Going into Labor

laborFriends, today I read a passage from the Demotivational Dictionary:

labor union: just about the only people on planet Earth who give a flying shit about the plight of the lowly worker.
–Source: not Wikipedia

What is a labor union?

If we think of the employer/employee paradigm as a formula, on one side of the equation we find power, control, the ability to make decisions, have a hand in the company’s fate, profit, dignity, respect, ties to government, legislation, influence, and much, much more.

The labor union is that which stands to protect all that remains on the other side of that equation.

There may be a lot of power-imbalanced relationships in the average person’s life, but the relationship between employer and employee is most likely at the top of that list. Bar none.

Are labor unions perfect? No. Do they have flaws? Yes. After all, they are comprised of flawed human beings just like every other human-based organizational unit on planet Earth. They are, however, just about the last bastion of hope for the average worker who stands opposed in the face of overwhelming injustice and the imbalance of power.

Like my daddy used to say, it’s enough to make me go burlap.

When you view a labor union as a force that seeks to infinitesimally right the imbalance of power that exists in the employer’s favor, it is easy to understand why they are opposed so vehemently and rabidly by said employers.

And who do you think has the bought-out politicians on their side? Who is sleeping in the same bed together? Employees who have little coin to offer? Or employers, companies and management who control the lion’s share of resources? Only they have the pockets deep enough to buy politicians and get laws pushed through that favor their position at the expense of normal employees.

Employees. Otherwise known as the people who do the actual work.

Work itself is portrayed in our culture as a good thing. It is often described as its own reward. It is viewed as an expectation of all “contributing” members to our society. Work is how we are measured. In short, work is something we all should be doing. So if you are working, that’s considered a good thing. Sure, there are other life paths that may be available (and interesting) but if they don’t include work, then they must be bad.

The concept is that one is compensated based on his work contributions. But this leads to one of the weirdest constructs of the capitalism society.

An employer or boss is deemed to have more value than a worker. This is no doubt based on the idea that he/she had the vision to start the company, that germ of an idea that through sheer force of determination grew into a profitable enterprise. Or, quite likely, it was purchased turnkey from someone else who had the idea which demonstrates the second ingredient: capital. To be the boss and/or the owner one must have some combination of ideas, vision, hard work, capital and luck.

Owners need employees when they can achieve greater profits than through their own efforts alone.

At the end of the day, how are contributions to the success of the company evaluated? The employees may do 90 percent of the actual work yet split 20 percent of the profits, with the rest going to the owner. Something structured in that way almost seems feudal, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile the owner feels that such is a split is unfair and opposes minimum wage laws, in essence saying, “I wish I could pay you even less.”

Who is to say that the owner’s contribution is worth 10 times that of the person doing the work? 20x? 50x? 100x? How do you take two human beings engaged in similar activities and say, “This one is worth X. But this one is worth 80x.” How? Because one had more capital to start with? Is that the valuation of human worth and activity?

The owner also controls the bulk of decision making, too, so vital to the success of the enterprise. Employes are treated as less than stakeholders and have no actual decision making powers.

Power.

So it all flows disproportionately one way to the top. And this is the best we’ve got?

Labor unions, despite being imperfect, are just about the only force that does anything at all to oppose this paradigm.

When our lawmakers make laws giving workers rights, they are so watered down and filled with loopholes in favor of management that they are laughable. Clearly you can’t count on them to help. They are in bed with management. Bought and paid for.

They say absolute power corrupts absolutely. If that is true then the dangers of one side in any relationship controlling all the pieces (money, power, influence) will create situations that are grievous, imbalanced, inequitable and grossly unfair. I support that which, at least in theory, opposes this reality. Somebody has got to do something! At least labor unions give it a shot.

I know one thing for sure: If we wait around on bosses and owners to share a piece of their pie that has been built on the backs of others it is going to be a long, long wait.

P.S. Are you an employer looking for a hardworking lad like myself? Please let me know if you are interested in hiring me. I’m looking! I know you’ll love me on your team.

7 responses

  1. I like to compare a labor union to a school of fish (in a sea filled with shark and the like).

    Somehow this Randian creator/employer/capitalist worship has made it into the North-American mindset. Little European me on the other hand would like to see at least the worst of the lot shunned for what they consider “best practices”. I think in the end we’ll have to redefine entrepreneurial virtue and success, because right now money/profits etc. are synonymous to those things. It’s nonsensical and harmful. Not all business schemes that make money are good, and maximizing profits isn’t always good either.

    Sorry for the incoherent rant.

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    1. I missed this comment on the first read. It’s not that incoherent. Lots of good stuff. 🙂

      Everything is fluid. Companies can be good and unions can be bad. But, in general, unions are one of the few forces that exist on the side of the employee. In other words, government basically sides with the employer. That’s my point.

      Like

  2. Thank you for your post! I’ve lost friends, believe it or not, because they think it’s communist to give employees more and limit a CEO’s ability to milk employees for all they’re worth. It’s a shame that makes me an idiot in their eyes. Oh well.

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    1. Well you are decidedly not an idiot to me!

      People should be more open to other points of view. Like me! 🙂

      Like

  3. Reblogged this on Shouts from the Abyss and commented:

    Pop quiz, hotshot. What’s the only force that stands with you against the boss? Hint: It’s not the government. Yep, that’s right. Imperfect they may be (because they are made up of humans) it’s unions who stand with the employee.

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  4. The union does do good if they got the right people in there. Unfortunately my last union in London had one of the managers in the union, let me hear a WTF please 🙂 so the guy who is part of the payroll decisions is also part of union trying to improve it for us normal plebs. I so left that union when I heard that.

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    1. Exactly. Unions are just like companies in one regard: They are both comprised of people. That makes them equally good, bad and flawed. My main point here is that legislation (aka the government) is so watered down (basically because it was subjected to approve by the so-called stakeholders except employees) that, in effect, they have tacit and built-in bias in favor of employers over employees. Unions are on the few things, at least in theory, that exists to oppose those forces and be on the side of the employee. That’s all I’m saying.

      Do some unions get in bed with management? You betcha.

      In my case, the guy who hired me also gave me the paperwork to join the union. We were a closed shop. I guess the company manager was in charge of recruitment. 🙂 My story gets a little wacky from there. I was a shop steward before being promoted into management myself. Oops. 🙂

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