Democratic Party

Defining the Benefits of Unions Down


Mickey Kaus from his new home at Daily Caller thinks he sees the progressive left retreating in their defense of unions, or at least retreating in what they claim is so great about them:

Isn't it odd that the defense of unionism on the left by Paul Krugman and Mother JonesKevin Drum focuses almost exclusively on labor's role as "countervailing" political power to business–especially its role in supporting the Democratic party with money and manpower? Time was pro-labor economists argued mainly about the actual effect of unions within individual firms and industries–they raised wages, we were told, not only redistributing profits but providing workers with a "voice" that even resulted in increased productivity. You don't hear these arguments that much anymore. After the collapse of two of the three big UAW auto firms–beaten in the market by non-union American factories run by Honda, Hyundai and Toyota–the idea the unions actually help employers compete has apparently become too implausiblefor Drum and Krugman to advance with a straight face.

All that bolding is Kaus'.

Kaus then opines that if all unions are good for is being a countervailing power, then, well, their days even as the banner-waving cause of progressives are or should be numbered:

That's the tricky thing about the "countervailing power" argument. If unions are valuable not because of what they actually do in the economy but because, in their extracurricular activities, they can support the left against "the influence of business interests and the rich," as enhanced by Citizens United–and if the unions are manifestly withering and failing to perform that function, then erstwhile left wing labor supporters are perfectly justified in abandoning unionism to the ashheap of history while they look or other, newer ways of accomplishing the "countervailing" purpose unions once served.

What might that newer way be? You're reading it! Not Reason, but ye olde Internet and its new fangled wave of ways to beg farther, wider, and more effectively than any beggar has e'er before begged.

Reason interviewed Kaus in our August-September 2010 issue. Nick Gillespie sang a not-so-sad song of the death of unions earlier today.

Kaus on talking about how unions killed the Democratic Party with Gillespie:

NEXT: Jurors Acquit Suspect, Then Give Him Their Jury Pay

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  1. “All that bolding is Kaus’.”

    Someone should tell him about the [power] of square brackets.


  3. I thought it was all about the little guy?

    1. Sometimes the little guy needs to take one for the team.

    2. In theory, ProL. In practice, of course, only the TEAM matters.

      1. It fascinates me the “core values” of each party that actually mean jackshit to the party in question.

        1. It’s almost as if it’s about accumulating power rather than principles. Curious.

        2. They don’t have “core values”, ProL. They have talking points. And those are merely for identifying what TEAM someone is on.

          1. I like it when the polarity shifts completely. Like when the Republicans picked up all the religious folk.

            1. Like when the Democrats bought the black vote.

              1. Like when the South went from being the Solid (Democratic) South to being the Solid (Republican) South.

                1. Exactly. And the Republicans were the party that ended slavery and owned the black vote for decades, but no more. And which party loves war most seems to change from time to time.

                  There are a lot of other switches. Remember when the Democrats said deficit spending was bad?

  4. the idea the unions actually help employers compete has apparently become too implausible for Drum and Krugman to advance with a straight face.

    I am going to string together a couple of negatives here because I cannot think of a better way to frame this sentence:

    I was unaware that there was anything Paul Krugman found too implausible to advance with a straight face.

    No homo.

  5. All that bolding is Kaus’

    I like a person man who knows his way around an HTML tag.

    1. Blink. In-line image.

  6. The little guy is the individual who must associate with, and contribute to, the filthy collectivist union and its statutorily granted monopoly bargaining rights, in order to employ or be employed.

    1. The first Wisconsin sign I saw that said “Protect Union Rights” made me think “Huh, well that’s surprisingly honest” but then I realized that those dimwits don’t really understand the difference between union “rights” and individual rights.

  7. Unionism = less than

  8. In this interview Nick kind of reminds me of CNN’s interview with Charlie Sheen. At some points Nick just wouldn’t shut up.

  9. Strangely enough, Salon had a similar piece today by Michael Lind. Excerpt:

    Would higher levels of private sector unionization in the U.S. reduce pretax income inequality? It almost certainly would. Does that mean that the most important thing that we can do to reduce economic polarization in America is to defend public sector unions and hope that somehow private sector unionism can grow beyond its present marginal role? No. Even in a much friendlier political and economic environment, it would take decades for private sector unions to grow until they once again included a third of American workers as they did in the 1950s, to say nothing of a majority of the workforce.

  10. Again, for those unfamiliar, let a professional Labor Relations Guy? help you with what The Sainted Unions? have to offer employers:

    1) More Problems
    2) Increased Expenditure of Time and Effort
    3) Increased Costs

    Always. Forever. In all cases. There are no exceptions. Period.

    That is all.

  11. Isn’t it odd that the defense of unionism on the left by Paul Krugman and Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum focuses almost exclusively on labor’s role as “countervailing” political power

    Not at all. The left occupies a universe where the acquisition and use of political power is really the only thing that matters. They wouldn’t have any use for unions at all unless they served as a vehicle for the acquisition and use of power.

    Its more of a tautology than an oddity.

    1. What interests me here is that Doherty here misses the key reason for keeping unions, especially public employee unions, around from a Democratic perspective: they act as a guaranteed source of compelled funds to throw at campaigning.

  12. Perhaps off-topic, but I enjoy the nonsensical argument that goes some like “Unions created weekends.”

    Even if I were to agree with that, so what? Their work is done, they can go now. Nothing worse than someone who wants perpetual gratification for doing something good once way back when. Whatever good works unions did is now codified into law and they have run out of useful things to put into the law and are now providing negative returns.

    1. “Whatever good works unions did is now codified into law”

      Just take a peak into any corporate breakroom. You’ll likely find separate large placards for Federal, State and, sometimes, local work rules (for a manufacturing plant add similar placards for safety and hazardous materials rules). It’s easy to find the Federal one because it’s the size of a movie poster and is filled with small print.

      Thanks, unions, for blazing this trail. Can we leave it at that or do we have to let you bankrupt the entire country in compensation?

  13. In making this shift, aren’t Krugman and Drum just making it more obvious that unions have outlived their usefulness? When there is no longer a reason you can plausibly argue for an organization to exist, one of the stopgaps to their demise is saying that whether you like it or not, you have to keep them around or else “the bad guys will win.”

    Unfortunately for them, a lot of the American public has already noticed from footage and past history that as often as not, the unions ARE the bad guys.

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