Monday, September 07, 2009

Union Maid

I'm lazy today but I seem to have a tradition of having labor day posts, so I'm outsourcing this one to the Guthrie family.

And yeah, before people chime in to tell me how horrible unions are, let's remember who gave us the weekend, the eight-hour day, child labor laws, and work-safety laws. To be sure, they also did their part in contributing to the decadence of American industry.

8 comments:

TGGP said...

I don't approve of any of those laws.

mtraven said...

Well, you aren't in charge, are you?

Labor is (or was) a political force, a movement, which used its power to get these laws passed. If you don't like them, feel free to try to change them.

Michael said...

Perhaps worth comment is that Samuel Gompers, the founder of the A.F. of L., opposed legislation requiring an 8-hour day, payment of overtime at a penalty rate, etc. He believed that such benefits should be obtained through collective bargaining, and that if government were to mandate them for all workers, what reason would there be for joining a union? History has mostly vindicated his analysis, as the percentage of workers that are union members has dropped to an all-time low.

After the basic desiderata of organized labor were legislatively mandated for all, whether union members or not, all that unions could do to justify their existence was to demand more and more uneconomical benefits for their members, such as GM's "jobs bank," in which superfluous workers were paid 80% of their full-time wage even though idle. Such unreasonable conditions put unionized companies at a disadvantage, killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Gompers once said that "the worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit." The failure of subsequent union leaders to understand this has destroyed many of their members' jobs.

As for "worker safety laws," long before OSHA was a twinkling in its framers' eyes, workers' compensation insurance did most of the heavy lifting in getting rid of unsafe conditions in the workplace. How? By underwriting insurance not only on the basis of the risks associated with particular trades, but also on the safety records of particular employers, it translated the risk to which their employees were exposed into a measurable operating cost, one which was markedly reduced for employers with smaller claims histories ("experience ratings").

Both employers and employees gained advantage from the advent of workers' compensation insurance, which did away with the uncertainty of the former 'doctrine of fellow servant' under the common law of torts, and replaced it with the first widespread 'no-fault' insurance coverage. Workers' comp represented a compromise between the interests of business owners and those of their employees, and it is not an achievement that can be attributed particularly to organized labor.

TGGP said...

Remember, before people chime in to tell me how horrible Bolsheviks are, let's remember who liquidated the kulaks.

Bolshevism is a political force, a movement, which used its power to liquidate the kulaks. If you don't like that, feel free to try to use your power to prevent that.

In case I forget when it comes around, happy October Revolution Day!

To be absolutely clear, I am not comparing magnitudes, only vectors, in this reductio/parody.

TGGP said...

Vectors is the wrong word without specifying that they are unit vectors only indicating direction. But I think you could have figured that out.

mtraven said...

Your math is confused. Are you trying to imply that unionism and Bolshevekism are vectors with the same direction but different magnitudes? Then they can't both be unit vectors.

I think you missed the point (not surprising, I was curt). Political change only happens with power; power only happens when people are willing to organize, work, and take risks for their beliefs. The labor movement consisted of people willing to do that; same for the Bolsheviks. Libertarians, for the most part, are people who sit and bitch and don't do anything; when they do act they generally serve as useful idiots for Republican statists. The magnitude of their political vector is close to zero.

But, feel free to work for your principles. You'll have to do better than flatly stating "I oppose x" though.

(nb: I stumbled upon this Libertarian Party Platform which calls for the "repeal of all taxation", a position which can only appeal to actual anarchists or stupid people).

TGGP said...

Political change only happens with power; power only happens when people are willing to organize, work, and take risks for their beliefs.
Agreed. I just think those who do seize power to accomplish anything are generally harmful. You used the accomplishments of unions as an argument against a hypothetical opponent of unions, which doesn't matter to a person who views those accomplishments negatively (not terribly surprising among those who think poorly of unions).

I don't work for my principles. I doubt any work I might do would accomplish anything (cue Patri Friedman on folk activism). I work for my employer, live for myself and leave others alone.

mtraven said...

I just think those who do seize power to accomplish anything are generally harmful.

Well, someone's going to have power. And those without will be looking for ways to get it.

You used the accomplishments of unions as an argument against a hypothetical opponent of unions, which doesn't matter to a person who views those accomplishments negatively (not terribly surprising among those who think poorly of unions).

Perhaps you are different, but most people who oppose unions (and are not of the rentier class) would really not be happy going back to a 19th century model of labor. In other words, they are ignorant both of history and their own interests. Joe the non-Plumber comes to mind as the archetype.

I don't work for my principles. I doubt any work I might do would accomplish anything (cue Patri Friedman on folk activism). I work for my employer, live for myself and leave others alone.

OK, then others will make the laws and wield the power.

But given that you spend a good deal of time blogging on political issues I have a feeling you are being disingenuous, or perhaps haven't fully integrated your values (to be fair, who among us has?)