L. Neil Smith's
Number 346, November 20, 2005

"If you can't beat 'em... join 'em"

Unions Divided
by Lady Liberty

Special to TLE

Election commercials have been everywhere on TV and radio these past weeks. I've frankly been ignoring most of them. But one I heard just prior to election day really caught my attention.

The radio spot urged people to "honor what our ancestors died for." Now, I'm thinking it's some "defeat this amendment" or "say no to new taxes" message, at least loosely connected to freedom and less government, both things of which I happen to wholeheartedly approve. But no, apparently what our ancestors fought and died for was to join a union. Yes, a union. And the commercial melodramatically went on to say that we should join a union "before we lose the right" to do so. Huh?

It's entirely true that unions are in trouble. Back in 2001, the World Socialist web site took note that union membership in the US was at its lowest level in 60 years. Since then, things haven't markedly changed. In a November 4, 2005 article, The Labor Research Association writes that, "Although high ongoing unemployment in a number of industries has depleted union membership and pushed the unionization rate down to record lows, job losses in heavily unionized sectors do not account for the decline in union membership since the 2001 recession."

I personally suspect that the reason unions are having trouble getting more members is because unions are trouble. Well, at least they are for those of us who aren't convinced that collectivism is a good idea. And unions are exactly that: collectivism. In fact, that commercial I mentioned earlier actually acknowledged, and even bragged that—and I quote—unions are "collectivism in action."

Collectivism is typically not a very good idea, via unions or otherwise, but unions don't see it that way (just ask the workers in the former Soviet Union how they feel about collectivism if you have any doubts). Their wielding of strength in numbers admittedly accomplished some good things, but in recent years have done actual harm.

It is union collectivism, for example, that has contributed to the dire straits of the US automobile industry. Certainly, corporate greed and hubris has played no small role in some of the current problems that are threatening automakers and parts manufacturers. But at the same time, when companies have begged to hold salaries down, unions have demanded raises. When manufacturers have pleaded for employee cross-training (and I know about this one from personal experience), unions have refused, preferring workers stand and do nothing as long as there are more of them doing it than would be needed to actually get the job done if everyone pitched in.

It is union collectivism that is largely responsible for the state of affairs in our schools today. Teachers must be union members, and the union exerts an iron control over its membership. Dues, like those of most other unions, are compulsory; and what is done with that money is often well beyond any control by those contributing the funds. In exchange for membership, it's the union that ensures bad teachers can't be fired, at least not easily; and it's the unions that have developed curriculums that encourage self esteem over real learning and who then balk when the government attempts to raise teaching—and thence learning—standards.

If you try to go against the union, you're not going to have a whole lot of luck. Corporations that have tried it have been subjected to strikes; individuals that have tried it have all too often been harassed at best. Members of management (and again, I have some personal knowledge here) have been threatened by union members who include in tirades the fact that the union will protect them from retaliation, including reasonable punishments for jobs badly done, for incompetence, or for those aforementioned threats.

It's union collectivism that is responsible for extorting money from members to support politics individuals may not only not support, but actively oppose. While unions are supposed to have at least some sensitivity to members in the political arena, that all too often doesn't happen. For example, a teacher in Ohio who opposes abortion on religious grounds was well within her rights to ask that the portion of her dues that goes to fund pro-abortion groups be given instead to the American Cancer Society. Though she eventually got her way, it took her a year and a half, during which time she endured name-calling and worse, to get what was supposed to have been quite simply and rightly her prerogative!

The state of California has taken matters into its own hands with Proposition 75. Among other things, 75 would ensure that unions get the permission of members to use dues dollars for political purposes. The unions have been, needless to say, fighting Prop 75 tooth and nail. As I write this, most believe that 75 will go down to defeat. While it may not be the ideal solution (the measure does have its flaws), it's telling both that the measure was crafted in the first place, and that so many are fighting so hard to see it defeated.

Unions are not going to suddenly disappear. But they may have to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. If they continue on their present course, we'll see other states pen their own versions of Prop 75. We'll see more and more manufacturers relocate business outside the US when unions refuse to give an inch and tighten their belts along with the rest of the company. And we'll continue to see the once heroic unions garnering ever decreasing support and respect from members and non-members alike.

There is, of course, an obvious correlation between labor unions and the biggest union we've got in this country: the union of the fifty United States. Just as labor unions are collectivist, so would some have the union of states be collective. And unfortunately, just as there is coercion in union membership and dues, there has grown to be coercion in the larger union as well. Consider:

  • REAL ID—the measure that has established a de facto national ID card—is "voluntary." But those citizens who don't comply won't be able to get on an airplane, enter a federal facility of any kind, open a bank account, or get a job. Suddenly, "voluntary" is a little bit less so! Meanwhile, those states that object due to the massive increase in funding and personnel that will be needed will be "forced" into compliance by the massive outcry of residents who want to fly and work.

  • Medical marijuana is arguably the single most effective and inexpensive treatment for several debilitating problems including nausea (such as that experienced due to chemotherapy), appetite enhancement (many AIDS patients, for example, lose their appetite and exacerbate their health problems as a result), and glaucoma. Some states have recognized these facts. But the federal government has stepped in and enforced anti-drug laws based on the government's responsibilities for interstate commerce despite knowing full well that the marijuana involved has been grown locally and never crossed state lines.

  • Some in Congress are determined to nationalize health care, turning our entire medical system into a giant pool of collectivism. Canada also thinks nationalized health care is a good idea. The medical system there has been in trouble ever since. Closer to home, the state of Tennessee gave it a shot (in fact, Tennessee's health care plan was in many ways similar to the one proposed early in the Clinton administration by a committee led by Hillary Clinton) which has resulted in a fiasco and the loss of health care all together for many of the most needy.

  • Let's not even discuss the coercive "dues" paid by Americans. The last person to do that just got convicted last month...

Certainly, there are many arenas in the federal government that have a good deal of room for reform. But perhaps the ultimate reform of all is precisely the same thing I'd suggest for union reform, and that is this: Mind your own business. Be aware of your limitations and abide by them. Stop micromanaging people's lives on or off the job. Most importantly of all, take note of the rules under which you were chartered. Stop modifying them for the circumstances, and work within them as intended.

As unions pay for advertising in a desperate attempt to make themselves relevant again, Congress passes more laws in an effort to squeeze more power out of a position that long ago usurped far more power than that to which it is entitled. As unions lament the decrease in membership, the government decries the lack of respect it's getting from within and without the country. And neither of them seem to have a clue how to fix it. For two entities that once had such vision, that blind spot is ironic indeed.


Union membership in US at lowest level in 60 years

Union Members Hit Harder By Job Loss Numbers

Teacher wins battle against union over abortion funding

Proposition 75

Paycheck Protection Racket

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