-labor violence, a model they enthusiastically exported abroad, with particular success in Latin America.

    Beginning in the mid-20th century they quickly realized the need for a new approach. They could no longer do in Iowa and Indiana what they could still get away with in Guatemala and Haiti.
    The result is the method used today, a disarmingly simple but incredibly effective tool: Propaganda.

    One simple example is the phrase "special interests". Until relatively recently the vast majority of the American working class blindly accepted the corporate definition of the phrase. The words were almost unanimously interpreted to refer to labor activists, Native Americans, Latinos, African-Americans, associations of elderly citizens, GLBT persons, struggling single mothers, women's organizations, pro-peace and community anti-poverty groups, small farmers, agricultural workers, etc etc. In other words, the general population. EVERYBODY. Except for the virtuous scions of the "business community".
    And they, of course, are the real "special interests".

    Divide and conquer. With success beyond their wildest dreams.

    Australian researcher Alex Carey said it best:

    "The 20th century was characterized by three developments of great political importance:
    The rise and spread of democracy, the rise and spread of corporate power, and the development of corporate propaganda, used to protect corporate power from the effects of democracy".

     

    Illegal Alien: Term used by the descendents of foreign colonizers to refer to the descendents of indigenous people

    by mojada on Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 11:02:10 PM PDT

  •  Interesting idea... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greeseyparrot

    ... but don't overestimate the power of shareholders. Most shareholders own a few shares and just hope to make a few bucks. The real power is in the hands of the corporations' Boards of Trustees and a very few people who own a lot of stock (a percent of outstanding shares, not just a few shares).

    The fundies are right! The world is ending! There's a black guy with his feet up on the Oval Office desk! Oh Noez!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    by SciMathGuy on Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 03:21:52 AM PDT

    •  SciMathGuy - Boards of Directors (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SciMathGuy

      The owners representatives are members of the Board of Directors. The term Board of Trustees is used where the organization is funded by a trust and is usually used for nonprofits. Regarding the board of directors of US public companies it is actually uncommon for members of the board to own a substantial ownership stake or be placed on the board by a specific large shareholder.

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Fri Mar 26, 2010 at 08:36:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think everyone misunderstood my diary (0+ / 0-)

    The entire point of this diary was that unions are alive and well -- they just happen to be on the ownership of capital side.  The diary was not meant as to critique liberal claims that worker-side unions are being dismantled; they clearly are.  Instead, the diary was meant to critique conservatives who claim to be "anti-union" but in reality are just against worker-side unions.  The diary is an attempt to call out the hypocrisy of conservatives who think that, for example, Wal Mart should be able to suppress its workers from unionizing yet don't bat an eye at the fact that Wal Mart essentially became an "owner-side union" of millions of Americans when it funded its expansion through a common stock offering.  

    I agree with the commentators that say that "union" has a specific political meaning.  That's the problem this diary has attempted to highlight.  By calling only worker-side organizations "unions," and failing to point out that large corporations are nothng more than "ownership-side unions," it allows conservatives to turn the word "union" into a pejorative to the detriment of workers exclusively.  

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