Please answer the following questions about unions.   Hodson and Sullivan.  Chapter 6.  Collective Responses to Work Sweet and Meiksins.  Chapter 5.  Whose Jobs are Secure? Historical...

Please answer the following questions about unions.
 
Hodson and Sullivan.  Chapter 6.  Collective Responses to Work
Sweet and Meiksins.  Chapter 5.  Whose Jobs are Secure?
Historical Background

In his 1952 book American Capitalism, James Kenneth Galbraith introduced the idea of countervailing powers.  

Historically, the United States had been the home of individualism.  The popular example of collective cooperation was the "barn raising."  Where an entire community would come together to build a barn - a job that was beyond the capacity of any individual farmer.  When the barn was built, the community would have a party, and then each individual farming family would return to work on its own farm.  The next time a barn needed to be built everyone - would turn out again.  A person who did not cooperate in building barns for others, would receive no help when the time came to build his own.  This picture of voluntary community cooperation is also an idealized picture of Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand."  In which individual self-interest leads to public good.  The movie "Witness" with Harrison Ford contains and excellent scene showing a barn building in action.
In 1952, writing after the Great Depression, during which the Roosevelt administration had strongly supported the union movement, Galbraith stated that social organizations had grown too large for individuals to influence them .  It was simply not possible for an individual worker to negotiate an individual contract with a giant railroad or business.  Instead workers had to unite - form a union - that would be as large and powerful as the business they negotiated with.  The union would be a "countervailing power" which would equal the power of the business or industry.
Since 1952 the United States has seen the development of many "special interest" groups that represent the interests of their members.  These include unions that represent workers, industry/business groups that represent industries and businesses, as well as social groups that represent groups based on gender, race, social class, and ethnicity.  Obama's re-election is due to his ability to assemble a coalition of special interest groups as opposed to Romney who attempted to appeal to a large but less well defined social majority.  Much of the political commentary since the election has been on the need for Republicans to reach out to minority special interest groups.
This rise of countervailing powers leads to a paradox.  At a time that special interest groups are more powerful than ever, the original special interest group, workers unions, are losing members, both in number and as a percentage of the work force.
In fact, today the public sector has a a larger percent of union workers than the private sector.
Note that public sector unions only began to be counted during WWII, when President Roosevelt fostered them to partner in the economic austerity measures required to fight the war.  As late as 1925 in his inaugural address President Calvin Coolidge had stated:
                              "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time."
 
Assignment:
  1.  Using the required readings, supplementary readings, and individual research briefly discuss the rise and fall in private sector unions and compare it with the rise and current controversy over public unions.
  2. List three ways in which public unions contribute to the common good.
  3. List three ways in which public unions detract from the common good.
  4. Predict the future growth/decline and influence of public and private unions, giving reasons for your prediction.
OR
  1. Select a special interest group and 
        a.  briefly describe its composition and history,
        b.  list three ways in which it contributes to the common good,
        c.  list three ways in which it detracts from the common good,
        d. Predict the groups future growth/decline and influence, giving reasons for your prediction.

Asked on by ekaterina1

1 Answer | Add Yours

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

First, please note that we do not have your readings and therefore cannot answer this question properly.  It would be best if you try to relate your reading to this question.

The rise and fall of private sector unions has been somewhat different from the experience of the public sector unions.  Private sector unions arose through a great deal of conflict in the late 1800s and into the 1900s.  Public sector unions did not undergo the same kind of violent resistance since they were not trying to go against companies that had economic stakes in preventing them from arising.  Public sector unions sort of piggybacked on the success of the private sector unions.  Private sector unions have declined rapidly because of economic competition between companies.  By contrast, the controversy over public sector unions is largely a political one.  Many people simply feel that it is wrong for them to have what they perceive as cushy deals when private sector workers lack such deals.

We can argue that public unions contribute to the common good because they ensure that government workers will get good wages.  We can say they are beneficial because they reduce income inequality in society.  We can say that they are beneficial because they allow government jobs to have good pay and, thereby, to attract a better class of government workers.

We can argue that public unions detract from the public good because they make us pay higher taxes in order to pay the government workers their high salaries.  We can say they hurt us by making it more attractive to go into government work than it is to go into the private sector, which is more productive and more important for our economic growth.  We can say they make people hate the government because they are jealous of the wages and job security enjoyed by government workers.

I believe that it is likely that unions of all sorts will decline.  In the private sector, they will decline as global competition makes it harder for companies to survive without cutting costs to the bone.  In the public sector, they will decline because of rising anger among average Americans. 

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,916 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question