Unions, Labor Movements, Labor

13 May 1997 11:03

My grand-father belonged to one (also to the Communist Party, but that's a story for another time); my mother belongs to one; I'm rather proud to belong to one --- in fact I was the physics department steward; my wife belongs to one. They are, as the bumper-sticker says, the anti-theft device for working people, and while I can't claim the courage to start one --- the horror-stories told by organizers are, indeed, horrifying --- it really seems like the height of folly not to support them. (I shan't embarrass you or myself by singing "Solidarity Forever" at this point.) In fact, if you want a stable private-ownership economy, a big, strong, duly-recognized labor movement cannot be over-rated, since the alternative leaves most of the population without a stake in the system --- poor, insecure (pensions and safety regulations were not exactly introduced out of the goodness of stockholder's hearts), without legitimate political force --- and that makes things all too easy for lunatics and fanatics like Thomas Müntzer and Lenin and Pat Buchanan. Of course, unions are often corrupt and stifling; but this doesn't exactly single them out from among governments, corporations, churches, schools, armies, political parties, social movements, think-tanks, bowling leagues, etc., as the most depraved and vicious of human institutions.

Query: Could one give a neo-institutionalist account of unions, as the equivalent for labor of a joint-stock company?

See also: Democracy; Economics; the Left; Revolutions and Revolutionaries