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Why Care About Unions?

Monday, February 21, 2011
One thing that I think gets missed in discussions about unions is the role they play in an economy full of large corporations. In a small business the owner of the business usually has a strong day-to-day involvement in the running of it. He or she (usually a he, alas) interacts with employees every day. They're people, not dehumanized labor-producing objects. As a consequence I'm guessing that mistreatment of a certain sort is a lot less common than it is in big businesses, where the people who set policy never interact with their employees. It's much easier to dehumanize someone that is just another number on a spreadsheet. In a big business, labor costs are just that - costs to your bottom line that need to minimized in any way possible. In a small business it's more likely that you see those workers as actual human beings, with their own needs and value. None of this is to say that there isn't mistreatment in small business, and I think that sexism in particular could be even worse. But the sort of systemic treatment of one's workers as an extension one's will, as just things to be moved around, to treat people you know on a personal level like that takes a very special kind of sociopath.

And hence unions. Maybe they're not as necessary in small firms, but in large businesses, they're the only way that the management gets reminded that their employees are people too. Get rid of them and all those stories out of Dickens seems a lot more probable.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:48 AM
  • In the case of State Employee unions, there's another layer... the State is, in essence, a monopoly for many jobs. So, if you're a faculty member and you want another job because your state school is being a bunch of asses... you can't just go to the state school down the street where they aren't asses --- you have to move. This is the same basic problem other teachers, police people, fire fighters etc.. have. When there is only one employer for your area in your job, you're stuck with their policies and procedures unless you want to uproot your family and leave the community.

    Contrast this with fast food workers. If you don't like the way McDonalds is treating you or paying you, you can go work at Burger King.

    By Blogger Inside the Philosophy Factory, at 7:39 PM  
  • Although (as usual) I generally agree with Arbitrista, I gots some stories of how it works in small biz. Frankly, it entirely depends on who owns the company.

    By Blogger Some, at 11:47 PM  
  • Some: that's definitely true. I was just trying to make the point that while the dynamics at the small business level are based on personalities, the psychological disjuncture in big companies is institutional - pretty much every owner will tend to treat his employees poorly.

    By Blogger Arbitrista, at 9:20 AM  
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