Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Some mistakes that unions have made in the past. Could unions make a comeback?

I think unions kind of shot themselves in the food back in the 1970s and 80s. Now they have little clout, but could make a comeback. I remember when unions mostly cared about raising the wages of their members; like the auto workers, but didn't seem to care about workers outside the union. It was almost like the union was an exclusive club. Meanwhile, more and more workers fell through the cracks and weren't in a union. They fell through the cracks not having healthcare and so forth. Back in the 1980s, it seemed like it was hard to get into a union. I heard rumors that you almost had to have relatives in the union or some special in to get an apprenticeship in some of the local trade unions for becoming a plummer or electrician. This may be easier now as there is more o a shortage of skilled tradespeople.

Maybe a height of union hypocrisy was when the Air Controllers Union endorsed Reagan for President in 1980. Soon after that, they did go on strike and Reagan fired them. That was a famous issue, back in the early 1980s. My guess is, they regretted endorsing Reagan after he fired them. He fired them as part of his push to crack down on domestic spending and what he saw as out of control government employees. The Air Controllers may have had some legitimate grievances about working conditions, and so forth. I'm sure they regretted thinking Reagan would make an exception for them. Members of other unions, during that strike, ask "where were the Air Controllers when we needed you, back when you were endorsing Reagan?"

Unions need to be more than just exclusive clubs for their members if they want political success at the ballot box.

Another problem with unions was the rigid work schedules and lack of adjustment to the needs of part time workers. Lack of flexibility. A big problem for transit systems where they need lots of bus drivers during the morning commute and less in mid day. Also a problem for individual workers who needed flexible schedules for other things outside the job like travel or schooling. Unions would worry that allowing for flexibility would make it easier for employers to cut back on people's hours, thus cutting their livelihood.

I think union thinking has improved over recent years, but their power base is diminished. What's left of unions, today, are doing more to support all workers by caring about things like universal healthcare and minimum wage. Caring more for people beyond just the members of the union, but it's a bit late. Union influence has declined, but could it make a comeback?

These things I wrote on Facebook after listening to this segment of On Point. Unemployment Down, Wages Stagnant, Retirement Difficult: An Economic Survey.

Wages still lagging behind the economic recovery, tho they may be picking up slightly. Why is the trend toward economic growth not reflected in wages? This interview on WBUR's On Point Radio presents a few ideas, but not my own idea. I'll mention some of the ideas and my own idea in comments. Each of the ideas is valid in its own way. The interview blamed a lot of the decline in wages on the loss of unions over past decades.

Here's another idea I come up with that doesn't directly relate to unions.

One of many things effecting wages is how technology and globalization has put downward pressure on prices in many sectors, such as in journalism and food production. At the same time the value and cost of homes has skyrocketed. Low prices can mean abundance of things like food and crowd sourced journalism, but companies can't pay higher wages in those sectors if they can't sell their products for more. Meanwhile things like healthcare costs, go up. Wages for certain professions like lawyers and hospital executives go up and get out of line with the rest of society.

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