Now that the dust has settled, it's nice to see that the factory sit-in at Republic Doors and Windows in Chicago was successfully resolved. The fact that the tumultuous event was dealt with in such a solid and peaceful manner speaks well of modern organized labor. It cannot be denied that the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America union, played a large part in bringing an acceptable resolution to the matter. This raises an important question: can and should America's labor unions find ways to be more deeply engaged in the current attempts to fix what is wrong with our nation's economy? It seems to me, in this time of great economic turmoil, that America's labor unions have stayed conspicuously on the sidelines.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2007 the number of Americans belonging to labor unions totaled approximately 15.7 million. I expect that for 2008 that total has declined a bit, but not much. This means labor unions watch over about 12% of our nation's hourly and salaried workers. Those aren't numbers to be taken lightly. The question is, how much of that union clout exists simply to compel corporate America to conform to it's whims, and how much of it is dedicated to particularly benefiting the overall good of the labor force without deference to what form that good might take? Labor unions exist, in essence, to protect laborers from oppression and exploitation. What is a union's part when that oppression is brought on by the larger global economy, and that exploitation is perpetrated by governments, rather than by a particular employer?
I can tell you this much, it is my opinion that America's labor unions have not been up to the job. America's unions have beaten our corporate realm badly, to the point of chasing many good paying jobs out of the country. Then, rather than standing by our laborers and demanding that the overseas hosts of relocated jobs should conform to the quality of life standards from which those job were withdrawn, unions moved on to their next domestic targets. That in part, has put us where we are right now, and partly explains why union membership has declined approximately 8% since the mid 1980s. The decline is even more pronounced if you take government employees out of the equation.
What can labor unions do to change the common perception of them, and what can those unions do to right the economy? Obviously, unions shall have their hands full in the near term, just dealing with possibly justifiable attempts to dilute labor contract conditions in a downward spiraling economy. The UAW already tipped its hand on its willingness to sacrifice some benefits in exchange for hopefully saving some jobs. But I'm not talking about making a few workforce contract concessions. I'm talking about making some fundamental changes in the way American labor unions do business. Labor unions need to finally recognize and admit that the success of their members is directly tied to the success of Wall Street.
American workers are fighting for their very lives now, not just for fair pay and decent working conditions. For decades, our government has shown, beyond a doubt, that it has little respect for the realities of manufacturing goods from raw materials and the people who do so. The burdens of funding bloated government, an artificially accelerated globalism mandate, and an insurance industry which has been allowed to become completely out of control, among other conditions, have driven an extremely dedicated and talented national labor force to the very brink of hopelessness. Therefore, I put this query to the labor unions in power; What are you going to do in order to help us get back on track?
A recent Gallup poll has clearly indicated a surprising dynamic regarding what Americans are currently thinking about domestic labor unions. The poll shows that the percentage of respondents who would like to see union influence increase has jumped upward to approximately 35% over just the last three years. Strangely though, only 22% of respondents actually believe that unions will become stronger, 30% believe union strength shall stay the same, and 41% believe that unions shall become weaker. What this is telling me is that labor unions are losing some power and effectiveness. I say this reality presents a tremendous challenge to today's union leadership.
However, we all know that on the corporate side, labor unions have played the game out. The National Labor Relations Board has overseen the regulation of labor conditions to the point that unions have largely lost the need to directly preside over the work environment. Additionally, when it comes down to bottom line economics, meaning the overhead costs of maintaining a work force, times have changed. Now, when unions pressure for increased pay and benefits, corporations are simply closing up shop and moving elsewhere. Alternatively, they are entering into bankruptcy, stripping down their entire labor structures, and starting over - while leaving former union backed workers out in the cold. This isn't an evil being perpetrated by corporate America. It's a problem which is rooted in a lack of common sense, vision, and proper direction on the part of labor's top leadership. It's simply a reality of doing business in the modern world. How shall labor unions seek to change it?
It's time for America's labor unions to put the real pressure where it actually belongs. That means a few dogs are going to have to bite the hands which have fed them for so long. Today's labor unions need to demand a level playing field from our government. Those unions need to hold developing industrial nations accountable. They need to force the issue against one sided trade agreements. They must instigate competition among insurance carriers and medical service providers. They should intervene in excessively restrictive environmental legislation efforts. They must assist in fast tracking the technologies which shall keep their members working to build the next generation of our American economy. Modern labor unions need to adjust where they target their power base.
I have been told that I'm anti-union. I maintain that is just not the case. I believe that a majority of unions are helpful and responsible agencies. However, what I do stand against are bad unions. To me, a bad union is one which serves only itself and it's members without meaningful regard for the total picture. I hold up the United Auto Workers as one reliable example of that principle. The UAW leaders have effectively held this country hostage for decades. Now, we're paying the price for allowing that to happen.
America's labor unions have a grand and enviable history. However, they have rested upon the glory of past successes for far too long. It's a new age today, but our domestic labor unions are still mired in a 1970s mindset. I admit that many labor unions have done a lot for America, but if you'll please allow me to bend a cliche: what have the labor unions done for us lately as a nation -- and what will they do for us tomorrow?