Is it possible that in social change progress, that concepts or social revolutions can become obsolete? Modes of governance become obsolete, the language we have with one another becomes obsolete, and traditions such as a military service tradition becomes obsolete. But what if not the mode of governance becomes obsolete, but the idea that the mode of governance is obsolete…is in fact obsolete. Or, rather, what if the social revolution of language which rendered prior language styles obsolete, becomes obsolete itself for one reason or another. Whether it be a return to past ideas, an advancement on present or historical concepts, etc. I want to question what we consider to be our refined methods. Indeed, I will use the case of Unions to show what I feel is a response to the times, in contrast to what was considered an advancement of society. It is my hope that by the conclusion, we can see that what we have established is not necessarily better or true, but rather can and likely will be superseded by better systems/ideas.
Unions: to what end
Unions were organized to alleviate a real concern and even epidemic. The industrialization of America came with unforeseen consequences such as extreme labor conditions, minimal pay, and so on; a race to the greatest production, essentially, with the lowest cost to build empires. Before unions, there was little any individual, or even disgruntled team could do to improve conditions. When Unions were first organized, they usually ended in failure. a famous example is a group known as Red Necks. Originally Rednecks were coal miners who formed a union for better working conditions and pay. They got their name from red bandanas tied around their necks. When they went on strike, a battle ensued and many were killed.
Fortunately, Unions would not have to settle for long with continuous failures. The idea behind Unions, to assemble under a governing body to act as a force together against oppression, came together when Unions formed coalitions and finally saw success under such foundation. By all means, this sounds extremely American. At play are multiple aspects of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. Unions very much saved lives, generated never-before-seen opportunity, and so on. So this being a good thing, why aren’t we all excited to be part of a Union and exercise our 1st amendment rights? Of course, but we must ask, are those 1st amendment rights accomplishing the original goals?
Nearly all unions (which use to be numbering in the hundreds) have merged into the two major unions, the AFL-CIO and the CTW. If we examine the “Mission and Vision” of the AFL-CIO (the super-power of unions if you will), we can see that not much has changed in their purpose:
The AFL-CIO envisions a future in which work and all people who work are valued, respected and rewarded. While the AFL-CIO represents millions of working people who belong to unions and have the benefits of union membership, the labor federation embraces all people who share the common bond of work.
They also describe the general purpose of Unions this way (emphasis added):
Unions are about a simple proposition: By joining together, working women and men gain strength in numbers so they can have a voice at work about what they care about. They negotiate a contract with their employer for things like a fair and safe workplace, better wages, a secure retirement and family-friendly policies such as paid sick leave and scheduling hours. They have a voice in how their jobs get done, creating a more stable, productive workforce that provides better services and products.
With these things in mind, we need to put some of these ideas to the test. First we’ll take a look at the actual progress of these claims, and then we will examine possible new methods for achieving the same purpose that have made the Union methods obsolete and now…as some might believe, an obstacle.
The Impact of Unions
Of course, originally there was a huge difference made by unions (after the rough times getting things rolling). But has that been maintained over time? Are Unions proving to be just as relevant? I’ve assembled some data thanks to a number of sources including the U.S. Census, Statemaster.org, etc. (see links at top of page). The data shows by state, the correlation via scatter plot or bar graphs the relationship between union participation in each state and variables that I felt fit the missions and values of unions and the AFL-CIO. A simple gallery of these charts are below. Take a look and see if you can draw any correlations.
As the AFL-CIO show in their own charts (bottom of page), the median income is actually increased for those who are members of Unions. It’s important to note, however, that the data that the AFL-CIO also shows (table 3) that this is not true for all professionals. Many careers are actually higher paying to those outside of unions. Therefore it would appear that unions are quite useful in some fields. You’ll note, however, that in all other comparisons, I could not find any other similar correlations. Therefore, statistically, in my amateur research, increase in wages is all I could find proof for. However, other considerations may be efforts in equal opportunity employment (EOE), working hours, length of stay in a single job, etc.
The Future of Unions
Though it is of course difficult to say what the economic climate will be a number of years down the road, let alone what kinds of jobs will be available, Unions I feel have to take a serious look at their future and what they really want to accomplish.
I would conjecture that if the missions of Unions aren’t adjusted to different demands, they will be made obsolete. Why? Well let’s think about the purposes of unions again. If a Union is to assemble under and organized body for the rights of all workers, for example, I question the usefulness of such a venue when present culture due to internet technology has developed into a much more vocal and willing force for many causes. The Occupy movement, though populated at times by unions, and supported by the AFL-CIO (see website), was largely organized at a whim, and thanks to easily accessible technology. The AFL-CIO has moved to very political aspirations, another venue which…as seen in recent elections, are dominated by communication between individuals as the American people rely less on the “big guys”. They are filling an unnecessary role and alienating groups that could benefit from certain union benefits in the process.
The internet and other similar communication technologies can also make it far simpler for negative opinions to be revealed to the public about working conditions and so forth of any given company/organization. Therefore the prospective employee can have a very good idea of what an employer has to offer or of former employee’s past experiences, and therefore pick a different employer if the benefits and so forth are not up to par. The tables are suddenly turned in this generation. Employers today realize that with good workers, they can do so much more. To get good workers, however, they also realize that prospective, smart employees can know more now and can be more “picky”.
So what then? What will Unions do? I would recommend that Unions persist, but rather focus on some other missions that are being pursued, but not at the forefront of Union efforts. For example, worker training could be a high priority. Helping prospective employees gain new skills, do their jobs better, so on and so forth, will make them a better competitor in the job market. Further, they talk about helping employees make the work place more efficient. OSHA already has the job of making it safe. Unions on the other hand, can encourage making the optimal worker. Doing so will put employees in a better place to be promoted. The idea here is to make union membership about bettering yourself, not rising up. The rising up was successful, and now an annoyance at times. Through training, education, skill building, and so on, through Unions…union dues would be about creating a competitive you. Do you agree?