The root of our problems can be found in the past. The beginnings of the solutions we need lie in our future.
The general decline of American unions in recent decades is partially the result of their success in resolving problems for workers in ways that do not require continuing union effort. In the last forty years there has been a steady decline in union membership. Several reasons for the decline exist, employers are keeping their business union-free by actively opposing unions by going so far as to employ union busting consultants reminiscent of the Pinkertons of the late 19th and early 20th century hired to infiltrate and violently destroy unionization efforts. Secondly new additions to the labor force have little loyalty to labor organizations and settle for lower wages. Thirdly, the most important reason for the decline in unions they are victims of their own success.
The erosion of the unions is already well underway. Unionization of private workers is only 20% of what it was in the 1950s when more than 35% of workers were union members according to
current labor statistics. Right to work legislation is the sledgehammer that threatens to hobble collective bargaining for years to come.
Once workers prosper enough to buy homes and to benefit in other ways from the current level of economic development, they may have so much to lose from revolutionary action they cease to be revolutionaries.
If others are cooperating for the mutual benefit and I benefit from their cooperation, don’t I have an obligation to do my share? What if everybody failed to vote? What if everybody chose to free ride on the voting of others? Local elections in the US often turn out far less than half the eligible
citizens and presidential elections turn out a bit more than half. What does that say about our Republic and its citizenry. What becomes of the so called, ‘Will of the People?”
Non-right to work states do not force employees to unionize, that is prevented by federal law. Free riders benefit from higher wages and job protections without paying costs of collective bargaining and reduces the union’s bargaining strength which results in lower wages and benefits.
Jimmy Hoffa, the president of the Teamsters has said that proponents of right to work are waging a “war on workers, and Martin Luther King called right to work is a “false slogan” and the law, “robs us of our civil rights and job rights.”
If a person receives all the benefits of a service regardless of whether they pay for it, why would they even pay? Once everyone decides they don’t want to pay, the service will cease to exist. If the union is required to provide services without getting paid that is essentially outlawing unions.
If my career of choice was robbery, I am dependent upon the law abiding collective to produce goods that I could potentially pilfer. My malfeasance in this paradox is a free rider reliant on the honesty and integrity of the collective.
The Supreme Court’s pending decision in the case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association could be the death knell for organized labor by making it possible for more workers to opt out of paying union dues. Reducing the financial muscle of public sector unions lessens the power of grassroots advocacy and organizing, which increases the likelihood of privatization of various public services. Fewer protections for government workers means a reduction of government programs many take for granted. A reduction in government programs is a reduction in our quality of life.
The recent symbolic triumph of the West Virginia teachers’ strike is a shot in the arm for the labor movement. It is proof that organized labor still has clout despite political efforts to undermine the ability to organize and collectively bargaining. Empowerment through solidarity may start small but becomes infectious and the anti-union factions have taken notice. The positive results are a lesson in persistence.
“Power concedes nothing without demands.”