Home Class Politics It's Not A Surprise That Harold Meyerson Gets Economic Reasoning Wrong

It’s Not A Surprise That Harold Meyerson Gets Economic Reasoning Wrong

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Harold Meyerson is one of those who near always manages to grasp the wrong end of the reasoning stick. He’s not quite pure enough at this to be an absolute measuring stick but he sure is indicative.

Here he’s managed to observe something interesting but then miss the point of it. American unionisation still really exists among the professional – or at least skilled working – classes rather than among the unskilled. This is a useful and true observation. The bit that gets missed is of course that the skilled don;t need a union while the unskilled possibly do:

More than ever, perhaps, the dividing line between workers who can win a union and workers who can’t depends on their replaceability, clunky though that word may sound.

In my article yesterday, I pointed out that blue-collar and low-paid service sector workers fear being discharged, harassed, or downgraded by management, or even having their workplace closed, for supporting unionization, even though many such management threats violate federal labor law. (The penalties for such violations, however, are altogether negligible.) Professionals, by contrast, usually know that management would have trouble finding and training their replacements, and that they have a decent chance of finding comparable employment even if they’re let go. (That’s why unions of professional athletes wield such clout.)

The useful point being to recall what Marx said about wages and workers – it’s the existence of that reserve army of the unemployed which means the capitalists don’t have to raise wages. If you’re an undifferentiated work unit then you can – because of that undifferentiation – be replaced easily enough. Which is why the employer doesn’t have to raise your wages. Sure, this isn’t an absolute, that near total full employment of the last few pre-covid years did more to raise low end wages than anything else anyone has ever done.

If, on the other hand you’re one of some few thousand, even tens of thousands, with a skill that has thousands, or tens of thousands, of job opportunities then your employer has to pay you enough to stop you hightailing it to a better opportunity.

Thus the union is of benefit to that work unit, not to the skilled professional. The latter will already be getting pretty much everything a union can offer them without having to pay the union dues.

But what is actually happening? The work units cannot get a union, the professionals can. Which does mean that unions are pretty worthless, doesn’t it?

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5 COMMENTS

  1. The only really damaging unions left in the US are in government. The United Auto Workers is slowly working itself into oblivion as it protects the currently employed and grossly overpaid while sacrificing any growth, the trades, except in slowly dying backwater urban areas are non-union or have unions truly lacking militancy. All in all, again except for government, it is a pretty healthy picture.

  2. The aim of the Teachers’ union in the US is to prevent any change in terms or conditions to the detriment of its members. Of course they may think they are professionals but they can’t do better elsewhere by changing jobs as a programmer might.

    So Barks is right, and the argument in the post is insufficient.

  3. Entertaining. Your argument implies that the reason the bosses tolerate the unions of professionals is because professionals are valuable enough not to need them.

  4. Many professional incomes are a function of their billings. Striking would hurt them grievously and picketing is infra dig. For really worthy causes they might take a couple of hours off to don their pussy hats and protest climate change, very conscious of what this sacrifice means to them in terms of the kids’ private schools and which optional extras they can take on the annual Merc upgrade.

  5. I notice he refers to “workers who can win a union and workers who can’t”. He’s apparently unaware that a lot of workers don’t want a union. Perhaps they’ve got it all wrong, but they often believe a union will cost them money (in dues) and may end up hurting their employment prospects with silly rules that hamstring the company.

    A lot of people, especially in the U.S., think unions are a wee bit like HOAs, the few good things they do in the beginning (getting your neighbor to get the junked car out of the driveway) are overwhelmed by their intrusions.

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