Freedom and Control in Modern Society

By Morroe Berger; Theodore Abel | Go to book overview

tect the interests of their members by checking the encroachments of other groups.20 Even the most dictatorial union is a better protector of workers' economic interests and of political democracy within the larger society, than no union, provided that the union is not a tool either of the state or of the employer. In large measure, the chance that the collectivist society which is developing in most countries will be democratic rests in the possibility that trade unions, although supporters of socialist objectives, will maintain their independence of the state. The behavior of the trade unions of the Commonwealth and the Scandinavian countries furnishes real evidence that such a pattern is possible.

It is also necessary to remember that even the most dictatorial trade union leaders must be somewhat responsive to the economic needs of their members. A union oligarchy which does not defend the economic interests of the rank and file may find its membership disappearing, as John L. Lewis did in the twenties. Lewis, then a trade union as well as a political conservative, almost lost the United Mine Workers. Only after adopting the militant tactics for which he is now famous was Lewis able to rebuild the union. A trade union which is not an economic defense organization has no function, and will not long remain on the scene. The fact that most unions do represent their members' interests must, however, not be confused with the problem of internal democracy, for as Howe and Widick have pointed out:

There is one decisive proof of democracy in a union (or any other institution): oppositionists have the right to organize freely into "parties," to set up factional machines, to circulate publicity and to propagandize among the members. . . . The presence of an opposition . . . is the best way of insuring that a union's democratic structure will be preserved. . . . To defend the right of factions to exist is not at all to applaud this or that faction. But this is the overhead (well worth paying!) of democracy: groups one considers detrimental to the union's interest will be formed. The alternative is dictatorship.21


METHODOLOGICAL APPENDIX

Students of the labor movement will be able to point to major exceptions to each proposition suggested in this chapter. Clearly, it is impossible in the case of given organizations or individuals to abstract any one variable and make it the sole or even primary determinant of a given behavior pattern. The problem of how to deal with multi-factored determinants of specific behavior patterns is a basic one in the social sci

____________________
20
Franz L. Neumann, "Approaches to the Study of Political Power," Political Science Quarterly, June, 1950, pp. 161-180.
21
Irving Howe and B. J. Widick, op. cit., pp. 262-263.

-122-

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