The following fragments of conversations with union members are taken from Robert C. Townsend’s classic Further Up The Organization:
Production Worker: “In a big union shop, management is the enemy – is something to overcome, or somehow get around. That’s the game everybody plays.”
Machinist: “The minute you put on a blue hat [i.e., become a foreman], you’re automatically a son of a bitch.”
Overheard in a bar: “Foreman asked me how long it would take to fix that electrode rack. Told him two weeks. Said ‘Why ask me? I’m only a millwright.’ Sure snowed that bastard. Coulda fixed it in a coupla hours. That sure felt good.”
Welder: “All I have to do is burn one rod a day and they can’t fire me.”
Electrician: “I remember how we used to get ready for the foreman to come in with his work assignments for the day. We had a regular plan for fucking him over by the time he walked in. As he was describing a job to an electrician, you could almost see the guy chuckling as if to say ‘That’ll never get wired right.’”
The union mentality — i.e., that management is somehow the enemy to workers – comes through clearly. Unions encourage their members to think that. If you agree with that posture, thanks for stopping by and enjoy the rest of your day. This essay is not for you.
All others: read on.
Albert Shanker, at one time the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), stoutly maintained that his job was to represent the interests of the union and its members. Someone asked him, “What about the children?” to which he replied, “When school children start paying union dues, that‘s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.” Suffice it to say that that did not endear him to the parents of school-age children…but then, they didn’t pay AFT dues either.
Which brings us to two recent stories about teachers’ unions:
- New Jersey teachers don’t want to be tested.
- Striking Portland, Oregon teachers blackmailed Portland.
Teachers’ unions are just as pernicious as any others. Their objective, always and everywhere, is to get more money and benefits for the union members regardless of any other considerations. If that means shortchanging their minor charges’ educations, so be it. Examples abound; the two cited here are merely the most recent.
The connection to the blossoming movements for educational alternatives – homeschooling, private or religious schooling, educational “pods,” and so on – could hardly be clearer. As the cost of public education rises and its “product” – properly educated graduates – declines in quality, other approaches to getting the desired “product” will gain favor. The teachers don’t like that, of course. The hierarchies of teachers’ unions like it even less.
Yet historically, rapacious unions faced with declining memberships and dwindling ability to persuade workers to unionize have not changed their behavior. I can’t explain it from general principles, and as I’ve never been a union member, I have no other relevant perspective to offer. As a result, union dominance of America’s workforce has dropped to a low not seen since the Nineteenth Century. The sole bright spot they enjoy is in government and government-managed institutions…such as the public schools.
The Gentle Readers of Liberty’s Torch hardly need it explained in detail why unions for government workers are faring well while unions for private-sector workers are shrinking fast. The important detail to note is that neither governments nor government workers can be held accountable for their misfeasances, their malfeasances, or their nonfeasances. And of course, it’s taxpayers who foot the bills.
I’ve heard others say, at times past, that unions are “necessary” to prevent “the exploitation of the workers.” That’s a socialist idea, an implicit rejection of the idea that market competition protects the interests of managements and workers both. Yet it commands a lot of concurrences. Others have merely said that unions “were necessary at one time.” But that too implies that there are conditions in which managements would not be constrained by competitive forces.
Finality in such arguments is elusive, just as it is between competing schools of economics. But of one thing we may be sure: whatever benefit teachers may derive from their unions, a significant part of the cost is imposed upon vulnerable, impressionable children…sometimes with the teachers’ prior knowledge and willing collaboration.
And it will continue to be so.