Union Politics

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?

3 Responses to Union Politics

  1. jd2718 says:

    Because our power, in theory, comes from our workplace organization. The lobbying is (should be) adjunct to our primary business – trying to take some control over our working conditions.

    I would argue that most of the work you are describing is a diversion of resources from where union energy should be directed.

    And finally, in the first half of last century, and again a bit in the 50s and 60s, unions established enough strength to break the “law,” and the laws were rewritten to recognize the balance of forces on the ground. Strikes of (fill in the industry) workers were legalized only after illegal strikes were successfully conducted.

  2. Alon Levy says:

    Well, what you say is certainly true. But with so much legislation aimed at breaking unions – bills outlawing secondary strikes, right to work laws, and so on – it might be prudent to solicit donations. For a start, it doesn’t divert monetary resources, only person-hours. In addition, it may well be true that even within budget, there’s more bang to the buck gotten from campaigning against right to work laws than from going on strike.

    But ultimately, what I suggest is meant to safeguard union activity from having to split its attention between politics and agitation. The unions can focus on labor agitation, leaving a NARAL-like organization to solicit donations and lobby politicians to pass more labor-friendly laws. At a time when union density is shrinking and in many states unions have been utterly decimated, unions don’t have the power to use general strikes to force the government to pass pro-labor laws.

  3. SLC says:

    Somewhat off topic but apropos to the Iraq situation, attached are a couple of Youtube links to speeches given by Chuck Hagel. Not only does he express opposition to the administrations surge strategy but on the second one he takes a shot at Israel. What more could Mr. Levy want, an anti-war candidate who also bashes Israel. Who cares about pissant issues like abortion when such a potential candidate steps forward. Mr. Levy should be drooling.

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