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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Discussions About Orson Scott Card » Why Union Leaders Are Trying to Destroy Themselves

   
Author Topic: Why Union Leaders Are Trying to Destroy Themselves
BlackBlade
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The essay is linked on the front page but I was very pleased with it. Per usual I can't say everything was picture perfect, but I thought the general idea was well outlined and explained and I agree very much with the concept of the pendulum that swings between corporate abuse, and union irresponsibility.

His comments on "economic damage" were also quite apt. I wholeheartedly agree that while technically speaking minimum wages "damage" the economy it's a trade off for other benefits which are unquestionably important, like basic human decency. I know what it's like to work a job where they can fire you without just cause and suffer absolutely no repercussions. But Mr. Card is absolutely right that when unions finally break the will of management they too become corrupted with power.

I'm not entirely sure how you break the cycle, but I agree removing the secret ballot is a terrible idea.

I'm still thinking about his statements regarding feminism and same sex marriage having already acquired all the meaningful and major victories and to keep pushing only risks a backlash.

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Synesthesia
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Once again I should avoid reading that dude's columns because they just make me feel cranky. You can drink the most wimpiest wine every time he says something about the evils of liberals and get totally drunk.
What does he mean by thinking they have all of the major victories? Probably not yet. There's quite a few gays who are anti-gay marriage, but many want it for practical reasons like having and adopting children, or just basic things like visiting a spouse.
It's like saying that blacks wanting equality would lead to a backlash so they'd have to wait when they were already waiting for centuries, so how is that fair?
I don't buy that a whole group of people has to be denied rights for the sake of keeping things stable.

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Orincoro
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"If you aren't an outspoken radical Leftist, don't bother running for office in an American teachers union."

My uncle is a former campaign manager for a prominent Republican California Senator, a conservative, and president of his public school teacher's union. So, yeah, it's an anecdote, but OSC's distortions and hyperbole grate even harder when the very first example that leaps to your mind totally contradicts his confident assertions. People are human, even liberals. Give us a break.

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Lyrhawn
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I have mixed feelings on Card's essay. The history of labor unions is extremely complicated. The sort of work slowdowns that he's complaining about aren't cut and dry. Historically, they were a response to management attempting to force larger work loads onto employees who were unable to keep up with ridiculous demands. A lot of this began in the 20s and 30s, but continued right on into the 60s. As for the government being on the side of workers...well, I'd tell OSC to take a look at the Taft-Hartley Act, which gutted a lot of the power unions gained from the Wagner Act in the 30s. I'm doing my research right now on the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959 which was aimed at destroying corruption in the unions, and at ensuring union democracy, and it's very plain to see that unions like the Teamsters, the UMW and some other craft unions were tyrannical in their control of the rank and file. The UAW was actually the good team until the 80s when they entered into a shortsighted unholy alliance with the Big Three management, but during the 60s, the UAW actually offered to take PAY CUTS if the Big Three would build smaller more efficient cars to combat the rise of popular imports. They might have shot themselves in the foot in the 80s and 90s with the insane deals they made, but that's actually relatively recent.

Again, it's a long and complicated history, and I think he's actually got the gist of a lot of it, but not all of it.

As for the stuff on feminism and gay rights, well, I think he's off the mark. Unions never got everything they wanted, and even after they got most of it in the 30s and 40s, they lost a great deal of it after WWII, and were under constant siege from Red Scare attacks and anti-labor forces in the government, to say nothing of global forces that eroded their membership base from below. As for the others, women still make less than men in a great many positions, even taking into account those who choose to interrupt their careers to have babies. Women face severe cultural stigmas leftover from the last two or three generations that we've really only started to combat in the last decade or two. As for gay rights...gays in the military, anti-discrimination laws, gay marriage, adoption laws, etc...how exactly is their fight over? Just because it isn't illegal to be gay anymore doesn't mean it's over. Following that logic, blacks should have given up after the Civil War amendments were passed. Damn those uppity gays!

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Geraine
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Except "Gay" is not a race, it is a lifestyle. Don't confuse the two.

Polygamy, incest, bestiality, monogomy, are all lifestyles. Some are socially acceptable, some are not. In the past fifty years the homosexual lifestyle has become more socially accepted. That's all. In another two hundred years, who knows what will be considered acceptable?

On that same token, if marriage rights are given to homosexual couples, it could be argued that those of other alternative should be allowed the same rights.

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Synesthesia
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Stop that. That's annoying on several levels.
Putting being gay in the same catergory as incest and bestiality and polygamy is a bit irritating... No, I understate. It's extremely irritating!
And stop with the slipery slop arguments. I HATE slippery slope arguments. Just because two men or two women who are old enough and mature enough to marry are allowed to it doesn't mean that people will marry their children or their dogs or whatever.
So, kindly cut that out!
Plus to most people who ARE gay, being gay is part of who they are.

quote:
Originally posted by Geraine:
Except "Gay" is not a race, it is a lifestyle. Don't confuse the two.

Polygamy, incest, bestiality, monogomy, are all lifestyles. Some are socially acceptable, some are not. In the past fifty years the homosexual lifestyle has become more socially accepted. That's all. In another two hundred years, who knows what will be considered acceptable?

On that same token, if marriage rights are given to homosexual couples, it could be argued that those of other alternative should be allowed the same rights.


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vonk
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So... this thread isn't complaining about the northern aggressors?
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Lyrhawn
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Hey, we didn't attack Ft. Sumter.

[ October 13, 2009, 10:00 PM: Message edited by: Lyrhawn ]

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vonk
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Y'all just took up residence in our house.
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Lyrhawn
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In what sense? Your house was our house before you threw a temper tantrum. I guess Lincoln was right.
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vonk
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About a lot of things I'm sure. The house in question was/is in S. Carolina. Our house. [Smile]
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Lyrhawn
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I was speaking of the broader house; America.

(by the by, I absolutely love South Carolina, and it's my dream to one day retire and live in Charleston)

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Sean Monahan
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Can anyone recommend a good book on the history of labor unions in the United States?
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vonk
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And therein, as the bard would tell us, lies the rub. Not all of us consider the broader house the House.

(I love S. Carolina too. I think I could die in Savanna.)

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Magson
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Erm.... Savannah is in Georgia. Admittedly just across the river from SC, but..... [Razz]
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Sean Monahan:
Can anyone recommend a good book on the history of labor unions in the United States?

Do you have any specific interest, or do you just want a general history going from the 1850s to now?

I have probably two dozen books on labor unions, maybe three dozen, all of which come at it from a slightly different angle, and none of which I think merely give a broad overview. Frankly, I think you lose too many details in such a broad overview to really appreciate the evolution of the labor movement, but that's a personal opinion.

I've become a little obsessed with the subject since last winter when we covered it in our Gilded Age history class, so I took a labor history class over the summer, and now I'm working on a research project related to labor law specifically. I had the good fortune to raid one of my professor's personal libraries upon his retirement and I picked up a lot of books on labor, as well has having to purchase quite a few for my summer class, so I might be able to steer you in a good general direction. I also have a mix of historical and journalistic books, depending on which style you prefer (some people prefer the relative ease of a journalist over the potential dryness of an historian).

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Sean Monahan
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I'm just looking for a general history, in particular how and why they started, and how they have evolved over time. I've never worked for or been a member of a union, and it's a subject I don't know much about. I would prefer a historical book; the dryness wouldn't bother me.
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Lyrhawn
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I'll get back to you tomorrow, I'm sure I can come up with something. Keep in mind though that the historiography of American unions is sort of complicated.

Labor historians for a long time focused on the conflict between labor and management, and in the last twenty years or so have switched to the conflict between unions themselves, or between members within unions. I'd argue that at various times in history it has made more sense to focus on one over the others, but it really depends on the time period.

In general though, I think you'll find that for the first 60 years or so, it was primarily a conflict between labor and management, and then morphed, starting somewhere around World War I, into a battlefield where it was blacks vs. whites, men vs. women, labor vs. management, labor vs. labor, rank and file vs. union leaders, unions vs. government, government vs. management and so on. It's an incredibly complex picture starting around the 1910s.

Check back tomorrow.

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Rakeesh
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I'd be interested to hear of a time when management and owners grouped together with the purpose of raising prices and wages with altruistic motives in mind. I know a bit about unions (bit better than layman's knowledge of the history, being in one myself), and I can't recall any such times.
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
I'd be interested to hear of a time when management and owners grouped together with the purpose of raising prices and wages with altruistic motives in mind. I know a bit about unions (bit better than layman's knowledge of the history, being in one myself), and I can't recall any such times.

With altruistic motives? Short of an owner actually releasing some sort of statement of intent, from a methodological standpoint, proving altruistic intent is extremely difficult. I can't think of any big examples off the top of my head either. Generally, owners who did offer high wages did it for their own good, not for the good of their employees. They either wanted to attract talented individuals, or in the case of Henry Ford, wanted to both engender trust in the company from his workers, and to create a bunch of car buyers who he could in turn make money off of.

A lot of people condemn supposed philanthropists like Carnegie and Rockefeller for spending their vast fortunes on things that the average worker either didn't have the money or the time to enjoy, instead of simply returning that money to the workers in the form of higher wages.

Really though, there are probably several instances where management and owners (especially when they were one in the same) did in fact altruistically offer benefits or wage increases to their workers. Off the top of my head, read a book called "Mollie's Job" or at least the first section of it. It follows the course of a job that began in New Jersey (for some reason, New Jersey, Chicago and Detroit seem to take up the bulk of labor geography in studies I read), was moved to the south for cheaper wages, and then eventually to Mexico. It spends a fair a mount of time talking about the evils and inefficiencies of corporate mergers as well, which I found interesting. Anyway, back to the point, Mollie worked for a company that made components for electrical devices, radios I think, and the business was in many ways a miniature community. The owner and boss treated his workers like family (mostly because many of them WERE in fact extended family), and was very generous in wage increases, time off, help when times were hard, etc.

If you can't find a lot of examples, it's probably because you only really find that sort of thing in small businesses with tight knit workers, and in depth studies of those kinds of businesses aren't numerous yet, it's also difficult when 1. Many of them are bought out by corporations who refuse to release records to historians, and 2. When unions get involved. In Mollie's case, the union probably did more harm than good. They got into fights with competing unions, wasting union dues on turf battles instead of on workers' issues, and really, they didn't even want to unionize. They were perfectly happy working as they had for years under their boss, who was genuinely a good man, and furthermore, a successful man. They were forced to unionize because the workers at the company that assembled the electrical devices refused to work if the parts they assembled came from non-union labor, which left management in a position where it actually had to force its workers to unionize in order to continue selling their product.

Anyway, if you want big ticket examples, like Standard Oil or Ford, you aren't likely to find them because I'd be surprised if any exist. If you want small ticket items, like a small business employing a 100 workers, you aren't likely to find it because doing that sort of study is incredibly time consuming, and that's assuming the documents and resources you'd need to do the study actually exist at all. But I wouldn't be surprised if altruism, if genuine concern for the well being of their workers, was at the heart of a lot of smaller businesses actions, at least up to the 60s and 70s, before manufacturing was gutted.

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Rakeesh
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That's one reason I'd be interested to hear of such a time, Lyrhawn-difficulty in proving intent doesn't appear to have stopped Card from suggesting it exists, though.
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The Rabbit
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quote:
His comments on "economic damage" were also quite apt. I wholeheartedly agree that while technically speaking minimum wages "damage" the economy it's a trade off for other benefits which are unquestionably important, like basic human decency.
It seems that nearly everyone accepts the premise that raising the minimum wage "damages the economy" in one way or another. But the data does not support this conclusion. There have been dozens of studies on the subject and while some studies did find adverse affects in some cases on specific economic factors, the overall body of evidence does not indicate that modest increases in minimum wage damage the economy.

The hypothesis that raising the minimum wage causes a decrease in teen employment is simple not supported by the data.

The hypothesis that raising the minimum wage is harmful to small business, is not supported by the data.

I'm sure there are individual cases where a small business has gone under because of hike in the minimum wage. I'm sure there are individual cases where a teenager lost a job because of an increase in the minimum wage, but if you look at the whole picture -- raising the minimum wage does not have a statistically significant adverse impact on the economy.

What is, however, evident is that the minimum wage tends to be raised in circumstance where labor has more power, whether that is through the electoral process, organized unions or simply supply and demand. Its also quite evident from the data that when labor power is diminished, the fraction of economic growth which is returned to the workers decreases steadily. Over the last 30 years in the US, economic productivity has grown at roughly 4 times the rate of the median income. There are a lot of counterintuitive forces at work. When employers are required to pay employees more, they are more likely to invest in training those employees properly and are more likely to work to retain good workers.

While I agree that unions are often short sited and have at times been harmful, overall labor power has lead to enormous improvements in working conditions and worker compensation. Labor unions in this country created the middle class and the decline in labor power has resulted in an economy where the rich get richer and workers barely hold their ground.

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