^ of course low-paid, at will employees are scared and organizing. Wouldn’t you ?

—- —- —-

The current presidential campaign makes clear to all of us why unions are important and, in most cases, a social plus as well as an economic one.

Wage employees have every reason to worry about job security. Most are very replacable — those who are hard to replace can negotiate an individual contract and thereby acquire well protected rights. Replaceable workers, however, have no such bargain chip. Without the contract protection afforded them only by a union, most can be fired at any time. In law they’re called “at will employees.” and the will involved is the manager’s, not the worker’s.

At-will work is bad work by any standard. What good comes of work done by employees harassed, insecure, distracted, paid little, given no rights ? Those who advocate at-will work see workers wrongly, as a burden and a cost; whereas in fact workers are an enterprise’s most valuable assets.

At-will work is the goal, however, of the hedge speculators who today treat firms as trading blocks.

The existence of this threat is why replaceable workers try to act as a group, by organizing a union, whose leadership then negotiations job terms on behalf of all. Is the power accorded to replaceable workers by unions burdensome for employers ? Some think it is; but why ? I do0n’t think it’s hard to find the reason. Today’s large enterprises — unions only make sense at large ones — are often owned, or pressured, by short term speculators looking yo squeeze value out of the business by various stock market mean and then move on.  Stock market pressures force managements to lay off employees wherever possible, in mergers especially, where the objective is to maximize standardization. Is it any wonder that workers at such enterprises worry about their jobs, their benefits, their pensions ?

Case in point : three or four months ago I saw a lot of angry support for Trump among workers here in Boston.l Then Hillary Clinton came to Faneuil hall and announced a huge, $ 550 billion infrastructure spending plan — a ton of great jobs for the Building Trades folks. Not a peep of worker support for Trump have I seen since.

If we had capitalism in our economy, rather than the current arbitrage dynamic, owners would create long term plans and hold to them, for years and years. Long term planning also places high value on worker retention — turnover is costly and a distraction. In a long-term capitalist economy, workers organized in a union have strong reason to accommodate to managements, as do the Auto Workers; as do the big unions of German big business.

That’s the easy part. Harder by far is the plight of the replaceable worker in an arbitrage economy. She never knows whether her job will still be hers or even if the company she works for will continue to exist. Hardest of all is the situation faced by a worker who has had a secure job in the capitalist economy we used to have, only to find that he now works at the mercy of his firm’s new, arbitrage owners. Of course he is frustrated and angry.

Such a worker has only two choices : one, to be angry and scared and to blame those he sees competing for his arbitraged job; or, second, to help organize a union. The first response is the way of Trump. The second is being done by retail and fast food workers, home health aides, airport workers, hotel workers, and laborers.

Union activists are angry, too; at least that is often how we the public sees them. They have to be, in order to get noticed; nice guy behavior doesn’t get management’s attention. However, as I see it, better by far the organized, confident anger of union members than the anarchic, scared anger of arbitraged non-union workers.

I also happen to believe that the outcome of union activity is better by far than the result of at-will work. Unions bargain much higher wages and benefits for their members than most employers accord to at-will hires. (There are exceptions, thank goodness.) And workers confident of their jobs and their earnings act and vote with much greater stability and discretion than the scared, insecure workers who have flocked to the professional wrestling-type braggadocio of Trump.

All of the above are why I generally support and encourage worker unionization. To which I take two exceptions only : first, most unions are not good at reform. They’re too invested in the hard-fought bargains made to take a chance on re-opening these for change. Second, unions sometimes do abuse their market power, and a few abuse their members. To the second of these, the NLRB has remedial enforcement powers. The first exception, we see happening with public worker unions, as these adjust — often badly — to major structural reforms that often become way overdue because of union resistance. But the fact of these two critiques does not override the larger fact : that well-run unions almost always strengthen a capitalist economy.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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