Unions – Action or Reaction? – Misunderstood by millions.

In my previous post (Unions – My Epiphany) I described my journey to questioning Union Member’s attitudes, and wondered if they were innate or created by management.

Many years passed, while I was working under management in a growing company, IBM, and I was busy building networks, getting married having children and moving between a few countries: South Africa, the US, the UK and finally to the US again, where I have lived in all four corners of North America and in the middle.

And in all that time, I never considered Unions much, except to note the US Labor Movement was decaying, because it had failed to practice solidarity in the face of the mass PATCO firings by Ronald Regan. Their collective response was nothing, showing the world they were de-fanged. The consequences were inevitable.

A very clever move by the anti-union establishment: divide-and-conquer is very effective. The correct response by the AFL-CIO to the PATCO strike and the mass firing should have been a general strike, irrespective of the legalities! They were a group who seemed to have been deliberately provoked by management, solely for the purpose of inviting the government to come in and whack them. I’m curious about the background for this, and would welcome some details of that provocation if anyone cares to send them.

The only conclusion I reached when working for IBM in the US, is that modern corporations are feudal. There are peasants (I was one), lords (management), and flunkies (staff). There were executions (“You’re fired!”), religion (don’t eat your own corporate children by infringing on another product’s revenue) and dogma: do not use the increasing density of silicon devices to reduce the price of machines! That attitude has worked well for IBM as silicon foundries have eliminated the craft of assembling large mainframes.

Finally, in my wanderings I arrived at a bastion of Labor – Vancouver BC. There I had a consulting engagement with the local telephone company – and it was a joy to work with the professional attitudes of engineering and card people. One of the “tests” of engineers such as myself, was to engage with the craft people, because they had the power, under their union contract, to “red tag” projects which would remove work from the craft (union) people.

The discussion went well, and unknown to myself the union rep reported favorably back up through whatever channels were active. Basically, I told the truth. Telling the truth is much simpler than lying, because if one chooses to lie, one has to keep a record of both the lies and their recipients (Lying creates a “house of cards” which sooner or later collapses on the people who built the house of cards with their lies. Much unpleasantness can follow).

The Union at that time had a calm, and not too confrontational relationship with the phone company, which I was later informed was not always as peaceful as the relationships that I observed. I asked why.
Both the the management and the unions had a similar perspective: Treat the craft worker, union member with respect, and there will be discussions but not strife. If management (driven by senior management) became stern, demanding and authoritarian, their behavior would be considered unreasonable. Then, the Union members would react, and labor strife ensued. Typically, sometime after that happens, Management becomes embarrassed, by detailed public scrutiny of their behavior. The embarrassment they encounter actually becomes one of the strongest deterrents to bad behavior on the part of management.

Notice that in almost EVERY instance of union unrest, the unrest is a direct result of management behavior. Unions are a RE-action to management, not a force which initiates strife. Unions give the workers an opportunity to stand up for themselves. In a perfect world, unions would be not simply unwanted (by management). They would be necessary! Unions are a reaction by workers, to defend themselves against unfair and predatory practices by a company’s (or industry’s) management. No one wants industrial action, working to rule or a strike. All lose money, employer and employee. The employees always feel the pain of a strike more keenly than management, because the employees have families to support, mortgages, and child care/support expenses. They don’t WANT a strike – but they may choose a strike as the lesser of two evils, when confronted by unreasonable management behavior.

Management tends to see themselves as feudal lords in the corporate setting. This has the standard set of inevitable consequences – peasant revolts. But, peasant revolts only work if all the peasants are unified.

Solidarity is also a characteristic of Unions. Unions are a consequence of “feudal lord corporate management” and for while Unions, which demand and enforce solidarity among its members, sometimes in a very direct manner (Mostly, this involved fines and similar punishments for failing to support the Union, in the past there have been examples of unions threatening families and beating up dissidents,) living with the Union was part of the response to such management. In the US, this has become less common, because management invented a tool to destroy solidarity, and embedded these tools in law – the “Right to Work Law.” Right-to-work law strikes directly at the one source of power available to unions – solidarity, which serves to protect whichever group of their members is currently being damaged by their management.
Feudal Management in Today’s Corporations

We define “Feudal Lord Management” as being delineated by these examples:

1. If you argue – you die (get fired) [Lese majestas]
2. If the lord makes a mistake, it’s your fault – you die (get fired)
3. If you show the lord disrespect – you die (get fired).
4. If you get sick – you die (get fired)
5. If you get old – you die (get Fired)
6. If circumstances prove you right, you are an embarrassment to the lord, you die (get fired).

By now you should understand the central tenet of Feudal Barony, also known as “21st Century Management.”

Some management appears benevolent, especially when the peasantry is strong and unified. Solidarity in a Union is such an occurrence. However, do not believe that many Feudal Lords (Management) cherish this arrangement.

The message from this is:
1. Companies, management, gets the Unions they deserve, or provoke.
2. Management likes serfs or voiceless peasants rather than informed workers. (Right to Work law).
3. The Democratic party has done nothing to revoke Right To Work, a vestige of the Dixicrats in the Democratic Part in the 1950s. The Republicans may be able to “eat the Democrats’ lunch,” because the democrats have behaved so poorly when being asked to defend their workers.
4. Trump is positioning himself as a populist, and may transfer union allegiance from the Democrats to the Republicans.

And this – sadly still a pipe dream:

Industrial Democracy, including worker participation on the Board, especially the compensation committee, is essential to a healthy society. Workers have more invested in a business than shareholders – shareholders have money investing in a business, workers invest their lives.

Why a pipe dream? Because the US worships Mammon – The love of money which is the root of all evil.

A Christian Nation? – Christians you are not. – Do unto others is not the practice.

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One Response to Unions – Action or Reaction? – Misunderstood by millions.

  1. Ray Saunders says:

    I worked for IBM 1963-1968, when the demands on employees was intense (140-hour weeks for months) because of the new generation of mainframes. There was some talk of unions but IBM co-opted much of that by improving benefits and by promoting potential union leaders to management, where they magically got a different point of view. IBM was also rather paternal – decent salaries and benefits and unions didn’t get much traction in my time there. Spent another 24 years in a subsidiary of NYSE and unions never needed to be on the radar because they paid well, had good benefits and – most important – treated their employees with respect and caring. You’re right that companies get the unions they deserve – a good company has nothing to fear from a union. Exploiters are afraid their exploitation will be curtailed. Also agree re PATCO, but unfortunately the US has never had much of a tradition of General Strike, and when you look at it, a GS is normally more a political action than an economic one. Personally, I’d like to see a nationwide general strike until the House & Senate throw the bums out.