Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What Are Unions Good For Anyway?

When I was in high school I was studying working conditions and the rise of unions in the late 19th and early 20th century. I looked at the unions and saw how they fought against the giant capitalists of that time to get safe workplaces and fair wages. I decided that unions were an essential part of a capitalistic society filling the role of advocate for the wage workers.

Fast forward to today. Detroit, the capital of America’s unionized car manufacturing industry, is dying and taking federal handouts in desperation. In Wisconsin, unionized government education employees are protesting because their employer, Governor Walker, is reducing their benefits in order to cut costs. The Wall Street Journal recently printed a great article tracking the dangers of unions in the public sector and defending Walker for his attempts at responsible governing.


In this article the author defends private unions, even though they are on the decline in recent decades. He makes this defense because private unions understand that if they demand too much then the industry will pull up and move away.

Government unions, on the other hand, do not have the threat of losing their industry. The government unions do not have to worry about the state ceasing to provide education to its citizens, or about a city eliminating its fire department. As a consequence of this, public unions have a much stronger monopolistic hold on their “employer,” the state. This situation in Wisconsin is a good example of a conservative view of government spending hitting a wall of opposition from self-interested union monopolies.

How will all of this end? I can only hope that the positive aspect of unions that I saw when I studied American history in high school can be preserved, and private unions can advocate for workers, while these dangerous public unions can be tempered so that the employees are treated fairly but cannot abuse the system anymore.

Michael Zeller

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