Friday, September 2, 2011

When Unions Go Away

Welcome to the last universal work day before our holiday.  In observance, a note on perhaps the most important yet often unremarked gift of the labor movement.  It was a far more common feature of our employment standards in the past, and has been in steady decline right along with the disappearance of unions in this country. It is no coincidence that when unions go away, so do all the best things about work.

Pensions have all but disappeared from the vast majority of employee compensation packages. In those instances when something is offered as a replacement, it is in the form of some kind of self-funded savings plan, or perhaps an employer assisted savings scheme, with the assistance aspect steadily declining ever since this trend took hold.  Most workers get nothing at all.

These 401 type plans have been sold like tickets to an island paradise since at least the early 1980s.  And who doesn't want to get to paradise?  The problem is that there has been hell to pay for the average worker as a result of the shift from a stable and reliable traditional pension system to the risk of becoming a target in that shooting gallery on Wall Street, while gambling on growing meager savings into an adequate nest egg over the course of a normal working life.  Can you say "sucker?"

Unions developed traditional pension plans as a means of providing for a secure retirement income, through the building of an equity stake in the business or industry to which workers contributed skills and time over the course of their productive years.  Owners are automatic equity holders, as a function of the capital outlay for start-up.  Often, this capital outlay is not just the owners' money, but is borrowed from the aggregate pool of savings in the economy as a whole.  However you score it, though, it comes down to our time and their money.  Pensions formed a marriage of sorts between the two, so that both partners could share in the rewards of the enterprise over the long haul. 

Now, for those without pensions, employers simply divorce them in old age, without the burden of any community property obligation.  They give workers an allowance and lunch money, then send them packing when it's time to say good-bye.  Employers continue on to paradise, while workers drift off to whatever fate awaits.  New workers can always be had to continue the employer's journey.  Some are always needed for a business to operate; it's really not anything like God created the universe, set things in motion, went away and let the sun come up and go down everyday on its own accord.  No, businesses do need us, they just don't give a damn what happens to us after they've used us up.  It reminds me of that old line from the stick-up man, "What will it be, your money or your life?"  When it comes to our work, it should not come down to an ultimatum between their money or our life.  Both should be rewarded long-term.

If you doubt that this strategy by employers is just that cold and calculating, consider that their next target is Social Security, so they can forever be relieved of any contribution or commitment to our future.  When or if unions finally do go away, so will it and everything good in work and a working life in this country.

1 comment:

  1. Victor Bussie dead on Labor Day weekend