Sunday, December 04, 2005

Problem: Are Unions Even Helpful Today?

News Item: GM, unions agree to cut back benefits

Things are tough for workers today, and are bound to get tougher. More and more, benefit companies are increasing their costs to cut out more and more workers, and companies are loading more of the benefits costs on the remaining workers who have them. 401K are becoming more and more the retirement benefit of choice, and that's when the company becomes generous (which is "becoming harder and harder for them to do"). Temporary workers have long become the largest group of workers (Manpower "hires" more people than any other company in the United States).

Since August 5th, 1981, unions have been playing a defensive struggle, often punctuated by strong, radical actions by corporations to clear them from their workforce. Worse, where Unions have remained reasonably strong have been in old-line, declining industries which have been unable to respond; or places where Management seems not to be as cruel towards their workers as they can get away with. There are exceptions, of course (UPS, Costco are the one that come to my mind) but they stand alone as such.

Also working against the union are the new markets in China and India, the United States Government's hellbent desire to open markets and export jobs to these two places, and the general defeatism of the workers' today. Not only that, but younger workers today have become used to the idea that they'll be jumping from job to job with little or no safety net should they be unable to finish that jump.

Could the union movement even make a dent in this?

Unions were created in an era of steady, settled work with men working for families and a social structure that worked to support and watch over neighbors. Todays it's as likely that a man or woman is working for himself or herself alone, the work is known to jump around (if it doesn't run overseas) and neighborhoods are less a cohesive whole and more a number of families who happen to pay taxes (and complain about it) for a specific street/governing unit.

Under these conditions, can unions even exist? Necessary, more so; but can they come about in a society where the only things able to work as a whole are corporatistas and their allies?

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