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November 05, 2007

A World Without Bosses?

Chris Hayes has some very interesting thoughts on "bad" unions, bosses, lawyers, why solidarity should be a generalized principle, and what's behind the unique treatment that unions get on this score. For all the times someone asks if you can still support unions even though X union did Y thing, you never hear anyone ask whether corporations should, in principle, still exist even though Enron really sucked. But that's just part and parcel of the argument about the UAW, the teacher's unions, and so forth, which are much less about the unions and the systems involved than they are about the legitimacy of organized workers in the first place.

November 5, 2007 | Permalink


I'm not sure that unions get unique treatment; the AFL-CIO is one unit, not several.

The NEA and UAW aren't like Enron and GE--they are more like GE Power and GE Plastics.

Posted by: SamChevre | Nov 5, 2007 5:25:38 PM

Thanks, Ezra! As a union member with awesome health care and a lot of protection at work, I can rattle off lots of reasons unions are, on the balance, good.

Slight dissent on one point, though. There are plenty of people in the country who believe all corporations are in principle bad. Those people are just thoroughly disempowered, whereas the people who are rankled in principle by unions are generally privileged, powerful and listened to.

Posted by: SDM | Nov 5, 2007 5:36:59 PM

no one thinks we should get rid of bosses

ha! uh, i beg to differ.

Posted by: tatere | Nov 5, 2007 6:00:12 PM

It's part and parcel of the obliviousness that leads even most professional economists to never question why it's a really good idea to combine billions of dollars of financial/physical capital into a single bargaining unit but a really bad idea to do the same thing with billions of dollars of human capital. You'd think the parallel would be friggin' obvious.

Posted by: DCBob | Nov 5, 2007 6:00:20 PM

The Colorado governor recently issued an executive order permitting/encouraging unionization of state employees. The hatred of unions is so strong that the Denver Post printed an editorial on the front page decrying the governor's action ! I don't recall another page 1 editorial during my 18 years in Denver.

Posted by: H-Bob | Nov 5, 2007 6:12:59 PM

To quote Homer:

There is strength in the union of even very sorry men.

The fact that unions, particularly teachers unions, are subjec to the kind of opprobrium I see on putatively progressive web sites sickens me. Because, really, how could teachers have any legitimate issues for which union representation would be necessary?

And Sam C.

What the hell are you talking about -- the AFL-CIO is a loose political confederation of affiliated unions. It does not encompass all of labor and has next to zero control over its constituent unions. The head of the AFL-CIO begs and cajoles the leaders of the affiliates for their cooperation -- they are his bosses rather than vice versa.

Why people parade their ignorance like this is an eternal mystery to me.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Nov 5, 2007 8:23:14 PM

That would be "subject" not subjec, which like respeck is no longer in the dictionary.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Nov 5, 2007 8:28:07 PM

Yeah, Sam, I disagree strongly with your point.

It's more like, well, Enron and GE are all part of the chamber of commerce, so whatever one unit of the chamber does so does the others.

A better analogy is saying that you can aggregate the "badness" of a union local to the national union, just like you could say, "well -- that one Walmart is run by fascists" to inculpate the whole corporation. But even there it is different because the locals are not managed in the same way by the national union as the walmart stores are from Bentonville. Unions are a much more bottom up phenomenon than corporations.

And each union (i.e. NEA, Teamsters, CWA) is totally different: culture, management, constituion, bylaws, etc. So, no: not GE Power and GE Plastics.

Posted by: eli | Nov 5, 2007 9:45:41 PM

The Major League Baseball Players Association and the Service Employees International Union are both unions, but to claim that solidarity with the SEIU requires that liberals support work actions taken by the MLBPA is ridiculous.

Similarly, was solidarity required with mobbed-up unions back in the day? How about communist-controlled unions?

Really, the idea that unions are this unmitigated good with no possibility for contextual analysis at all seems dead wrong.

Posted by: Dilan Esper | Nov 6, 2007 5:18:48 PM

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