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Where idealism and realism don’t intersect

Mark Easley | Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is there still room for unions in 21st century America?

Despite what the left-wingers, lifetime union members and subscribers to Catholic social teaching will tell you, unionization is a crucial development of an industrializing civilization, a stage that America has passed for at least five decades now. Our great country of laws and lawsuits does a better job of protecting the working class than union bosses.  Don’t get me wrong, the developing world still needs unions. Unionization is stifled in China, and so are workers’ rights that people in Europe and the U.S. have enjoyed for years. As a multinational religion, Catholicism is right to spread the message of unions to where they are needed, however to say that these outdated vehicles of progress are still relevant in the developed world is naive.

If justice is what you are after, you have much greater rights as an individual these days than as a collective.  Unions are supposed to protect “the voice of the worker in the work place” however my voice rings just as loud with a trial lawyer and without the accompanying union fees. I don’t advocate everyone suing everyone to solve every little thing, but unfortunately many people get away with this these days and for better or for worse, that is the world we live in.

Have you heard of “mob mentality?”  Everyone thinks the same thing and you can’t really alter your opinion even if you might not necessarily agree. Well, a union is a mob. A union seeks higher wages and benefits from an employer.  What do you think happens when an employer agrees? Mob mentality kicks in and you ask for even higher wages and benefits. It worked once right? You feel empowered and part of something bigger than yourself.

The employer, who watches the numbers and the profits, eventually resists because they can’t afford the increases. Suddenly the mob is on the defensive and decides to strike or otherwise hold the company hostage until their requests (demands) are met. In any group you have greed, corporations or unions, and mob mentality will drive greed further. The employer can either cave to the demands, possibly endangering the competitiveness and life of the company, or seek cheaper labor elsewhere. The choice is usually pretty obvious. Boom! We just explained the entire outsourcing issue our country has faced the last few decades. Summary: Unions are largely to blame.

Unions (and some have help from government policy) have made our industries uncompetitive. That’s why jobs get shipped overseas. Look at General Motors, also widely known as “Government Motors,” the classic example of unions destroying great American business. For years, autoworker unions have sapped the company dry, making it so inefficient that when the financial crisis hit, it declared bankruptcy. The bailout by the taxpayers was the only thing that could save the company, but frankly we should have let it go for being such a poorly run and union driven (as opposed to customer and shareholder driven) company. Any company with union labor will always be less competitive than a non-union competitor. Unions encourage short-term gains but long-term job losses for workers. They are a major factor in destroying businesses over the long term in today’s global economy.

If private sector unions bleed companies dry, then public sector unions bleed the taxpayers dry. The same inefficiencies and the same mob mentality apply except the taxpayers can’t choose to seek cheaper labor elsewhere. Negotiations are one-sided and benefits are given out like party favors by politicians. And when you try to enact reasonable cost cutting measures when the budget runs a deficit, the unions will protest and hold a state or country hostage in the process like we have seen in Wisconsin recently. That’s not a democracy, that’s a thugocracy.

The power is with the individual.  Educate yourself on what will make you successful and worry-free. Go into a high growth industry or learn in-demand skills. Get health insurance from your employer or make enough to afford your own.  Don’t get a pension, get a personal IRA and 401(K). Support right-to-work legislation or move to a right-to-work state and don’t join a union if you don’t need to. It’s a new world, and the ones that educate themselves will thrive.

Collective bargaining may be considered a right by some, but so is being stupid.  Some rights don’t have to be exercised.  And that is how Sue sees it.

Mark Easely is a junior computer science major. He can be reached at measley@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.