Workers digging their own Holes

Men fight for liberty and win it with hard-knocks.
Their children, brought up easy, let it slip away again, poor fools. And their
grandchildren are once more slaves. -D.H. Lawrence

Those who support unions and those who are
anti-union often look at one another in bewilderment, scratching their heads in
wonder at how the other could honestly hold their beliefs. This situation does
beg some consideration.


Union supporters have obvious reasons for
their support, including the desire for better wages and benefits. Anti-union
workers are a different story. These workers typically earn less than union
workers and enjoy fewer, if any, benefits. So why don’t all workers support and
want to join unions?


The reasons are likely deceptively simple. A
thoughtful blog[1] on the topic has recently
posited that the basic rationale underlying the lack of support for unions
amongst non-union workers is resentment and the desire for relative success. Relative in the sense that people seem
content if they are earning little, just so long as someone else is not earning
more. Based on the argument that satisfaction with one’s lot is relative to the
lot of others, the root of the resentment for union workers becomes clear. Rather
than trying to rise to the wage and benefit level enjoyed by their union
counterparts, many non-union workers are content to support policies and
politicians who would seek to bust unions and reduce all workers to the same
lower level, thus removing the relative disparity in their incomes. The aim is
not the public good. The aim is to hurt your neighbour until he is brought down
to your level. One can’t help but be reminded of a timeless Bob Dylan classic,
in which he warbles:

one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in[2]

But besides resentment and interpretations of
success on a relative scale, there’s likely another reason for the support of
non-union workers for anti-union policies. Politicians against organized labour
have gone to great lengths to cast unions in a negative light, presenting union
members as villains bent on destroying the economy before escaping in their
golden parachutes. A sterling example of this kind of political rhetoric is
found in the following statement by Mitt Romney when speaking of Obama:


“he wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more
government workers. He says we need more fireman, more policeman, more
teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did.
It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”[3]

The take home message here seems to be that
public sector workers are far too plentiful already and eliminating their jobs
will help the “people”. But what if the opposite is true? What if hiring more
public sector workers and expanding the membership of public sector unions
would lead to improved wages and benefits for more workers, to more dignity and
self-respect and to a generally happier society? What if reducing public sector
union jobs will lead to lower wages and prolong economic woes?

Politicians like Mitt Romney and Tim Hudak
would be loath to entertain such ideas. Instead they spin and do their best to
foster the resentment of non-union workers toward union workers, blaming the
organized workers for the ills of society. And when a segment of the working
population is already predisposed to resent unions, convincing people that
unions are to blame for such broad problems as economic woes is an easy sell. Unions
which have always fought for the rights of working men and women have, in a
cruel twist, been presented as an out of touch elite group of workers which
work to harm the “common man” or the “people”. If this lie is told convincingly
enough and often enough, the resentment naturally follows.


Only when this resentment is resolved will the
lies of anti-union politicians be rejected. But how to resolve the resentment? Whatever
path unions take, it seems evident that they are not only working against
anti-labour politicians, but an increasingly anti-union public, and much of the
battle for the future of unions will be waged in the sphere of public





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