The goings on in Michigan have taken some time for me to process, what with a lame duck majority of Michigan Republicans busting the only real leverage unions had in one of the biggest union states in America. There's been a heated debate over it the past couple weeks, albeit not on this forum, and tempers have flown off the handle as fistfights have broken out on the steps of the capital in Lansing.
Makes sense, it's a really heated issue, and I see both sides of it. One one hand you have people whose wellbeing has been supported and improved by unions -- those people are going to be intensely passionate about what happens. On the other hand, you have people who believe unions are unfairly leveraged bully organizations attempting to soak a company's profits dry.
I see both sides of the issue, but I'm pro-union. I see how they are often derided and dismissed on this forum so I think it's time to take at least one post to properly characterize what unions are all about and to flesh out why they are such a positive thing.
There are many different kinds of unions, so I am not offering a defense of any one particular union, but I think all unions benefit from the below arguments:
1. A union is democratic capitalism at work.
Our capitalist society encourages everybody to work hard, earn skills, and maximize those skills for your own personal gain. That harnessing this capacity to improve your life will drive progress in society, spark innovation and improve overall quality of life.
Well, that's what every union under the sun is. A group of people have acquired a set of skills, be it to build something, teach something or serve something, and they've decided to maximize their gain from those skills by banding together and negotiating with those who employ them.
Conservatives typically argue that the wealthy are virtuous, because they are able to find advantages in the market that play to their favor. They often argue in favor of huge bonuses that are frequently untied to any accomplishments for people who run companies, because that's what the free market has designated as their worth. That's exactly what unions are all about. They find an advantage in their market that plays to their favor, and attempt to maximize their benefit.
2. They fight inequality.
Now, whether you like the result or not of those negotiations, as an outside observer, is irrelevent to capitalism. What matters is that a worker should earn his or her leverage and then play it in the market for their advantage. Busting unions is an affirmative action to keep the masses of middle class workers from exploiting the advantages of capitalism, while further enabling the wealthy to benefit. Which brings me to my next point.
Inequality is not inherently bad, but there is an inequality epidemic in this country. We are at a historic point of inequality where, primarily though tax policy
, the wealthy retain more and more of their wealth leaving the rest of pie in smaller and smaller slices to be divided up amongst a growing population of middle- and lower-class folks.
Unions were an effective check on this trend for large swaths of society, but they've been systematically busted in about half the country's states in various ways, leaving employees only able to negotiate in small packs or individually -- which, as if I need to tell you, is almost always a negatory position. Busting unions hurts the middle class, and further entrenches more wealth at the top.
3. They are the lone agency for middle class workers.
And that's my next point, really. Even if you dislike unions, you can agree with me on two things:
(a.) The wealthier you are, the better represented you are in terms of lobbying and interest groups. There are any number of interest groups that fight specifically on the behalf of people who have more resources, run businesses, are wealthy. The poor have always been underrepresented, there is no Big Poverty influencing the actions of Washington, DC, or any statehouse for that matter.
If there were ever a Big Middle Class, however, it's unions. That's Point (b.).
(b.) There is no more effective organization specifically geared at representing the interests of middle and lower class workers than unions. Which of course is the real reason why employers, who otherwise would face only nominal opposition in their ability to raise money and influence politics, despise them so much.
Unions are incredibly effective at raising funds and turning out political participation among their members. If they were to be wiped from existence -- what existing organization could possibly take their place?
America is America because of middle class workers. Broader than that: a healthy middle class is critical to any society's ability to thrive. Take unions away, or at least largely defang them, and you risk a political system with hardly any serious support for the most important element of society.