This started out as a comment over at this John Edwards diary, in response to this comment by SPLib.
Edwards: "...ban the hiring of permanent replacement workers."
So, workers should have all the freedom to come and go as they please, but a business cannot choose who to hire and how long they work for them?
If you want to strike, you take the risk of being replaced.
Sure, most people think they are irreplacable at their jobs, but what if everyone KNEW they couldn't be replaced? That sure is a non-motivator for excellence and productivity. Sounds like France.
To understand my comment below, I think you really have to understand my history with unions. I was raised in a coal mining county, everyone mined coal and the sound of Triaxles slowing down with their Jake Break was a constant backdrop to my life, as they flew down our mainstreet about every 10 minutes all day and all night long. The boom was great, the pay was great, everyone had a new car and went on vacations and painted their houses, pools were built, cookouts were common, all the kids had new cleats and baseball gloves each summer. Then, Reagan was elected. Steel moved overseas and with it the need for coal. Soon, even the power plants stopped asking for coal, because they found it cheaper to buy it from China. But, a few die-hard coal companies still existed, and even one or two still exist today as a shadow of their former selves. A company that remained was the one my dad worked for, and one day the Unions came to town. They wanted the workers to hold a vote on whether to allow a union rep on the premises to talk with the workers. The owner called my Dad in, who had worked his way up from a bulldozer operator to be a higher-level foreman. He told him, "Bill, if they vote yes, I'm shuttin' her down. I've got my money, I've got money put away for the kids, and right now we're just breaking even. I can't afford a union."
Well, my dad went to the meeting, and this very shy man told the crowd what he had been told. They shouted him down, calling him a company man and people he had been friends with, been in a war with, worked with, drank with...they spewed venom at him. And, they voted to allow the rep on the premises.
When they got to work the next morning, the gates were locked. Within a couple months the equipment was all sold off. From that day forward, Union was a no-no in our house. It was a word that after you said it, you spit on the floor kind of thing. I hated the unions.
And, I continued to hate them right up through graduate school, when I sat down and read The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath back to back. In college, I was supposed to read the Jungle, but when I heard it was a pro-union book I refused! Well, reading it as "an adult" made me realize that unions had a place in our world. Maybe they had lost some of their focus, looking for higher and higher wages and more vacation time, instead of worrying about every union member having a job. But, thanks to the policies of George Bush, they seem to be back on task, focusing on living wages, basic health care, and expanding the work force. The unions that are growing are the ones that focus on these issues, like SEIU.
That then, is the background to my comment below.
I thought this was crazy at first too, part of my internal struggle with unions. But, then I thoguth about a world where anyone can be fired at any time and replaced by someone else. Many of us work in that environment right now, and it isn't nice. In biotech, the theory is that you better have 6 months pay put away because at the drop of a hat your company could be bought and you end up on the curb. The thinking is that this is okay because you make enough to sock away a couple months pay, to use while you look for that next job.
Now, imagine you are one of the millions working at a car plant in Detroit, well maybe not millions anymore. You have been there for a year with good work, no sick days, nothing. You come in and ask for a raise and are promptly fired and replaced with the next guy in line who can do your job. He works for a year, asks for some time off when his baby is born, bang he's fired, on to the next guy.
Suddenly, it isn't enough that you show up to work every day, now they start asking if you can work an extra half hour each day. Then an hour. Finally, one day you say, look I've got a family...bang, fired, NEXT! Can't work Saturday's, BANG fired, NEXT!
Sounds unreasonable? Sounds unrealistic? Well, that is exactly what the working environment was like in many large corporations before the unions. Think of The Jungle, or The Grapes of Wrath if you have read them, if not read them for the first time. Or, read one of the many books out about current labor conditions, listen to the reports of how undocumented workers are treated in the chicken processing plants.
There was a time that we left business to their own means, we were a "Free Market" society, and look what happened. Monopolies, poor working conditions, child-labor factories. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire...
At 4:45 pm the bell rang signaling that the workday was done. The girls in the light brown and terra cotta Asch building, on the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place in lower Manhattan, had put in some overtime...As the girls were gathering their belongings and putting on their coats someone yelled "Fire!"
Down below on the street, people started to notice the smoke billowing from the 8th floor. One of the bystanders observed a bolt of cloth come flying out the window and hit the pavement...It was then that the realization hit them that it wasn't bolts of cloth at all but bodies plummeting to the pavement below...
The women raced to the east end stairway but by now it was an inferno. They stampeded back to the west side passenger elevators and stairway. The door was locked...Firemen would later say that they found 19 bodies melted against the locked door. 25 were found huddled in death in the cloakroom trying to escape the flames, some with their hands covering their faces in death...
Among other restrictions, all doors must now open outwards, no doors are to be locked during working hours, sprinkler systems must be installed if a company employs more than 25 people above the ground floor, and fire drills are mandatory for buildings lacking sprinkler systems.
Unions were formed to help workers fight these conditions, the workers went on strike and BANG they were fired. It is a tactic used to break the unions, which are there to protect the workers.
Are there some overzealous union demands? Sure. But, if you break the unions, then prepare for the days of "Free Markets" again, and hope that it isn't your granddaughter pounding on some locked door someday begging for her life.