23 Jul 2004 @ 1:39 PM 

Following up on the whole social order discussion I started (to a resounding lack of response) the other day…

Talking to a couple of my coworkers this morning, we ended up wandering down the labor unions – good or bad debate. It seems to me that unions are not inherently wrong, but the implementation of them in the past 30 years has grown increasingly lopsided. Where, in the 20s, the factory owner had all the power and was able to force workers who wanted to feed their families to do pretty much anything the boss wanted, the balance has shifted all the way to the other side. This has ended up being actively *bad* for the very people the unions are meant to protect.

I do not in any way assume any altruism on the side of the owners, of course. A businessman is in business to make money for his shareholders or himself. There need not be any higher moral calling in his decisionmaking. Any large company has to balance the various kinds of efficiency that come with manufacturing and distributing whatever widget they create. Offshore workers (and to a lesser degree Mexican factories) make the logistics much more complicated, so a smart business owner would avoid splitting his business into multiple international pieces unless he gained more in doing so than the headaches.

When the labor unions become the majority (or in some industries the entirety) of the workforce, they have all the power. You would think the unions would negotiate to get the most they can for their workers; it’s only natural. What they frequently seem to do in recent years is to get the most they can for the short term, while destroying the industrial capacity that allows the workers employment at all in the long term.

If you’ve got an unskilled laborer in El Paso, they will make upwards of fifteen bucks an hour in a union shop, building whatever it is they build. That same factory can move across the border to Juarez, all of ten miles away in Mexico. In Mexico, the factory owner no longer has to worry about those pesky minimum wage laws, ecological restrictions, work-week length restrictions, overtime, or safety. Way to go, NAFTA(North American Free Trade Agreement).

What steps are required to keep semi-skilled laborers employable in the United States are beyond my ken. But telling company owners they must pay fifteen bucks an hour or not have workers will end up with the owners saying, “we’ve got plenty of workers elsewhere.”

In my semi-educated opinion, it seems that things like NAFTA should only go into effect with concommitant changes in the safety and environmental laws for the partner country, to force them to be competitive in all substantive ways with the United States. To say that we won’t impose any tariffs on our neighbors and to encourage our companies to relocate to them while at the same time imposing restrictions on those same companies in their native country seems counterproductive. It’s a basic equation that anyone with a brain can work out. Why is it surprising that manufacturing jobs have moved out of the country? Why does the President claim, with a straight face, that he’s working to improve manufacturing job creation, when it’s not possible? He can’t do a thing unless the companies suddenly find a more hospitable business atmosphere in the States than overseas for the same type of manufacturing. That seems unlikely, unless we’re willing to have five-income households instead of the now-common dual-income families.

What am I missing that is stopping the politicians from seeing this painfully obvious thing?

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 23 Jul 2004 @ 01:44 PM

Categories: Musings


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