Posts Tagged ‘unionizing

19
Oct
10

A More Perfect Union

We have a complicated relationship with labor unions in the West. We have the timeless image of decent, simple, blue-collar men (and women) who work hard to put food on their family’s tables, until the company they work for decides to cut wages, leaving the worker’s no choice other than to form a union, strike, and eventually victor over the soulless corporate fat-cats in a heartwarming, straight-to-television kind of way. Balancing this image is that of the corrupt, surly, indolent teamsters, siphoning off cash from both the company and the workers, and bullying any opposition into submission.

 

Now there’s a bit of truth to both sides. On the one hand, unions were once (and in many parts of the world, still are) violently persecuted and harassed by companies and corporations who had men, women, and children working long hours for low pay in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Unions were, for the working class, their sole means of getting a fair wage or better conditions. On the other hand, it’s undeniable that there is corruption within many unions- just look at the news stories of unions hiring non-union workers to picket for them (linked here).

 

Now as you can probably guess, Communists side unilaterally with unions. Indeed, Communists were among the first to push for worker’s rights and unionization, and continue to do so to this day. However, what is the Marxist response to the problem of unions becoming parasitic organizations that exploit both employees and employers?

 

The problem of union corruption arises from an attempt to fight for worker rights within the Capitalist system, rather than recognizing Capitalism as the source of exploitation. Imagine that you lead a union of textile workers. You’ve just got the company you work for to agree to good wages, safe working conditions, good benefits (healthcare and whatnot)- where do you go from there? If you dissolve the union, there’s the high likelihood that the company will simply begin to exploit the workers again. If you continue to fight for higher wages and more benefits, then you might damage the company by draining it of its profits (demanding $100 hourly-wages in a lemonade stand that has a weekly profit of $5- extreme example, but you get the idea). And since we live in a society based entirely on acquiring the most cash possible, the best option for you is to line your pockets with money from both sides- higher wages from the company and union dues from the workers. This is the problem- if nothing is done about the Capitalist system that caused the exploitation in the first place, unions can be just as bad as the company.

 

So what’s the solution?

A change of priorities.

 

Communists, both in this country and around the world are working both with and in unions to fight for worker’s rights, but in a very different way than their Capitalist counterparts. Instead of working towards the end goal of more money, the Communist solution is for unions to work towards more control. Instead of continuing to work for the corporations, unions are to work for greater control over their places of work, be it a textile factory, a automobile assembly line, or a fast-food chain. Ultimately, all workers would have a fair and equal wage, and an equal share in the company. Essentially, the textile factory would be owned and run by those working there. With an equal share of the company, profit becomes secondary to the well-being of the workers and the quality and quantity of the  product being made. Exploitation would be impossible, and there would be no dichotomy between the will of the workers and the will of the company. This is the kind of union worth fighting for.

18
Feb
10

The Trickle-Down Theory

Though it the term originated in the 1930s, the “Trickle-Down Theory” has come into increasing use over the past year (largely due to the global financial meltdown). Essentially, the theory holds that by cutting taxes on the wealthy and/or allocating wealth to the upper classes, the money they save will be spent on luxury items that will provide work and profits to the middle class, who in turn will buy products that provide work and profits to the working class.

Obviously, this theory is complete and utter tripe.

Firstly, the theory is based on the assumption that the items the wealthy buy will somehow benefit the middle-class. In reality however, when an oil tycoon buys a diamond necklace for his wife, he isn’t benefiting anyone. If he walks into a store to buy the necklace, is he somehow benefitting the clerk behind the counter? Of course not- her wages are the same whether or not he buys anything. The profits of the sale go to the diamond magnates who own the store. In short, the wealthy get wealthier- the middle class simply facilitates the process.

Now you might say, “Hey, doesn’t the oil tycoon’s purchase help the middle-class? Without customers, the store couldn’t operate and the clerk would be out of a job! And if the clerk is out of a job, she isn’t going to be able to spend money and produce profit for the working class!”. Now that’s partly true- but only partly. The clerk’s job does depend on the store being successful, however, let’s look at the big picture. If the store is already running, then it has enough business to provide the job. Whether the tycoon has a few extra thousand dollars isn’t going to make the slightest difference. Again, you might argue “But an increase in the demand for diamonds means that more diamonds must be mined, producing work and profits for the proletariat!”. Again, this is only partly true. Now if there was a massive increase in the demand for diamonds (and let’s face it, it’s not like diamonds wear out and need to be bought by the dozen), there would indeed be more work for the proletariat. There’d be more work, not more profit. The owners of the mines can simply increase the workload- they have no reason to increase wages. Unionizing? The majority of the world’s diamonds are mined in third world countries where (1) unionizers can be beaten, tortured, or killed and where (2) the general populace is so poor they’ll take whatever wages they can get. In short, an increase in wealth for the wealthy does not equate an increase in wealth for the entire social system.

Ok, maybe that isn’t entirely true. There are certain (rare) situations in which the trickle-down theory seems to work (which brings us to the second issue). Imagine a wealthy man decides to build a sports stadium- the advocates of the trickle-down theory will argue that this will provide jobs and profits for the local community. Now this will in fact provide jobs- as food vendors and janitors. Whatever extra money they have will be spent on things too insignificant to boost the community out of poverty. I wouldn’t call that “benefiting” the working class anymore than I would call a dew-drop in the Sahara a “water-supply”.

Now I’ve stated that the origin of the term “trickle-down theory” originated in the 30s- but the actual practice has been going on since the beginning of time. It’s what they used to do with hunting dogs. Sic them on rabbits and, after the dogs catches the prey, they wait patiently under the table while the master eats the meat. When the master’s done, he throws the scraps to them. Now it might work for dogs, but if you treat a human like an animal, then it is only a matter of time before he becomes one- and an animal and has no issue with ripping your throat out.