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Labor Unions and Capitalism?

  1. Jun 15, 2005 #1
    What is your opinion on Labor Unions' place in a Capitalist society?

    In my opinion, Labor Unions are a very Capitalist thing.

    If a group of workers is unionized, the self interest of all the members is generally fulfilled far better than if each worker attempted to get things like raises, shorter working hours and higher benefits on their own. To me, organized labor is simply a highly sucessful way of a certain group of workers all having their self interest fulfilled through power in numbers. If you can't get your self interest fulfilled by bargaining with your employer on your own, but you can get it fulfilled by organizing with your fellow workers, it's just another way to work for your own self interest.
     
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  3. Jun 15, 2005 #2

    Art

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    Unions had their place in history and can justifiably claim credit for many of the social advancements we enjoy today, employment law, mass-education, general health plans, safety in the work place etc. However as governments in the developed world have now taken all of these under their auspices I am not convinced of the need for unions in the modern workplace. This is reflected in their shrinking membership in many countries. Whereas before collective bargaining was seen as the norm in industrial relations it is now the exception. Ultimately workers have the choice to 'vote with their feet' or to take their case to court if they are unhappy with their employer which exerts the moderating influence which previously unions would have provided. I'm by no means anti-union I just see them as being less relevant and so having a greatly diminished role in most developed countries today.
     
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2005
  4. Jun 15, 2005 #3

    vanesch

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    If you want to see worker's unions at "work", come to France, and have your strike :-) If there's one thing this country has way too much, it's worker's unions!
     
  5. Jun 15, 2005 #4

    Art

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    And that's the danger today. As all the historic grievances are settled unions become absorbed with ensuring their own existence rather than improving the lot of their members. Strikes are the best way of letting people know they are still around and can wield power. British trade unions behaved exactly the same way as they went through their death throes back in the late 80s.
     
  6. Jun 15, 2005 #5
    Art, I realize that labor unions aren't nearly as powerful, prominant or necessary as they once were. That's probabally because they succeded in their goals, and as most workers are comfortable, the need for organized labor is dissapating. However, what I was trying to talk about was whether or not Labor Unions were truly Capitalist or Socialist.
     
  7. Jun 15, 2005 #6

    vanesch

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    Actually, I have the impression here that trade unions became a kind of powerful mafia who are organized about promoting the individual careers of their members (their ACTIVE members) ; here, being local union leader is often the start of a political career. And, as you say, making noise, and showing power is part of that career-making process.
     
  8. Jun 15, 2005 #7

    Pengwuino

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    I think they are immensly capitalist by definition (not versed enough in history to tell if they are in reality)... although i feel how it can be construed as a socialist thing. When i think of capitalism, I think of a company putting out a bad product and the people saying "no" to that copmany by not buying things and that company changing policy/recipe/manufactoring method or whatever. Labor unions in a sense, are a type of consumer and when they dont like whats going on, they can collectively say no and have the same impact as agroup of dissatisfied consumers. Both in effect, change the company to meet the supply and demand of the market and the labor union's demands of a sort of "supply" in the form of wages and what not from the company.
     
  9. Jun 15, 2005 #8

    arildno

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    It is worth remembering that it was forbidden in the Communist regimes to form independent labour unions (i.e, independent of the Communist party).
     
  10. Jun 15, 2005 #9

    vanesch

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    So workers in a worker's union make deals together to be above their individual market price. That's what a cartel is, no ? :tongue:
     
  11. Jun 15, 2005 #10

    Art

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    From my experience of trade unions, gained largely in Britain, their ideology would undoubtedly be socialist rather than capitalist even to the point where unions such as the NUM (National Miners' Union) led by Arthur Scargill called strikes by their members with no objective other than to bring down the conservative gov't of the time and to have a socialist labour gov't elected in it's stead. (They succeeded the first time with Ted Heath but failed disastrously when they tried again with Margaret Thatcher). That said, as with all bodies, corruption and self-interest ensured that many senior officials within the trade union movement became very wealthy during their tenure in the best traditions of capitalism. So in conclusion IMHO trade unions are socialist in conception but capitalist by 'human' nature.
     
  12. Jun 15, 2005 #11
    Who wouldn't want a better deal than they really should get though? The Unions are just out to get as good a deal as they can, which is quite a capitalist thing to me.
     
  13. Jun 15, 2005 #12
    This brings up an interesting link between Capitalism and Socialism.

    It's plainly obvious that lots of labor unions have/had Socialist ideology. Look at Eugene Debs for instance, labor leader and 5 times socialist party candidate for president.

    But if you look closely at the reason why many labor unions have Socialist ideology, it somehow becomes less clearly Socialist.

    Let's look at your example of the trade unions in England. They tried to topple conservative governments, governments that were not that sympathetic towards them, in favor of socialist ones, who would be more favorable to them. At first glance, it seems to be a plainly socialist effort.

    However, to me, it's just a tricky way of being good capitalists. If you detach yourself from the meaning of the word Conservative and Socialist, it becomes a bit clearer. Let's call a conservative government X and a Socialist government Y.

    The labor unions don't want X, becuase X doesn't support their interests. The labor unions wanted Y, because Y supported their interest.

    It seems to be a case of expression of rational self interest. A Socialist government will work with labor towards their goals, and a Conservative government will not work with labor towards their goals. The wants of the union are based firmly in capitalist ideology - the desire to have your self interest fulfilled, it just so happens that a group calling themselves Socialist was particualrly sympathetic towards the labor unions needs.
     
  14. Jun 15, 2005 #13

    arildno

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    And, what's wrong with that?
    There will emerge power structures in any society, and those on top of these structure will, in general, benefit more than those below.

    What ought to be the issue, is which power structures do we want to flourish, and which not.

    As long as I'm on top, everything is OK, I guess..:devil:
     
  15. Jun 15, 2005 #14

    Art

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    If unions only operated at company level this would be true but certainly in Britain they did not. They operated at a national level with national goals and agendas. You could be the best employer in the world and still have your workers called out on strike by their national union leadership as part of an action arising from issues which had absolutely nothing to do with your company and you could be picketted by workers from other unions who didn't work for you, not even indirectly. There were also several general strikes where every union member in the country was forced to participate. I say forced because Britain operated what was called the 'closed shop' whereby you had to be a member of a particular union to work in a particular company. Disobeying a strike order meant expulsion from the union and therefore dismissal from your job.
     
  16. Jun 15, 2005 #15

    Pengwuino

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    theory, no

    france, yes

    lol jk, i dont know, like i said. Im thinken about how it works in theory and noted that i dont know how its worked through history.
     
  17. Jun 15, 2005 #16

    vanesch

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    Ok, this is a theoretical (and half jokingly) argument of course, but "individual economic agents negociating market prices together in order to sell their good (their labor) at a higher price (salary...) than what the market would allow them for if they competed individually, is, in my book, forming a cartel.
    What's the difference between this and, say, all bakeries of the town making a deal to sell bread at 10 times higher prices now ?
     
  18. Jun 15, 2005 #17

    BobG

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    While the idea of selling a team of workers might be capitalist, the labor unions in the US have historically been based on socialist ideas.

    It's not the title or the goals that define whether unions are capitalist or socialist, it's the approach and techniques. Labor unions focused only on how the money a company might have at any given moment was distributed. A more capitalistic approach would have been equally concerned about increasing the amount of money that there was to distribute and might have dispelled the notion that unskilled labor was a necessary, but disposable annoyance. Necessary in that you were stuck with the current workforce as long as your investment in the buildings and equipment lasted - disposable in that you could always find a new labor force when it came time to replace your old buildings and equipment.
     
  19. Jun 15, 2005 #18

    Art

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    It is important to bear in mind the point I made about trade unions becoming self-serving. Their activities at national level had little to do with the interests of their members and everything to do with the personal political idealism and ambitions of the leadership of some unions such as the NUM. The militant trade unions had infiltrated the Labour party to a huge degree and by use of their massive block votes at the Labour Party's annual conference ensured the party lurched to the left towards full blown marxism. In the event the British public recognised this and Labour became unelectable. During the Thatcher years the Conservative party took on the unions and with general public support defeated them comprehensively, introducing new legislation tremendously curtailing their powers. Meanwhile the moderates within the Labour party under Neil Kinnock and then George Brown began to fight back against the extreme left wing even to the point of expelling a sizable bloc of it's members who termed themselves 'Militant Tendancy', a group who believed in force if necessary to impose a Marxist style government. So certainly in Britain anyway the tactics of the unions to force a change of government had little or nothing to do with better pay and conditions for union members, they were simply using the trade union movement as a vehicle for ideological purposes.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2005
  20. Jun 15, 2005 #19

    vanesch

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    No, I just thought it funny to identify workers unions with cartels. When you know the socialist ideology that usually reigns within these structures, I found it somehow humorous to compare them to capitalist abuses such as cartels of multinationals :smile:
     
  21. Jun 15, 2005 #20

    vanesch

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    I didn't know that that was "capitalist ideology" :-) I thought it was called "human nature" :smile:
     
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