Friday, May 20, 2005

US labor unions. An important time.

Today's issue is sort of cool for a couple of reasons. It came up in the past couple of days on a BBS I participate in and then today the issue showed up in the news. There were two issues that I found interesting on the other BBS (which will remain nameless because it has nothing to do with any political issues, though such issues do come up in conversation there at times) that came out of a conversation intially talking about political corruption.

It seems that some hold an opinion that the US and it's politcal leaders are very corrupt. That might be but my feeling is that we are much less corrupt than most of the rest of the world. I know that isn't a popular position among the extreme "America is responsible for all the ills of the world" crowd but I have simply not found evidence of the systemic corruption such as one might find most of Central and South America, most of Asia, most of Africa, and a good portion of Europe. Bribery of officials is an accepted way of life for the majority of the people living on this planet. Not only is it tolerated, it is expected. But that is beside the point.

A comment about labor unions got into the conversation and one of the participants replied that unions weren't the cause for corruption. Not "the" cause but I believe they certainly have been "a" cause. This has been shown over and over with the infiltration of organized labor by organized crime. We would not have wasted the resources to create an enforce labor racketeering laws if this weren't the case. So if you accept that unions are at various times under various levels of control of criminal elements, have a look at the activities of organized labor. One thing that stands out is the millions of dollars they contribute each year to political activities. What makes it stand out even more is that well over 90% of those contributions are to one particular party. These unions represent people of all political parties. Their members span the entire spectrum of political thought. Why would the unions take the money that has been paid to them by their members and spend nearly every penny of it on only one particular party? Wouldn't the other party (parties, really) be more likely to listen to the unions if the unions weren't so busy being publically critical and funding the opposition? It seems they would get further by being an important asset to all parties, not just one.

Then I read the news this morning. It seems there is some discontent in the rank and file. In some cases this discontent rises to the heads of the local unions and sub-organizations of the AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO is in the process of its own election campaign. It seems they are tired of being the "ATM of the Democratic Party" in some cases and are calling for change. They want a leadership that is more reflective of the interests of the membership. As if that will happen. Excuse me for my skepticism but unions tend to be rather, uhm, thuggish in their behavior. I have seen it happen with my own two eyes. I have seen someone question the policies of the leadership and being taken aside and having the importance of being a "team player" explained to them. No explicit threats were leveled but the idea that one might have a better go of things if they went along was clearly communicated. In other words, the unions are often intimidating to their membership. The union power tends to flow from the top down rather than from the bottom up. Some unions want to chage this. I agree with them and think that making those kinds of changes might go a long way toward reversing the shrinkage of union membership and improving the lot of the working people in this country.

Of the top ten contributors to political campaigns since 1990, seven are labor unions. The biggest two, and both in the top three contributors, are the American Federation of State, County, and Municpal Employees; and The National Education Association. In the 2004 election cycle, those two unions gave 98% and 93% of their contributions, respectively, to one party. I don't believe that 98% of municipal employees and 93% of teachers are, nationally, members of that party. In other words, I don't believe the unions are reflecting the political leanings of the membership. I believe they are instead reflecting the political leanings of the leadership. In other words, there is a disconnect between the membership and the leadership. It must be difficult to attract new members when your union leadership does and says things that alienate the party that 50% of your prospective new members belong to. At a time when you need to make changes and reach out, to be engaging in practices that alienate 50% of prospective members right off the bat seems counter productive.

Well, some are shouting for change. I find this reporting from the Washington Times to be interesting (albeit the Times as a fairly blatent mouthpiece for the right)

"Several labor unions, such as the hotel workers, the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union, have sent signals they want to pursue a more bipartisan approach on some issues. Some, such as the carpenters union which left the AFL-CIO four years ago, are giving more campaign money to Republican candidates -- more than 40 percent to House Republicans in the post-2004 election cycle thus far. ""

What I found really interesting is this comment from the Teamsters:

"The core of our belief is that the election last year was lost because we did not have enough union members in the country, said Mike Mathis, political director at the Teamsters union. If the union work force in Ohio were 26 percent instead of 17 percent, given the percentage of union members who voted for John Kerry, then Kerry would have won Ohio and be president now"

Think for a moment about what this statement is saying. Are the Teamsters saying they can "fix" elections and deliver votes? Seems that way to me. It implies that if a truck driver joined the union, his vote would change from Republican to Democrat. It reinforces the idea that the labor unions are nothing more than peripheral organizations for one political party. But there is a major flaw in Mr. Mathis' logic. He assumes that if those people joined the union they would vote in the same proportion as the existing union members. I don't think that would be true. I think they have lost those members *because* the union is so one sided. They consistantly have their head in the sand and are saying "we can convert Repulicans into Democrats" rather than saying "we can appeal to both Republican and Democrats and increas our membership".

Following that line of thought from the Teamsters, you would be expecting them to push for state laws requiring union membership or laws requiring union labor for state projects so the union can control the jobs. That is the crux of the issue. The unions are no longer fighting for the worker, they are fighting for a political machine and people know that. Rather than an employer threatening a loss of a job if you don't accept their compensation offer, the union is threatening a loss of a job if you don't toe the party line. What if they got those laws in place and the union didn't "deliver" the votes? They would crack down on the membership, that's what. They would find people openly questioning the Democrats or praising the Republicans and give them "a hard time". That is the only way the union could ever make good on the statements it is making. They must have some way of ensuring they can "deliver". The unions are corrupt. The unions are a political organization. Let's hope they get their shit together.


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