Is America Necessary? Conservative, Liberal, & Socialist Perspectives of United States Political Institutions

By Henry Etzkowitz; Peter Schwab | Go to book overview
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15 Unions
The basic questions this chapter will address are:
1. Do unions serve workers or management?
2. Is union leadership part of the corporate elite, or in opposition to it?
3. Can unions be reformed so that they represent the interests of their constituency?

Conservatives do not believe in the existence of unions. However, since they have achieved the right to exist conservatives have to deal with them. The proper role of unions, to conservatives, is to keep their members in line and serving the interests of management. Since management is paternalistic it believes that union leadership should accept a place as a junior partner in the corporate establishment. Union leaders may maintain a facade of independence but their real interests are held to be the same as those of management.

Conservatives hold that the unruliness of workers in the 1970s1 is due to three factors: (1) The impact of a youth society that is not oriented toward accepting decisions handed down by an authority. (2) The use of drugs. (3) The impact of the war in Vietnam. Together, these three factors have created an independent, individualistic, and undisciplined work force. The solution, as conservatives see it, is to get workers to work harder. One means to this end is the creation of sensitivity groups in industry whose purpose would be to persuade workers to accept industry goals on their own. The lack of discipline is a problem in interpersonal relationships that can be resolved through the management's use of psychotherapeutic techniques.2

Liberals maintain that unions are an important mechanism for the protection of workers. Obtaining and protecting jobs, increasing wages, and securing fringe benefits such as vacation time and hospitalization, are some of their major responsibilities. Unions guard workers against the abuses of industry; without them workers would be at the mercy of the corporation.

Socialists believe that most unions cooperate with management to keep workers in line. Most union leaders have accepted the ideology of the American corporate establishment and have acted to attain for themselves many of the prerequisites of corporate executives, such as high salaries, expense accounts, and elaborate offices. They have lost contact with workers and are often unaware of their needs. Workers in turn are alienated and isolated from their union leadership.3 They often don't trust the leaders and sometimes refuse to ratify agreements negotiated by their leadership. To regain their autonomy workers conduct wildcat strikes on their own. Socialists feel that conditions of labor and false leadership need change. On this issue two strategies have been suggested by socialists: (1) The creation of alternative, representative, and responsible unions which act in the interests of their constituency.4 (2) Formation of rank-and-file caucuses to elect new leadership for existing unions.5 Through these two strategies socialist change can be effected.

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