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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 4/19/14

Organized Labor and Governmental Reform

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The following paragraphs are extracted from Chap. 7 of Reversing America's Decline: Jefferson's Remedy, by Neal Q. Herrick They discuss a number of international indices that show a correlation between the strength of a country's labor movement and the strength of its qualityof life rankings.



Unions are crucial to governmental reform for two reasons. First, weak though they now are, they could provide an organized group of people in each state to carry and collect petitions. These petitions would be needed to bring about a constitutional convention. Second, should the reform movement be successful, a rejuvenated labor movement would be necessary to act as a continuing check to the military-corporate complex. .

Present-day unions and the reform movement

Present-day unions are a "far cry" from our unions of the 1940's and 1950's. In those years, their membership includedas much as 37 per cent of the workforce. In 2010, according to the CurrentPopulation Survey, "the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions was 11.9 percent, down from 12.5 percent a year earlier." However, 11.9 percent comes to 14.7 million workers. Over the past forty years or so, despite their lessening membership, unions have become quite proficient at getting out the vote for their candidates. This proficiency could be the deciding factor in a campaign to deliver petitions to all state legislatures calling upon them to "apply" for Congress to call a"money-free) convention or propose a specific amendment to Article V to the same effect. Should our unions make common cause with our churches, environmental groups and other non-governmental organizations (NGO's), the result would almost certainly be an amendment to Article V and a subsequent 2nd constitutional convention.

Rejuvenated unions would be needed to perpetuate the reform

A rejuvenated labor movement would be crucial to act as a continuing check upon the military-corporate complex after the reform movement has produced a responsive government. Without continuing checks on the natural tendency of government to expand its powers, we might slip back into our present patterns. The factors that tempt civil officers to expand their powers would not all be removed -- even by a "more perfect" constitution. However, the tendency of power to corrupt can be minimized by a vigilant population armed with a carefully altered constitution and strong independent institutions. An altered Constitution could pave the way for the repeal of Taft Harley and the passage of a more rational labor relations statute. This could lead to a rejuvenated labor movement capable of checking governmental and corporate excesses.

In short, a strong labor movement would be good for all working people. Strong unions are associated with national competitiveness, national prosperity, life satisfaction and income equality (See Table 2). Strong unions used to be our first line of defense against the excessive influence corporations can exert upon our federal government. They were at one time, for example, a means of pooling the resources of ordinary people to compete with the resources of corporations in making campaign donations.

Strong unions are needed to keep corporations from totally co-opting government. In the past, strong private sector unions also checked the excessive compensation of corporate executive officers (CEO's). Unions are currently co-operating with stockholders in attempts to limit management's self-aggrandizement. A strong labor movement would tend to increasethe incomes of employees in both the private and public sectors, thus attacking one of America's most serious social and economic problems: our ever-widening income gap. Organized labor, when faced with declining membership during the last century, did not focus on changing its organizing and collective bargaining strategies. Instead, during the past forty years or so, it has relied on its ability to "deliver the vote." This has produced incremental gains in the form of worker-friendly legislation, but has had little effect on the income gap. It has also tended to transfer many of labor's protective functions from the private sector to the government. Unions, like many other NGO'S, have concluded that they can best serve their constituencies by relying on government to do their work for them and on their ability to "get out the vote" to secure the election and appointment of civil officers who are friendly to their cause.

International comparisons suggest the value of unions

Table 3 (see below) groups the OECD nations with high union densities, the countries with moderately high union densities, the countries with moderately low densities and the countries with low densities. There are eight countries in each group.[1] It also shows the rankings of each country based onthe democracy rankings of the Economist, the competitiveness rankings of the World Economic Forum, Legatum's prosperity rankings and Gini's income equality rankings -- and on the life satisfaction responses in a recent OECD survey.[2] The data shows that countries with high percentages of union workers tend to have high rankings on the democracy, governmental honesty, competitiveness, prosperity, income equality and life satisfaction indices. Second, it shows that countries with low percentages of unionized workers tend to have low ratings. This data does not establishcausal relationships. The associations mentioned above are no doubt affected by political and cultural factors as well as by union density. The Scandinavian social democracies, for example, are extremely high performers on all four outcome measures. While they all encourage unionization, they no doubt have other characteristics that are associated with desirable outcomes.An analysis that takes into account the forms of governments, the characteristics (as well as the densities) of unions, the degrees of governmental lawlessness and corruption (and, no doubt other factors) is needed in order to draw conclusions on the extent to which union density (and union characteristics) contributes to performance. At the least, however, we can conclude from this data that it is possible for high union density and high political, economic and social performance to co-exist. It is particularly noteworthy that, while 77.9 % of the people in the nine OECD countries with an average union density of 53.9% (the nine most unionized countries) say they are satisfied with their lives, only 62.1% of the people in the ten next most unionized OECD countries (with an average union density of only 20.5% ) report life satisfaction. In the nine countries with the lowest union density (11.9%), a mere 47.1% say they are satisfied. Union density is also consistent with democracy and governmental honesty. Since democracy and governmental honesty are especially sensitive to structural reform, it would make sense to include provisions encouraging unionization in a reform program.


[1] Israel and Luxembourg are not included because of their incomplete data. While the data is the most recent available, it is -- unfortunately -- not current.

[2] The available democracy, governmental honesty, competitiveness and prosperity indices produce global rankings. This necessitated adjusting the global rankings to conform to the OECD rankings. For example, while the USA ranked 24th on Transparency International's "honesty"index, it ranks 13th among the 32 OECD countries. That is, the differencesbetween very positive and very negative rankings are masked when the global rankings are adjusted to conform to the number of OECD countries.

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Neal Herrick is author of the award-wining After Patrick Henry (2009). His most recent book is (2014) Reversing America’s Decline. He is a former sailor, soldier, auto worker, railroad worker, assistant college football coach, (more...)

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