Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Great American Myth

Unions in America derive a portion of their power from the fact that blue collar works are the under dog in an under dog loving nation. While it is a fact that the blue collar worker is an underdog, that does not mean that their unions are always the underdog. In fact, it isn't unusual for unions to rival and exceed corporations for power.

I believe I've written about this before, but I also think it is timely to bring it up again. In the spring of 2007, I attended a conference where a former steel executive talked about raw material costs. In that speech, he got onto a side topic about how the steel industry let the unions become too strong, and how he saw the auto industry allowing the exact same thing to happen. He was right, but we too often confuse the worker for the union. We want the worker to have the best that is possible; that is, after all, the American Dream. Unfortunately, we fail to recognize that sometimes unions gain so much power over their respective industry that the workers' excellent compensation actually serves to undermine the entire industry. That is what the auto industry is confronting today.

Nature loves a balance, and so does labor relations. In the 19th century, we saw too often industry's power outstrip that of labor. We recognized that inequity, and unions did an admirable job of bringing things back into balance. Unfortunately, in numerous industries, the balance of power has shifted to the unions, and much like the corporate powers before them, they've abused it. What has resulted is a blue collar work force that is facing a much bleaker future than it would if a balance had been maintained. Power is a stronger motivation than even wealth, though, and as a result some unions have done a disservice to their members. Until the balance is restored, industries like the auto industry are un-fixable.

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