Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Union Mergers Aren't the Solution to Core Problems of Labor

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Union Mergers Aren't the Solution to Core Problems of Labor

Article excerpt

"If you can't beat them, join them" seems to be the current anthem of the labor movement.

There has been merger upon merger, sometimes unions of equal size and power joining forces, other times big unions absorbing smaller unions - and in one case then merging with other big unions to form really big unions.

So we see the Machinists and Auto Workers and Steelworkers creating the nation's biggest industrial union, 2 million members - on the order of the giant German IG Metall. The ink had barely dried on the Steelworkers merger with the Rubber Workers when the triple merger was announced.

The needletrade unions - the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union - forming UNITE.

The Communications Workers of America planning to merge with The Newspaper Guild. And so on.

After all, labor leaders say, if you're going to compete with huge corporations you've got to be huge yourself.

Well, maybe.

The arguments labor uses to explain these mergers make sense, but in a limited way. By and large, they don't address what some see as labor's two main failings:

A lack of verve, of imagination, of aggressiveness.

A focus on questionable goals.

First, labor's rationale for the mergers. One oft-heard thought is that they eliminate redundancy. Legal, education, political and other departments can be cut back from two or three to one, saving resources.

True, but how key is this in the big picture? Labor did not fall into its current doldrums because of too many staffers, nor will its problems be solved by trimming back. And how big will the savings be with the same number of workers to service?

Unions also say they won't waste resources competing for workers and control. Same response here - while wasteful when it occurs, this hardly explains labor's decline. And what stops unions from simply agreeing - as some have - to not raid each others' territory? Mergers should, however, simplify the representation of workers.

Then there's talk of evolving technologies, that unions should emulate businesses by merging across industries.

A valid idea, though nothing has prevented unions from cooperating more, sharing expertise and experience. …

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