Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Necessity and Future of Unions


As the situation in Wisconsin lurches forward, the blogosphere has come alive with articles discussing the future of unions, both public and private.  Will Wilkinson has been writing a series of posts laying out the differences he sees between public and private unions.  Just yesterday, though, he took a break from that to defend the basic utility of unions.  He took the time to try and convince skeptics on both the right and the left that you can be a libertarian and a union supporter.

He considers what unions could be, the value they create for their members, and urges an adjustment to the legislative framework that encourages corporations and unions to be adversarial.  Perhaps a bit surprisingly, Andy Stern, former head of SEIU has some similar ideas.  Mr. Stern argues that the old antagonistic framework of unions is outdated and obsolete in the face of a truly global economy.  And he notes, “quality is our only job security in the long run. You can use lots of things like politics and the natural slowness of change, but in the end, if people are waiting on long lines at the DMV, something will happen eventually.”

I think both private and public sector unions still know their core responsibility, which is to serve the interests of their members, but over time serving their members has come to mean pursuing more salary, more benefits, and more job security.  It isn’t a holistic approach and has alienated a public that knows fewer and fewer union members.

Perhaps the showdown in Wisconsin will compel unions to take a look at how they do business, to adapt, and to make concessions to the state government (and corporations), but also request concessions from corporations and governments that go beyond compensation.

As a side note to this post, Stephen Stromberg points out, Gov. Walker’s rhetoric doesn’t match his actions.  If you’re serious about the deficit you don’t hamstring the state’s ability to raise new taxes.  And as mentioned here at DCExile a few days ago, there are two sides to the ledger.  We’re going to need to change both sides to balance state and federal budgets.  As David Leonhardt tells us on Tuesday, you can’t just cut your way to growth.

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