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.