*Capitalism as an economic philosophy caters to upper management and ownership at the expense of lower management and labor. It is an philosophy that has been able to survive in the United States because of the hope and possibility of the laborers to become upper management and even ownership through hard work and/or some novel idea.
But generally laborers remain laborers. The divide between these two classes became pronounced during the Industrial Revolution when the upper classes successfully exploited labor while steadily increasing profits. It was in this circumstance that labor unions were born.
Unions were originally the lone voice opposing the desire of ownership. As such unions were necessary to lessen the exploitation of labor. Over the course of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries labor unions have maintained an important position on the economic landscape of United States. But unions are not without fault. In the last decade there have been two high profile examples of how unions can become a roadblock to progress.
With the American auto industry in decline, General Motors has had to take into consideration the claims and desires of the auto workers’ union. The people who make up this union provide valuable labor for a vital industry in this country. And yet to acquiesce to all of their wants would severely hamper General Motors’ ability to remain economically viable. In fact a large part of the economic trouble the company finds itself in currently is due to its obligations to former workers, obligations won by the auto workers’ union previously. Companies should not take advantage of their labor force but neither should it be held hostage by the labor force through a union.
Major League Baseball players have similarly had their interests subjugated to that of Major League Baseball owners for the majority of their existence. But today the MLB players union is recognized as the strongest in professional sports. So when the integrity of the sport is called into question because of the use of performance enhancing drugs and the union fights steps to implement corrections to that problem, there is clearly a problem. The union is resisting the implementation of blood testing to screen for performance enhancers to the detriment of the integrity of baseball. Baseball owners should not be able to dictate the playing conditions of its laborers but neither should the laborers be able to undermine the value of the franchises which are ultimately the owners’ possessions.
Historically unions have been necessary to keep the dynamic between labor and ownership from becoming too hegemonic. But unions and the laborers they represent must not become a more powerful force in determining the long term interests of an industry when compared to the owners who will actually own the companies in twenty years.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War and he maintains a blog called This Seems Familiar. You can reach him at [email protected]