What Do Unions Do?

What Do Unions Do?

What Do Unions Do?

What Do Unions Do?

Excerpt

Trade unions are the principal institution of workers in modern capitalistic societies. For over 200 years, since the days of Adam Smith, economists and other social scientists, labor unionists, and businessmen and women have debated the social effects of unionism. Despite the long debate, however, no agreed-upon answer has emerged to the question: What do unions do?

On the one side, many economists view unions largely as monopolies in the labor market whose primary economic impact is to raise members' wages at the expense of unorganized labor and of the efficient functioning of the economy. These analysts stress the adverse effects of union work rules on productivity, the loss of employment in the organized sector due to union wage effects, and the consequent crowding of the nonunion sector with displaced workers. Consistent with this view, managers frequently complain about inflexible operations and work disruptions due to unions, while many social critics paint unions as socially unresponsive, elitist, non-democratic, and crime-riddled institutions.

On the other side are those who believe unions have beneficial economic and political effects. Industrial relations experts have long stressed the ways in which collective bargaining can induce better management and higher productivity. These specialists note that unions can increase the development and retention of skills, provide information about what occurs on the shop floor, improve morale, and pressure management to be more efficient in its operations. Unionists point out that in addition to increasing wages, unions provide workers . . .

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