Monday, February 10, 2020

When labor unions shot themselves in the foot

I've often thought that unions led to their own demise, to some extent, back in the 1970's and 1980's. Back then, it seemed like the unions mostly just cared about their members working for a specific business. They would rise wages for Georgia Pacific employees, for instance, but didn't care that much about whether non unionized workers, say at a local restaurant, had access to healthcare. As less and less people were members of a union; members of a bargaining unit, the political constituency of union members dried up.

I remember when I heard, back in the recession days of the early 1980's, that one pretty much had to have a relative in a union to get an apprenticeship in the trades, such as in the plumbers union. They were trying to restrict entry into the trades to keep the wages of insiders up. Now days there is a very low percentage of the workforce; especially in private enterprise, that are in unions. Not that large of a constituency for political power in society as a whole anymore.

Now it's a different situation. I hear that there is a shortage people who do skilled trades. Entry into the field may be easier, now, but the unions have already lost their members and their political clout. These days, more of the economy is self employed, like Uber Drivers. Activism needs to look at the big picture and push for things like universal access to healthcare.

To address these problems, I think we really need to look at the big picture. Support things like healthcare access. Obamacare is an attempt at that. Also support things like affordable housing. Things that bring up all people rather than just certain union members or segments of the population. These days, it does seem like what is left of the unions is doing better at advocating the larger political issues rather than just concerned with the financial well being of their own members. Bottom line really should be quality of life and sustainability of the environment rather than just "how much can I get for my people;" so to speak.

Interesting article, related to labor unions, I saw a few weeks ago; published in 2011. 30 years ago: the day the middle class died.

Now it's nearly 40 years ago when PATCO (air controllers union) lost their battle with President Reagan. They went on strike and he fired them. Ironically, the PATCO union endorsed Reagan for president in 1980 in spite of Reagan's campaign rhetoric to cut government spending. The air controllers were government employees. They must have thought he would have made a special exception for them, but he did stand his ground and fired them in spite of their earlier endorsement of him. That endorsement was definitely a tactical mistake that even other unions didn't do.

I think it was a case of putting self interest over the big picture. I do remember that they were not just asking for more money, but better working conditions. Better working environment for air controllers equals safer situation for flying public. Some laudable goals, but they did pretty much loose it all. Endorsing Reagan, not long before that, was a bad idea. I wonder what they were thinking? They cut off the limb they were standing on. They endorsed Reagan, yet they were government workers. He was campaigning against government workers in general.

Now, many years later, this news situation is often seen as a watershed in history. My take on it is an example of self interest versus looking at the big picture.