Trevor Brookins

*The origins of unions in this country are part of the story of industrialization.

In fact unions were labor’s response to the advent of Robber Barons – extremely powerful capitalist entrepreneurs of the late 19th century. As such they have always been charged with ensuring that any person or company’s profit is paralleled by a similar increase in the fortunes of the workers.

One of the negatives of capitalism is that it rewards exploitation. A company that overworks its employees while underpaying them maximizes its profits. Unions curtail the number of times this happens.

But in protecting quality workers from exploitation unions inadvertently protect substandard workers from improvement, thereby undermining all productivity and profit.

Over the 150 years since organized labor began to fight for a partnership role in business, several concessions from management have been solidified: the 40 hour work week, extra compensation for national holidays, compensation for on-the-job injuries. But perhaps the most important and influential development is health care and pensions tied to inflation.

In other words when the cost of living increases so do the company payouts and company health care contributions to former workers. And while this can be generous of a company, it is ultimately an unsustainable practice.

Any company that lacks generosity, or can project its costs/revenue long term, or can study recent history would never enter into any such agreement.

In fact one of the problems that led to the recent collapse of the American auto industry was just these sorts of agreements that had been negotiated by the auto workers unions.

Ultimately workers should not be exploited but within the system of capitalism, where the profit motive is supreme, it is impossible to not take advantage of every resource, human or not.

Altering the basic ideas and rules of capitalism, as unions do, is not the answer. Scrapping capitalism is.

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.  You can reach him at trevormbrookins@yahoo.com