Ezra approvingly quotes a commenter who says unions are important because, among other things, they lobby for greater worker protections. After reading Ezra’s quote, I started thinking of how labor organizations could lobby in a non-union structure and realized there’s a striking analogy to other movements. I said,
Actually, there’s no reason unions have to combine the roles that in the pro-choice movement are filled by two distinct organizations, Planned Parenthood and NARAL. Women who get abortions aren’t expected to pay dues to NARAL; women who file sexual harassment lawsuits don’t get told to pay NOW a percentage of the settlement; wrongly incarcerated people don’t have to pay ACLU membership fees to be represented.
A better way of organizing labor is to have two distinct organizations, albeit with the natural understanding that they’re going to employ the same kind of people and support the same kind of policies. The PP-like organization should focus exclusively on good works, such as class action lawsuits, strikes, and pay negotiations, and should be funded out of membership dues. The NARAL-like organization should lobby politicians and endorse like-minded candidates, and be funded by calling up supporters and asking them to cough up money.
The NARAL-like mode of action makes sense even from a purely union-side perspective. A pro-labor political organization can call up people and ask them to contribute without asking them to risk firing. People contribute to NOW and NARAL despite the free rider effect; why doesn’t a new organization, or for that matter the AFL-CIO, solicit donations?