Disorganizing Labour

by Henry on April 4, 2005

A shoe that I (and others) have been waiting to drop since November. The FT reports (sub required) that the US administration is planning to “toughen its regulation of organised labour, in what critics see as the latest in a series of pro-business policies sweeping Washington.” It’s invoking powers that haven’t been used in decades to force unions to file detailed financial statements and increase “accountability and transparency.” This isn’t an effort to further the interests of union members; it’s the beginning of a quite deliberate attempt to cripple unions as political actors. As the FT reports:

Privately, one senior figure in the administration said it was concerned about the power of unions, arguing that some campaigns against big business were not always in the interests of members. There is also concern about moves to scrap secret ballots for some union votes, which the administration fears would further entrench the power of union leaders.

Needless to say, no similar efforts are contemplated to check the ability of the leadership of the American Chamber of Commerce to engage in partisan attacks on Democrats without extensive processes of consultation. This is, simply put, a battle that the left can’t afford to lose. Trade unions are one of the most vital constituencies of the Democratic party. These purported reforms have the sole purpose and intent of making it more difficult for trade unions to take political positions that don’t reflect the most narrow possible definition of the interests of their members. If blogs can organize a boycott against Sinclair Communications, and can play an important role in pushing back against efforts to destroy Social Security, then they can certainly do something to help fight against this. It’s an important battle; perhaps, in the long run, the most important battle of the next two years.

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{ 107 comments }

1

Steve 04.04.05 at 9:03 am

Your article mentions two things that the administration is fighting:
more detailed financial statements that increase accountability and transparency, and
resistance to scrapping secret ballots.

What is wrong with either of these?

Steve

2

Henry 04.04.05 at 9:13 am

A senior administration official is admitting, quite frankly, that they want to introduce these requirements to weaken the political power of unions. A comparison that might make things just a little bit clearer to you – paying taxes is a good thing, and occasional audits of tax payers are a necessary means to this. But do you really, seriously, want to argue that when J. Edgar Hoover started getting his political opponents audited, that this was a good thing too by extension? Come off it mate.

3

Cranky Observer 04.04.05 at 9:33 am

Just another instance of the old saying: be careful what you wish for it, you may get it. In the 80s/90s many labor unions backed off support from Democratic candidates because they were not conservative enough. A few even supported Republicans. While I understand the thinking that went into those decisions, I hope they are now satisfied with the long-term consequences. Because there is a lot more of it coming down the pike before Bush and Cheney are out of office.

And if they are succeeded by Jeb, or worse yet Cheney, well then….

Cranky

4

goesh 04.04.05 at 10:08 am

The best union buster will be cheap Mexian labor

5

sd 04.04.05 at 10:11 am

I second what Steve wrote. If you have to resort to feverish conspiracy theories on how an objectively good piece of legislation might be abused because, goddammit, those Republican are just eeeeevil, then its clear you have no interest in arguing the merits of the law.

What makes this situation different from your chamber of commerce analogy is that there are no businesses that are forced to join the C of C to legally operate. On the other hand, in many states union memebership is required to work in unionized industries, and that requirement is backed by the force of law.

While it is certainly true that on economic issues unions (generally) support the interests of workers over owners, it is also true that many union members vote on issues other than their own naked economic interest – because they are, like, human beings you know. Some auto workers are devout Catholics, for instance, and refuse to vote for and support pro-choice politicians. That may piss you and Tom Frank off, but those workers are big boys and girls and have every right to hold their opinions. But in Michigan if you want to work in the auto industry you have to join the union. Otherwise – no livelihood for you and your family. It seems entirely humane then not to require them to fund political activiites that run counter to their most deeply held values. But the laws that protect such workers can’t be enforced if the labor unions operate under less scrutiny than any other economic actor.

6

yabonn 04.04.05 at 10:16 am

The “let’s double check the transparency of our political ennemies, and forget ours” song seems to be more and more popular.

I bet the few closet skeletons will receive appropriate publicity, u.n., oil-for-food-scandal, style.

What’s interesting (to my eyes at least) is not the double standards, but how the dog fight for the higher moral ground yields nothing here. Transparency will be imposed on the unions, so resulting in easier lies by the Big Business.

Parallely, the neocons are going to discover corruption (shock! outrage!) in every organisation that displease them, call for more transparency, and then proceed with the usual cronyism.

Now i’m fairly sure someone must have theorized, somewhere, that use of tranparency as a tool. By the powers of the ct commenter, i hence summon you here, oh wise one, to rise, speak and answer my question : who then?

7

Mrs Tilton 04.04.05 at 10:22 am

Well argued, sd. I trust, then, that you cast an equally gimlet eye on corporate management’s political contributions. Management, after all, may spend shareholders’ money to fund political activities that run counter to some shareholders’ most deeply held values. Now, you might take the traditional tack of counselling such shareholders to follow the ‘Wall Street Rule’. If you do so, however, to be consistent you had better counsel your anti-choice auto worker to find a different job.

8

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.04.05 at 10:22 am

Unions are different from the Chamber of Commerce because if you don’t like how the Chamber is representing you, you can withdraw from it. In a huge number of states the only way to withdraw from a union is to change your trade entirely.

9

jet 04.04.05 at 10:41 am

Mrs. Tilton,
If you are going to compare the two, then surely you would desire that both corporations and unions have something close to the same level of transparency?

10

sd 04.04.05 at 10:44 am

Mrs. Tilton:

A blue collar worker’s job has the following characteristics: A person can only hold one at a time, there is a massive transaction cost for switching jobs, the job tends to be a good match for the abilities, skills and interests of the specific person holding it, and the employer had (at least some) discretion to deny employment to a specific worker.

A share of stock has the following charcateristics: A person can hold any number at a time (i.e. one’s equity investments are almost infinitely divisible), there is almost no transaction costs to switching in and out of specific stocks, there are no personal charcateristics that make any individual person an especially good or bad owner of an individual stock, and no company can deny ownership of its stock to a specific investor.

If you’re suggesting that the two cases are similar you’re wrong. The livelihood of any person not born into great wealth is far and away the most significant economic committment they have. If workers have any basic rights then surely among them is the right to work in a field of their choosing without supporting political causes that they find objectionable. Shareholders deserve less protection, because they can change their holdings quickly, easily, and with a minimum of cost.

One wonders sometimes whether those on the left value labor unions because they genuinely care about the interests of blue collar and service workers or because the power-consolidating effects of organized labor help them fund and staff a political program centered around broader cultural issues that wouldn’t stand a chance in hell of being implemented in the US if it had to compete in the marketplace of ideas on its own terms.

11

Hogan 04.04.05 at 10:48 am

But in a huge number of states (in fact, all of them) unions may not spend dues money on political activity. In a very large number of states many union members may opt to pay only the share of dues that goes directly to negotiating and servicing contracts (from which those members benefit).

Unions already file detailed financial reports with the IRS and the Department of Labor. What the administration is doing is making those reports more complex, more detailed, more onerous, and more difficult for union officers to file correctly without expensive legal and financial help. Trivial gain in transparency; tremendous logistical and monetary burden on unions, and more opportunities to punish them for technical violations of reporting requirements.

12

sd 04.04.05 at 10:55 am

hogan,

1) Yes, union memebers have these rights, but they are unenforacble without full transparency.

2) Would you like to compare the level of reporting burden being proposed for unions to the reporting burden placed on public corporations by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act? Hint: Not eits ven close.

13

Mark 04.04.05 at 10:58 am

sd and Sebastian have already articulated quite nicely some of the larger issues here.

I’ll second Steve’s comment. What is wrong with transparency and accountability? I would expect the academics at CT to undertake a detailed and incisive analysis of the legislation before declaring a proposed law to be undesirable. Isn’t that what academics are supposed to do?

14

Mrs Tilton 04.04.05 at 10:59 am

Well, Jet, my personal preference would be for neither unions nor corporations to spend money on politics. Unions should negotiate to get good terms for workers, striking if this becomes necessary. Corporations should make money for shareholders. And that’s pretty much it.

That aside, yes, transparency is a good thing all round. I realise that both unions and corporate management are pursuing their disparate goals indirectly when they buy politicians (though the goal management seeks to attain isn’t always the one I have said it should be). I’m no uncritical friend of unions. But if the current US administration is going to mount an offensive to weaken unions politically (citing concern for the interests of union members, of all things), then the chances that I will not view the move cynically would be slightly better if at the same time the administration took steps to restrict the political influence of corporate dosh. After all, I take it you’d agree that corporate management should be held as strictly to account for their stewardship of shareholders’ property as union leaders for their use of members’ dues.

15

jet 04.04.05 at 11:00 am

SD,
That second paragraph….I can’t believe you actually went and said it. You rawk.

“power-consolidating effects of organized labor” That is the arguement in a nutshell.

I can’t believe that we are hear on CT having an arguement about transparency for powerful bodies. We live in a Democracy where everything concerning politics should be transparent. Yet here we are, the same old party line polemics.

Seems like blocking transparency of unions is a naked grab at power by hook or crook.

16

jet 04.04.05 at 11:06 am

Mrs. Tilton,
“I take it you’d agree that corporate management should be held as strictly to account for their stewardship of shareholders’ property as union leaders for their use of members’ dues.”

Then we are in agreement. Bush’s Corporate Reform is now going to be balanced by Union Reform. Bush made executives criminially liable for their transparency. And now Bush just wants to make Unions transparent (I guess the criminial liability part will come after the first major pension scandal).

You want tit for tat, looks like we have it.

17

Hogan 04.04.05 at 11:07 am

Seems like blocking transparency of unions is a naked grab at power by hook or crook.

Seems like denying that transparency of unions already exists is a naked and deliberate denial of provable fact.

18

Henry 04.04.05 at 11:09 am

One wonders sometimes whether those on the left value labor unions because they genuinely care about the interests of blue collar and service workers or because the power-consolidating effects of organized labor help them fund and staff a political program centered around broader cultural issues that wouldn’t stand a chance in hell of being implemented in the US if it had to compete in the marketplace of ideas on its own terms.

Well wonder away. The reason why I want unions to be politically active is quite simple and straightforward: their members are going to get screwed economically if they aren’t. And that’s the issue at stake here. The Republicans aren’t going after the unions because they’re supporting abortion; they’re going after the unions because they’re trying to organize Walmart.You’re chasing after a hare and ducking the issue at hand. Or are you going to argue that “organizing campaigns against big business” goes against the interests of workers? That’s the kind of politics that we’re talking about here.

This also connects in an interesting way to questions of stock ownership and corporate transparency as it happens. As the FT notes:

Despite declining membership, unions continue to be a thorn in the side of big business, orchestrating campaigns against companies such as Wal-Mart and using pension funds to advocate corporate governance reform.

Union representatives have proved a considerable annoyance to CEOs by pushing for clearer corporate governance, as witness the role of CALPERS. Republicans have responded by doing their best to get union gadflies deselected (and to gut the CALPERS system).

19

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.04.05 at 11:12 am

I have to agree with sd on the stock/job distinction. Changing ownership in widely traded shares-easy. Changing your career-not nearly as easy. Add in the marginal financial effect of changing stock for rich people vs. the effect of being forced to change careers for much poorer people and your analogy is looking rahter cold-blooded.

Furthermore corporate disclosure is already much more transparent than union disclosure. Further still you aren’t required to buy a particular stock to invest in a general financial area, while in order to work in many blue-collar fields you are legally forced to join a union.

20

Hogan 04.04.05 at 11:12 am

2) Would you like to compare the level of reporting burden being proposed for unions to the reporting burden placed on public corporations by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act? Hint: Not eits ven close.

Would you like to compare the staff resources of the average CFO of a publicly held company to the staff resources of the average local union treasurer? Not even in the same solar system.

21

Antoni Jaume 04.04.05 at 11:24 am

What about transparency for gun ownership and ammunitions expenses? Why the law does not establish that gun owner must present every year a list of the weapons then own, those they’ve sold and to whom, those they’ve bought and from whom, the ammunitions they had at the start of the year, those they used, those that turned bad, and any additional buying. Etc.

Let’s remember transparency is good!
DSW

22

Mrs Tilton 04.04.05 at 11:26 am

sd,

I am curious about the crushing reporting burden placed on public companies by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Tell me, what reporting burdens do you think SOX suddenly imposed that Regs. S-K and S-X had not long imposed already?

One significant burden that can fairly be attributed to SOX, of course, is the § 404 internal control report (but note that the main costs of compliance here are imposed less by Congress than by auditors). And companies now need to do a bit more work disclosing material off-balance sheet transactions. Both are a bit of a burden, I’ll concede. But if you think that issuers’ pre-SOX internal controls and disclosure of off-balance sheet arrangements were universally adequate, I have some Enron shares that might interest you. And, in the broader picture, demand for transparency and adequate disclosure by issuers in the US is a lot older than SOX. (It’s also something a lot of issuers fight tooth and nail, though it is one of the most important factors in making the US capital markets as successful as they are.)

It’s impotant that unions be transparent, of course. When unions raise capital in the public markets and are entrusted with the life savings of investors, you may feel free to argue that something remotely SOX-level is needed to ensure that transparency.

As for your earlier question about why leftists like unions: I couldn’t say, you’d need to ask a leftist about that. But I suspect the answer you are hoping for could as easily explain why rightwingers like Richard Mellon Scaife’s and Howard Ahmanson’s money.

23

Henry 04.04.05 at 11:30 am

You’re chasing after a hare and ducking the issue at hand.

Apologies for horribly mixed metaphor; must have been listening too closely to the fascist octopus’ swansong.

24

lakelobos 04.04.05 at 11:35 am

Democracy and transparency of societal organizations is not the governments business. Not only is the Chamber not regulated, the same holds for country clubs, the NRA, and many other community organizations

Talking about transparency is a joke coming from the most secretive administration since Stalin.

For commentors who want to democratize labor unions (a goal I support), join one and fight inside. Or are you using the Iraqi “shock and awe” on the Unions?

25

Thomas 04.04.05 at 12:20 pm

Henry, if I understand your position, you must be opposed any regulation or oversight of unions, at least in circumstances where a union might suggest that that regulation or oversight prevents them from maximizing their political power. I suppose that means no audit requirement and no fiduciary duty as well.

Why on earth should the rest of us find that position attractive?

I support the right to organize, but I also support the right of workers to hold their union accountable, and that second right can’t be made meaningful without some degree of transparency. Current law provides a limited amount, and the proposed regulations would move the bar, a bit.

Your argument, unfortunately, talks about the administration’s supposed motivations and not about where the bar should be, and the logic of your post (if not of your position) is that there shouldn’t be a bar at all. I’d rather discuss what’s really wrong with what the administration has proposed, and whether it will really have the awful effects you suggest. We can discuss what it would mean if these reforms really did have the effects you suggest–would that mean that unions are currently violating their member’s rights, and that transparency has revealed that? Or is it just that compliance costs are eating up the entire budget? Aren’t those cases different?

26

abb1 04.04.05 at 12:30 pm

How’s resistance to scrapping secret ballots equals ‘more transparency’? Sounds more like ‘less transparency’.

27

Hogan 04.04.05 at 12:38 pm

I support the right to organize, but I also support the right of workers to hold their union accountable, and that second right can’t be made meaningful without some degree of transparency. Current law provides a limited amount, and the proposed regulations would move the bar, a bit.

Is the pressure for this rule change coming from rank-and-file union members?

28

Henry 04.04.05 at 12:45 pm

Thomas, I’ll refer you again to the quote from the senior administration official: the aim of the proposal is to make it more difficult for unions to take political positions. It’s intended to increase accountability and transparency in exactly the same sense as right-to-work legislation is aimed at improving workers’ lot; which is to say, not at all. ]There’s a quite serious debate to be had on relations between members and leaders in unions; some unions are undoubtedly plagued by corruption. But again – and I’ll keep on repeating this as many times as necessary- this doesn’t have anything to do with the specific question of the administration’s proposals, and their intent. This is a nakedly political move, aimed at making it more difficult for unions to take political positions that are uncomfortable for the administration and for its business constituency.

As Brad DeLong keeps on saying about social security, the time for the debate over policy options is when we have an administration that is actually interested in the underlying policy questions, rather than in pushing through changes for narrowly partisan reasons. For what it’s worth, whenever we do get to this debate, there’s some reason to believe that more politically active unions are actually more responsive to their members’ interests than apolitical ones. Margaret Levi, the current president of the American Political Science Association, has an interesting research project in the making on this – for some early arguments see this paper. The choice between Harry Bridges and Jimmy Hoffa is a no-brainer. But again – the time for that debate is when we have an administration that wants to make rules in workers’ interests, rather than as a proxy means to gut organized labour as a political actor.

29

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.04.05 at 1:09 pm

“As Brad DeLong keeps on saying about social security, the time for the debate over policy options is when we have an administration that is actually interested in the underlying policy questions, rather than in pushing through changes for narrowly partisan reasons.”

This is actually a good point, yet the problem beneath it is somewhat self-contradictory. Modern Democratic administrations have no interest in reforming the huge problems with unions because unions and the Democratic Party feed off of each other for power. It is a fact of democratic government that institutions are most likely to be reformed by people who don’t like them, or only when people who like them are forced to reform them by people who don’t like them. You admit that reforms are necessary but you don’t like the political outcome of these reforms. You are unwilling to engage the detail of these (apparently good) reforms because you don’t like the administration’s motives.

I don’t care about the motives. This proposal would have been good under Carter or Clinton, it is good now. Workers should not be forced to join a union, forced to have union dues grabbed from their paycheck and also forced to allow the union to support a party they hate. The union-member already is allowed to have the political portion returned to him if he doesn’t like it. But without transparency he can’t ask for the money back because it is difficult to track the money.

Your complaint seems to be that unions won’t be able to support the Democratic Party as much if its members (many forced to be members by law) find out how much money goes to the Democratic Party.

That just suggests that unions support the Democratic Party far more than their membership would want.

Forgive me if I don’t see the injustice in reducing union contributions to the Democratic Party based on the desires of union members. The bad effect you worry about is a correction to more democratic norms. Please forgive me for not being so worried about the fact that hurts a party you like more than I do. But don’t play the cosmic justice game. You oppose this proposal for naked political reasons, so pretending that ‘naked political reasons’ is condemnation when talking about motivation seems a bit much.

30

Cranky Observer 04.04.05 at 1:13 pm

> You admit that reforms are necessary but you don’t
> like the political outcome of these reforms. You
> are unwilling to engage the detail of these
> (apparently good) reforms because you don’t like
> the administration’s motives.

Sebastian,
Presumably then you would have no problem with the Hillary Clinton Administration investigating and revoking the tax-exempt status of many radical evangelical churches over their blatently illegal campaigning for George W. Bush during the the 2004 election?

Cranky

31

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.04.05 at 1:22 pm

Cranky, I would have no problem with investigating illegal campaigning with respect to churches. I don’t agree there was much illegal campaigning, but any you can find can certainly be dealt with.

32

Thomas 04.04.05 at 1:23 pm

Henry, the quote doesn’t say anything about the “aim” of the proposal. It doesn’t even say that the cited concerns were the source of the proposal. So even if I thought it profitable to focus on the aims of the proposals–instead of the actual effects–I don’t see anything here to start with.

Further, the concerns cited in the quote are not concerns about the effect the union campaigns have on business, but concerns that the campaigns have on workers (“arguing that some campaigns against big business were not always in the interests of members”–heck, the language of concern is even full of caution, with “some” and “not always”; surely you can even agree to those statements, unless you think that union leadership is infallible). Surely if that’s the source of concern it’s one you can share.

33

Hogan 04.04.05 at 2:35 pm

Sebastian, Thomas:

Go to erds.dol-esa.gov/query/getOrgQry.do and call up some LM-2s and LM-3s and then tell me how much more information you need about unions’ disbursements of dues money.

Also, I repeat: is the pressure for this rule change coming from rank-and-file union members? If not, why should we take the Bush administration’s word for it that this is what they really really want?

34

yabonn 04.04.05 at 3:12 pm

I’ll second Steve’s comment. What is wrong with transparency and accountability?

And, besides, why do you hate transparency so much?

… “freedom” is so, like, 2004.

35

scouser 04.04.05 at 3:24 pm

” ….call up some LM-2s and LM-3s and then tell me how much more information you need about unions’ disbursements of dues money.” – Hogan.
Unions are notoriously slow to file their LM-2/3s so “current” info is often several years out of date. And, for PAC and other expenditures, the forms usually refer to other filings instead of providing specific info. So, I need some timely substantive answers.

36

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.04.05 at 3:27 pm

Ah, the good old LM-2. I filled that out for the local IATSE one year. I think they illustrate that not enough information on the political activities is disclosed. Political spending typically shows up under “Industry Advancement” (almost never broken down further) or some form of line 73 “Other Disbursements”. Not exactly informative disclosure.

37

Henry 04.04.05 at 3:39 pm

Sebastian, this isn’t about union support for the Democrats, although that is part of it. My personal preference would be for a weaker relationship between the unions and the Democratic party, because that might force the Democratic party to take unions more seriously, and, say, invest some political capital in reforming labour law and addressing the hopeless imbalances in the NLRB rather than taking union support for granted. I’m not a Democrat partisan; I’m a social democrat, and only interested in the Democratic party doing well to the extent that it enacts the kinds of policies that I want. These policies are broadly compatible with union goals – a higher degree of worker participation in the economy, and a fairer share of the benefits of markets between workers and capitalists (I disagree on trade protection; that’s another story). To the extent that Democrats support these policies, I’m for them, to the extent that they very often do not, I’m against them. The specific political battles that we’re talking about – a fairer deal for unions trying to organize workers in Walmart, and more open corporate governance – are ones that are directly aligned with the interests of the unions, and only indirectly aligned with the interests of the Democratic party.

Your point about reform is a reasonable one – but is also not applicable in this case. The kinds of reform that you’re talking about are only going to happen when either (a) the putative reformers are also those whom we want to benefit from the reform, or (b) the putative reformers have interests that are somehow aligned with those we want to benefit from the reform. In the case at hand, those we would like to benefit from putative reforms are presumably the ordinary union members. They’re not the Bush administration. Nor do we have any reason whatsoever to believe that the Bush administration’s interests are aligned with those of ordinary union members. The opposite in fact – the current administration has been consistently hostile to unions as such and is closely aligned with union-unfriendly businesses. To the extent that they carry through reforms, these reforms are more likely to be designed to hurt the collective interest of union members by weakening unions than to help ordinary union members by actually improving transparency. The devil is in the detail in reforms of this sort – and we have strong ex antereasons to expect that the detail will be more directly intended to weaken unions than to help them.

Thomas – let’s take a closer look at the argument you’re putting forward here. Do you really want to make the positive claim that the Bush administration is really interested in helping ordinary union members because it genuinely wishes to advance their interests? We have an administration that clearly doesn’t like the political power of unions, which unambiguously privileges the interests of business over the interests of workers when the two come into conflict, which is trying systematically to roll back unionization in the federal government, and which has previously demonstrated its willingness to put narrow partisan gain above the general interest across a variety of issues. Now, try to make a case that despite all of this, the senior administration official who was quoted, and the others responsible for this proposal are really doing so because of their “concerns [about the effect] that the campaigns have on workers?” I really don’t think that you can.

38

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.04.05 at 3:53 pm

“In the case at hand, those we would like to benefit from putative reforms are presumably the ordinary union members. They’re not the Bush administration. Nor do we have any reason whatsoever to believe that the Bush administration’s interests are aligned with those of ordinary union members. The opposite in fact – the current administration has been consistently hostile to unions as such and is closely aligned with union-unfriendly businesses.”

The problem is that you equate things which benefit ordinary union members as being the same as those that benefit unions themselves. It may have once been true that unions were closely aligned in interest with their members. I’m not historically adept enough in the area to know for sure. But they aren’t closely aligned now. A transparancy measure that may help members may not help the unions at this point. Furthermore there aren’t many bedeviled details in the transparency arena that I could be convinced are horrible unless they also imposed a crushing burden. Unions don’t want to reveal these details because they are afraid their members won’t like them, not because it would be too much of a pain to keep track. In fact they almost certainly track all those details right now, they just don’t publish them. Publishing details for accountings that you almost certainly already keep isn’t exactly onerous.

39

Henry 04.04.05 at 4:15 pm

The problem is that you equate things which benefit ordinary union members as being the same as those that benefit unions themselves.

Nope, I’m not saying that at all. The point I’m making is quite straightforward – unions that are aligned with their members’ interests, unions that aren’t aligned, the Bush administration dislikes them all. Disagree? Your interpretation would hold water if it isn’t in union members’ interests to be in a union at all – under those circumstances opposing unions as such would be in union members’ interests, just as opposing slavery as such is in slaves’ interests. But I think that this is a rather hard case to make – and not one that would convince many union members.

(also, for a far more nuanced discussion of unions, accountability, and members’ interests than I can manage in a blogpost, check out the Levi paper cited above).

40

Mark 04.04.05 at 4:19 pm

Henry suggests that we disregard the validity of the reforms. We should only accept these types of reforms if: “(a) the putative reformers are also those whom we want to benefit from the reform, or (b) the putative reformers have interests that are somehow aligned with those we want to benefit from the reform”.

This is a curious test. Let’s apply it to academics: is it true that Henry, as a privileged, rich academic, has interests that are somehow aligned with unions or union members? If not, is it true that Henry, as a privileged, rich academic, is an individual whom we want to benefit from the reform. Is it true that politicians, in general, qualify? If my union member and right-wing grandfather supported the reforms, would he qualify? Perhaps Henry will expand on his theory.

41

Thomas 04.04.05 at 4:24 pm

Henry, it sounds to me that your position isn’t based at all in the FT quote you originally cited. Which is good, because as I pointed out, it can’t do the work you’d have it do. In this case, the Bush administration has said it is motivated by concern for union workers, which concern may be real or feigned. Now, given that there is concern expressed, what should we do? We could take that for what it is, and, with perhaps a dose of skepticism, analyze and debate the merits of the policy. Or we can insist that the statement means something else entirely, and assume that our ideological opponents are acting in bad faith.

42

John Q 04.04.05 at 4:25 pm

In a huge number of states the only way to withdraw from a union is to change your trade entirely.

I’m a labor lawyer. You’re wrong. No one has to join a union. The “closed shop,” as that was called, has been illegal since 1947. At most workers may be required to pay an agency fee to the union, to contribute to the union’s cost of representing the workforce.

Further, the “transparency” reforms some here are applauding go far beyond anything any ever dreamed of imposing on businesses. And unions are not even for-profit entities! Who has the money to pay for the sophisticated accounting software and accountants? The rules apply to small unions as well, those with just $250,000 in gross receipts. You know who heads these little locals? High school grads just trying to do a good job representing their coworkers in the midst of a very hostile environment.

As an aside, reading many of these comments, dripping with condescension, reminds me why I really have so little in common with most “liberals.”

43

Sebastian Holsclaw 04.04.05 at 4:26 pm

“The point I’m making is quite straightforward – unions that are aligned with their members’ interests, unions that aren’t aligned, the Bush administration dislikes them all.”

Even if Bush dislikes them all, transparency in spending can only hurt unions to the extent that they are spending in such a way as their members don’t like it. Unions resist such transparency because they are not acting in their members’ interests. They resist revealing that because they won’t be able to appropriate as many fees from people who disagree with them when it is revealed how much money is spent and how much disagreement is to be had.

And frankly I don’t see the slightest reason to protect unions in that.

44

Henry 04.04.05 at 4:48 pm

Mark – let’s pretend for the sake of argument that you’re actually asking a real question, rather than engaging in cheap bloviation. If you actually wanted an answer to this, I would refer you to Margaret Levi’s article cited above, to Russell Hardin’s “Trust and Trustworthiness” (Russell Sage 2004), and to my own work on the relationship between trust and interests. There’s a lot of interesting work on the relationship between trust and interests out there. Not that you actually want to find out about this – but as I say, for the sake of argument we might as well pretend.

Thomas – to repeat myself, a senior figure in the administration has told the FT that the administration is concerned about the power of unions. Given what we know about the administration, we have excellent reasons to believe that this policy is aimed at weakening unions, not at increasing accountability. To repeat my challenge – can you make any sort of a positive case at all that “the senior administration official who was quoted, and the others responsible for this proposal are really doing so because of their “concerns [about the effect] that the campaigns have on workers?”” You seem to be appealing to a weak – and completely unsupported – claim that we should be giving the administration the benefit of the doubt here. Why? Given what we know, I have no hesitation whatsoever in stating that the administration is indeed acting in bad faith. There are areas where I don’t think my opponents are acting in bad faith – for example, I’m quite convinced that Wolfowitz was acting in good faith when he argued that invading Iraq would be a good thing for America, even if he cut some corners to make his case. But we can judge Wolfowitz’s actions then by his previous track record, just as we can judge that of the administration. And if there’s a jot, a scintilla, an iota or a smidgen of countervailing evidence – say, an instance in which the administration has previously acted to support ordinary union members against the interests of business, then I’d really like to see you put it out there on the table.

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Henry 04.04.05 at 4:51 pm

Even if Bush dislikes them all, transparency in spending can only hurt unions to the extent that they are spending in such a way as their members don’t like it.

Sebastian, meet John Q. John Q, meet Sebastian.

46

Anthony 04.04.05 at 4:59 pm

John Q, what methods do non-union workers have to ensure that the “agency fee” truly does only cover the costs of collective bargaining? What recourse do they have if they do find that the “agency fee” is being mis-spent?

There are plenty of businesses which gross $250,000 a year or less, run by high-school grads; some are even organized as corporations. They manage to afford the sophisticated accounting software and accountants necessary to pay their taxes; why can’t unions?

47

Sebastian holsclaw 04.04.05 at 5:01 pm

“Given what we know about the administration, we have excellent reasons to believe that this policy is aimed at weakening unions, not at increasing accountability.”

The only reason that is an either/or proposition is because the unions are not closely accountable to their members, and they use that lack of accountability to support a political party that a huge percentage of their (forced) membership doesn’t like. And why the focus on ‘this’ administration. Republican administrations have been making similar proposals since Reagan. It is just they they were thwarted by the (in your terms) “nakedly politcal” moves of the Democratic Party at the time. The only difference between then and now is the Party in control of Congress. You frame this as a distrust of Republicans issue, but transparency is only going to be imposed on unions by Republicans–Democrats like the fact that union members can’t tell where unions are spending their money. Your argument is focused on not trusting this particular administration, but the effect of your argument is to make it practically impossible to ever allow for transparent interactions. You think it is dishonest to allow Republicans to do it and Democrats would never do it.

I don’t care what you think the motivation is. The idea is excellent and should be implemented. I suspect you don’t want to engage on the battleground of the actual concept because the concept is excellent but also works against your preferred political outcome–i.e. you are working with the same type of naked political interest that you are so quick to identify in the Bush administration.

48

Hogan 04.04.05 at 5:14 pm

Unions are notoriously slow to file their LM-2/3s so “current” info is often several years out of date. And, for PAC and other expenditures, the forms usually refer to other filings instead of providing specific info. So, I need some timely substantive answers.

Whereas corporations have a spotless record of timely filing of IRS and SEC dcuments. No double standard here.

State election officials collect expenditure reports from state and local PACs; the FEC collects them from federal PACs. All are public documents.

Sebastian: You weren’t reporting political expenditures on the line “Political activity & lobbying”? Let’s consider the possibility that the form has changed; I’m prepared to exclude the possibility that you were filling it out wrong.

Sebastian again: I don’t care what you think the motivation is. But you care very much about the unions’ motivation for opposing it; in fact, that’s the only arguably factual basis for your position.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 04.04.05 at 5:22 pm

John Q, you are using terms of art to be misleading, but I will assume it is unintentional. Strict ‘closed shops’ in the European sense were made illegal by the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. ‘Union Shops’ where you are not required to join immediately upon hire, but are required after a set time working at a business are legal in 22 states including many of the larger states.

The agency fee issue is very difficult to enforce. The union isn’t forced to disclose its spending habits, so ensuring agency fees are spent only on permitted functions is difficult. It is also difficult for individual workers to go up against the might of the much larger union in fighting for the issue. Perhaps we need an anti-union union. :)

“Further, the “transparency” reforms some here are applauding go far beyond anything any ever dreamed of imposing on businesses. And unions are not even for-profit entities! Who has the money to pay for the sophisticated accounting software and accountants?”

The accounting is too tough excuse is unusually weak. First, I suspect you have no idea what is required of businesses if you would think for a second to compare the ridiculousness of Sarbanes-Oxley to what is being talked about here. Second, unions surely keep track internally of how much money they spend on political gaming. I can’t believe you are advocating the idea that tens of millions of dollars should be floating around with no accounting whatsoever. Surely they write checks? Surely they keep balance accounts. All you have to do is make some of the information more public.

50

Mark 04.04.05 at 5:26 pm

Henry,

I’m asking you to defend a position you have taken. The process of robustly and comprehensively defending a position is something universities used to teach, so you should have no problem doing so.

If you think that you, as a privileged academic, can meet the criteria you proposed in (a) and (b), above, then it is up to you to explain why this is so. It is not clear to me that academics have the requisite alignment of interests, or suitable power dynamic, to declare this reform to be legitimate or illegitimate. Do you, for example, have an appropriately symmetrical power relationship with my right-wing union member grandfather? How do your interests correspond with his, such that you are able to properly opine on the reforms?

This is your theory: you can hardly expect the answers to be self-evident when you’ve outlined it so briefly.

One final point: I expect that you, as an academic, would have the decency to respond professionally, instead of snidely. It makes one more likely to believe you have no defence to offer.

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novalis 04.04.05 at 5:30 pm

I’m a member of the United Auto Workers. In fact, I’m the steward of my (small) shop. So, I can speak a bit to the causes and direct effects of this:

1. Our local has to buy specialized software, and training to use it, in order to follow the new requirements. Naturally, this affects the amount of money available for strike funds and the like.

2. Union members largely don’t care where their money is going (so long as they’re being represented well). We’ve never had large attendance at local meeting, even when we vote on which candidates to endorse or not endorse. I guess this isn’t much different than the rest of the US government, now that I think about it.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 04.04.05 at 5:31 pm

“Sebastian: You weren’t reporting political expenditures on the line “Political activity & lobbying”?”

Which regular line item is “Political Activity & Lobbying”? Are we talking about the LM-2? Maybe I’m totally missing it, but I don’t see it on the 2000 revision for instance. I would expect it to be somewhere on lines 56-73 or perhaps reported on a call out for Schedule 15. I haven’t worked with the forms in years, but I don’t see it when I look at the current reports as filed in 2002 or 2003. (Most of the 2004s have not been posted yet.)

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John Q 04.04.05 at 5:40 pm

John Q, what methods do non-union workers have to ensure that the “agency fee” truly does only cover the costs of collective bargaining? What recourse do they have if they do find that the “agency fee” is being mis-spent?

There are several different avenues down which the dissenters may proceed. First, the National Labor Relations Board prosecutes these cases for free and with glee. (It enables them to show how not “one-sided” they allegedly are.) Second, the rugged individualist may sue the union for an accounting. Handily, there is a right-wing “legal aid” society set up just for this purpose: the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, funded heavily by the Walton family. Unlike the penalty for employers that blatantly fire pro-union workers (penalty is limited to no more than lost wages minus wages earned in the interim) the penalties for unions that might have charged too much to their rugged individualists include attorneys fees and, if I’m not mistaken, punitive damages. Our rugged-individualist friend will not have to pay one penny more than he needs to.

The rugged individualists’ co-workers — those who choose to be members of the union — have the same ability to affect spending choices as all citizens do in a democracy. If they don’t like how funds are being spent they can vote the bums out or they can publicize the expenditures and embarrass the leadership. Moreover, federal law itself restricts spending decisions by prescribing subject areas of lawful expenditures. Again, this law comes complete with the full panoply of remedies.

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Matt McGrattan 04.04.05 at 5:43 pm

What’s this “privileged academic” tag that keeps getting chucked around?

I’m sick of hearing it. Academics on the whole, as they *are* prone to complain a great deal about, don’t get paid particularly well, particular in comparison to other professions with considerably shorter ‘training’ periods and a much higher likelihood of employment at the end of it. Here in the UK the average plumber or truck driver makes considerably more money than many academics.

Yes, academics in many countries have, to a certain extent, traded a certain kind of job security (i.e. tenure) for income but that doesn’t apply across the board and it certainly doesn’t apply for the huge number of adjuncts and assistants (in the U.S.) or lecturers on short term contracts (in the U.K.).

Academics as a group have many of the same interests as any other workers — they worry about low incomes, job insecurity, debt, fickle management, etc. Junior academics can be, but need not be, overworked with no certain prospect of future employment beyond a review process over which they have little control.

Dispute the extent to which union transparency is desirable and/or the product of a naked attempt at pro-business political manipulation by all means but it’s silly and insulting to read several commentators above talking as if academics are all ivory tower millionaires with huge swathes of stock options, a hot line to central government and little connection with the ordinary union member.

I’ve been a union member in several traditional working unions in the UK — the Transport & General Workers Union to name one and I dont see any substantial difference between those unions and the unions that represent university lecturers.

55

Anthony 04.04.05 at 5:51 pm

There’s been much discussion over transparency in union finances, but very little over changes to secret ballots for unions.

I support increased disclosure of union finances, but I think limiting secret ballots for union membership votes (as opposed to union board votes) is a bad idea. Secret ballots enable voters to vote their true wishes without fear of reprisal. A non-secret ballot membership vote is much more subject to intimidation and coercion from the group with power. If you’re a liberal, you worry about corporations getting their hands on member voting information; if you’re a conservative, you worry about corrupt/politicized union leadership getting their hands on member voting information.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 04.04.05 at 5:58 pm

“Second, the rugged individualist may sue the union for an accounting.”

Am I wrong or is most of the discussion here about what a proper accounting ought to include?

57

Michael Blowhard 04.04.05 at 6:29 pm

“Consider unions: the Left is in favor of unions as if it’s 1920 again. Social change is probably not going to come through unions. The union movement in the U.S. has had its day. Thinking that you are going to bring about social change by supporting the teachers’ unions, the AFL, and the Teamsters and other labor aristocracies is way off base.”

– Marxist-gone-Santa-Fe-Institute economist Herbert Gintis in the new book, “The Changing Face of Economics.”

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John Q 04.04.05 at 6:37 pm

There’s been much discussion over transparency in union finances, but very little over changes to secret ballots for unions.

The problem isn’t with a secret-ballot election — it’s with the way the law runs these elections. Before an election even may be held, at least a third of the workers already have signed cards saying they want a union. (As a practical matter, most unions never file a petition unless they already have majority support.) In most Canadian provinces that’s enough right there and the employer must begin bargaining. Likewise, in the U.S. the employer may begin bargaining at that point.

But for many years employers have had the right to insist on an election. Note: that is the employer’s right, not the employees’ right. Now why would employers insist on an NLRB election? Perhaps there are some that are genuinely concerned with their employees’ welfare. Most, however, are eager to take advantage of the protracted “campaign” period the NLRB provides during which they threaten the employees not to vote for a union during captive-audience meetings at work. The NLRBlaw gives employers significant leeway in making threats and even if they go over the line the penalty is a joke: they have to promise they won’t do it again. Seriously, that’s it! The union, meanwhile, has no right of access with the employees. After a month or two of this one-sided campaign it’s no wonder that most of these elections result in votes against union representation.

Some unions have succeeded, through public campaigns, in getting employers to agree to remain neutral as to their employees’ wishes and to have majority support decided by an arbitrator or a private election. The Republican bill would mandate only the NLRB election procedure.

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John Q 04.04.05 at 6:49 pm

John Q, you are using terms of art to be misleading, but I will assume it is unintentional. Strict ‘closed shops’ in the European sense were made illegal by the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947. ‘Union Shops’ where you are not required to join immediately upon hire, but are required after a set time working at a business are legal in 22 states including many of the larger states.

No, I’m correct. No employee in the United States must join a union. None. In non-“right to work” states an employee may elect to be a “Beck objector” and pay only a reduced fee to cover his or her share of the union’s costs of collective bargaining. (Typically about 75% of regular union dues.) This is a matter of federal law.

Moreover, in so-called “right to work” states you don’t have to contribute anything at all. Nada. Not a penny. It’s freerider nirvana. As a bonus, if there’s a strike you can join the union at the last minute and the union has to give you the same strike benefits as everyone else, even though you haven’t contributed a penny toward the strike fund.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 04.04.05 at 6:53 pm

I have no idea about the strike fund, but the Beck objector is not easy to get a proper accounting for, which is, once again, the whole point of this discussion. Accounting practices and accountability.

61

Mark 04.04.05 at 7:09 pm

Matt,

One way for Henry to meet the problem I’ve outlined above, is to successfully argue that academics are like union members in relevant ways such that the relationship of trust is properly grounded. He could then assert that union members should trust that his judgment of the proposed reforms is valid. But he has not undertaken this task, and I don’t think that your assertion that academics have the same interests as workers is enough. (Nor is it clear that Henry would allow that a simple correspondence of interest is enough to found trust; see his many papers on this.)

The fact that you see this detail as silly and insulting is indicative of your failure to understand Henry’s theory, above, in (a) and (b). For Henry, the relative (economic, cultural, political) positions of individuals determines the validity of their proposals. This is why Henry does not need to argue about the specificities of the reforms: he just needs to point to their provenance (Republican law-makers).

What he dislikes (as you can see by his uncivil response to me, above), is the reversal of this analysis: he is asking us to trust his academicians judgment (the validity of which is presumably established by the relationship between academic and union member) that the reforms are illegitimate becuase of their bad origin & intent. But why should we believe that his judgment is any more trustworthy? It is certainly permissible – indeed critical – to examine the foundation of the relationship between academic and union member that informs his judgment.

Note, also, that having argued for the interested nature of judgments, Henry cannot now argue that his position is disinterested. Such is the peril of post-modern criticism of epistemology.

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Randolph Fritz 04.04.05 at 7:18 pm

“Unions are different from the Chamber of Commerce because if you don’t like how the Chamber is representing you, you can withdraw from it.”

Hey, you mean there’s an opt-out form I can use to stop money I spend from going to the Chamber of Commerce? Where?

63

Henry 04.04.05 at 7:28 pm

Mark – two pieces of advice. First, if you really want to be taken seriously, make serious comments. Starting off by suggesting that I’m a “privileged, rich academic,” and then getting into a huff because you get a snide and uncivil response is not a good first step in this direction. Second, before using terms of art,make sure you know what they mean. Equating the argument that “judgments” have an “interested nature” with the “post-modern criticism of epistemology” suggests that you’re deeply confused about interest, judgements, post-modern criticism and epistemology. Bluntly put, you don’t seem to know what you’re talking about.

John Q – thanks again for the valuable information, and for your contribution to this discussion. I didn’t know before about the strike benefits rule. As you say, the right-to-work rules seem deliberately designed to encourage free riders.

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scouser 04.04.05 at 7:42 pm

No John Q, you continue to mislead. Many states permit compulsory union dues after a set period of employment (usually 30 days). Employees may object to those dues not used for collective bargaining purposes (the “Beck objector”). But the law also permits unions to strip Beck objectors of all union membership rights including the right to vote contracts, strikes, union officials, etc (and lot’s of luck getting the union to represent your grievances). Put differently, withhold monies used solely for political purposes you abhor, waive your ability to participate in the collective bargaining process. Not quite what “no employee in the United States must join a union” meant in John Q’s post, now is it?

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Mother Jones' Grandson 04.04.05 at 7:44 pm

The reason that those of us who want to see working people have stronger organizations are skeptical of the proposed Bush regulations is that, as several have pointed out, it’s just not credible that an adminstration as closely tied to corporate special interests as this one truly as the interests of working people at heart. Grover Norquist has boasted at length in his always charming manner about the opportunity to “end” unions.

Sebastian’s support the regulations is just as unconvincing. His hatred for unions is palpable. He can argue all he wants about accountability, but it’s not hard to figure out that the real goal is no more unions.

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Mark 04.04.05 at 7:49 pm

Henry,

I’ve made it quite clear that my comments were serious. That you choose to believe otherwise won’t convince reasonable people that they are without merit.

I am amazed that someone with your stature in academics can think that your previous comment is responsive. I guess the first thing to note is that I may in fact be a know-nothing, and a great many other unfortunate things, yet still be correct in my analysis. I have to believe that you’ve taken some basic logic, so it pains me to believe that you have no better answer to my position than snide comments and ad hominem. Let me ask you this: if a first year student responded to an exam question with “Bluntly put, writer X does not know what he’s talking about”, would you give the paper a passing grade? Do academics often use this type of incisive commentary?

Second, your relative economic, cultural, intellectual position is crucially relevant to your own argument, and you made it so in post 48 (see (a) and (b), above). As far as I can tell from your work, the relative positions (re: trust, power, interest, etc) between individuals or parties informs their relationship significantly. So trying to construe my focus on it as an invalid move is pointless. I simply reversed the analysis and drew conclusions, something that you will not address, for reasons I’m beginning to think involve bad faith.

I shouldn’t have to remind you to act with the dignity of a professional academic, but I find myself doing it a second time.

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Brett Bellmore 04.04.05 at 8:01 pm

“No, I’m correct. No employee in the United States must join a union.”

Speaking as somebody who’s worked at a couple of union shops, no employee in the United States must refrain from having their tires slashed, either, or a brick thrown through their front window. Ever heard of the Enmons decision?

Those cards indicating that you want to be represented are signed, and aren’t the least bit secret. The union knows who’s holding out, and everybody is well aware that by not signing they risk consequences.

68

Matt McGrattan 04.04.05 at 8:18 pm

Mark:

My problem is with the use of the stock phrase “privileged academic” – it’s a rhetorical tool which carries a whole range of implications — that academics are wealthy, out of touch, divorced from reality, posturing, members of irrelevant elites, and so on. If you object so strongly to, on your interpretation, Henry’s suspicion of Republican motives in putting forward this legislation because, in part, of who they *are* then it’s hardly fair to make exactly the same kind of snide insinuations — that academics’ viewpoints are irrelevant in part because of who *they* are — yourself.

As I indicated in my own comment, many of the implications carried by phrases such as ‘privileged academics’, designed to push certain rhetorical buttons, are in fact false. Not just false but perniciously so. They are often used, and I’m not accusing you here since I know nothing about you and this may not be true in your case, by those to whom phrases like ‘privileged’ or ‘elite’ are in fact more appropriate — the genuinely wealthy, rich and powerful — as a way of casting aspersions on their political opponents and falsely adopting the mantle of ‘champions of the underdog against isolated elites’ when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.

Henry, unlike yourself, isn’t engaged in some vacant ad hominem reasoning here. Political conservatives, and Republicans in particular, have an agenda — an agenda which involves the curbing of union power. This is an agenda which is *explicitly* advocated by the political right and has been expressed clearly by the ‘senior figure’ in the executive cited in the original post.The pro-business conservative right may be many things, and they may even be correct about some things, but what they are unquestionably *not* is champions of the ordinary union member.

One can believe that transparent democratic processes and financial accountability are desirable things in union governance while remaining suspicious of a specific legislative program which claims to offer such things when such a legislative program is being put forward by those whose explicit motivation is the destruction of union power. There’s nothing inconsistent or dishonest about such a position.

It doesn’t amount to denying the value of transparency or accountability per se.

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Matt McGrattan 04.04.05 at 8:31 pm

Incidentally, one thing that is being missed here is that unions are democratic bodies. If one isn’t happy with the political agenda of a specific union then the option is there to change it. If union members were overwhelmingly opposed to a political position taken by a union, then the possibility is there for change.

I’m not so naive as to believe that the democratic process always works perfectly, either in politics or in unions, but, however imperfectly, the possibility remains.

Complaining that a union member who disagrees with the political position of their union forfeits the benefits of collective bargaining is not a complaint at all. Collective bargaining only works because it is *collective*. To argue that individuals ought to retain all the benefits of a union with whom they are in profound disagreement is to argue against the whole concept of collective bargaining in the first place.

If one is a member of a union one abides by the democratic decisions made by that union. That’s part of the bargain that one strikes when one becomes part of a collective. You can push for change through the ordinary democratic union process but if instead you choose to leave of course you give up the benefits of collective strength.

That’s the whole *point* of a union — or any other democratically organised voluntary association.

We can argue about the details and of course unions are imperfect and can be and should be more responsive to their members but some of the commentators above seem to object to the idea that collective associations like unions ought to be involved in politics at all. That may be a substantive question, but it’s very much a different question.

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Mark 04.04.05 at 8:37 pm

Matt, I think I’ve made it clear why my use of the notion of privileged academics is conceptually necessary, in view of Henry’s own theory. That you persist in thinking it is an ad hominem attack demonstrates that you don’t seem to understand Henry’s position, nor my extension of it.

You say: “The pro-business conservative right may be many things, and they may even be correct about some things, but what they are unquestionably not is champions of the ordinary union member.” If we are to disregard the proposed reforms because the provenance of same makes them illegitimate – on the theory Henry has outlined above – then why should we trust Henry’s academic judgment, given that – on his view – it is not clear that we should trust his contrary judgment? Why should my right-wing union member grandfather trust Henry to tell him what he should and should not oppose?

For my part, I think it’s unfortunate that evaluation of arguments often devolve into an examination of the character of the speaker(s), but so much of modern thinking comes down to exactly that. It would be so much neater if Henry just outlined what he thinks is wrong with the proposed reform.

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Henry 04.04.05 at 8:39 pm

Mark – and this is my final reply – you don’t have a point that I can see that’s worth responding to. You’ve said that I’m a “rich, privileged academic” and that this in some sense invalidates my ability to comment on this. This is a complete red herring – when I criticize the Bush administration, I’m criticizing a government that (as Sebastian acknowledges) is hostile to unions. If you can show that I have a clear material interest in giving unions bad advice, you’ve got a point, but I don’t believe that you can. You’ve also said, as best as I can follow your logic, that because I argue that material interests are an important force explaining human behavior, that I somehow subscribe to the “post-modern criticism of epistemology.” This is a risible claim. If you knew anything about post-modernism you would know that arguments from material interest are the precise opposite of post-modernist critiques, which vehemently deny that there are any material interests out there from which we can derive incentives and behaviour. This is a quite fundamental point – if a first year made this basic howler in an essay, they’d be looking at an F. Not only that – but the issues at hand have exactly nothing to do with critiques of epistemology, postmodern or otherwise. You’re very clearly tossing around terms that you don’t understand in order to sound more impressive. As stated before, I respond seriously to serious arguments – I don’t respond to guff and nonsense, except to describe it as what it is. Guff. And nonsense.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 04.04.05 at 9:16 pm

“This is a complete red herring – when I criticize the Bush administration, I’m criticizing a government that (as Sebastian acknowledges) is hostile to unions.”

Not a complete red herring. Criticizing the Bush administration and thinking that calling it ‘hostile to unions’ is good argument against increased financial transparency are two different things. If unions are such an inherently crappy institution that they are going to be damaged by dialing up the transparency from 2 to 5 on a ten point scale, they aren’t institutions that can fairly be said to be aligned with worker’s interests. You put far too much work into the interest analysis without explaining why a group which claims to be in one party’s interst also gets to be treated as if it really has a party’s interest when the question at hand is that party’s right to very low level financial disclosures. I think it is clear that the Bush administration does not have the best interests of unions as currently structured and run in mind with these proposals. That is a world of difference from saying that the best interests of the union members would not be served by transparency rules like those being proposed.

To put it in your interest terms, it is trivial to note that the Bush administration does not support the corrupt, secretive institutions which currently claim the older more noble label ‘unions’. If that has anything to do with modern workers’ interests is a basic assumption that is left unanalyzed. But considering that the proposal in question is about disclosure, I suspect the linkage isn’t as obvious as you would wish.

I don’t really accept the “X is evil so I will resist his proposal no matter how good it appears on the merits” analysis as particularly useful, because it is too susceptible to misclassification of ‘interest’ as discussed above. Unions have long been too secretive. Democrats are never ever going to change that because they have a naked political interest in the secrecy. So I don’t think a ‘naked political interest’ on Republican’s part in piercing the secrecy is particularly persuasive argument in favor of continuing the secrecy. And since that is the only argument being offered…

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Mark 04.04.05 at 10:08 pm

Well, Henry, at least I got a quasi-responsive reply that time.

Let’s start with the obvious points. Post-modern critiques do not posit things in the world, so post-moderns are in no position to deny existence to material or immaterial things. They were reacting against a type of metaphysics in which this talk was supposed to make sense. If you understood their attacks on metaphysics, you would know this. Perhaps you are confusing the distinction between material & immaterial things with the distinction between (Kantian) things-in-themselves and things as they appear, or the world and appearance. For post-modernists, that distinction collapses; the world is all that remains. (What else would there be?) But since I made no distinction between material interests and interests generally, I’ll pass over it, noting only your confused understanding of post-modernist critiques of epistemology. (See Nietzsche, Will to Power, (Kaufman, ed.), or anything by Rorty)

You are now engaged in re-casting your argument. Let’s go back and check what you said earlier: “The kinds of reform that you’re talking about are only going to happen when either (a) the putative reformers are also those whom we want to benefit from the reform, or (b) the putative reformers have interests that are somehow aligned with those we want to benefit from the reform.”

I note that you did not make a distinction between material interests and general interests, so you are clearly adding a premise in your latest post – an indication that you’ve spotted a flaw in your argument. However, you do suggest that reforms are only legitimate if (a) there is an identity between reforms and beneficiaries, or (b) where there is an alignment of interests between reformers and beneficiaries. Note also that the evaluative criteria in (b) requires positive fulfillment: having no interest in giving bad advice is not good enough; there must be an alignment of interest.

In your post, above, you also point me to your work on trust, power and interest. I checked some of this interesting work, and it turns out that trust & interest, on your view, does indeed engage the concept knowledge & judgment (an so touches on epistemology). You’ve written: “[T]here comes a point where asymmetries [of power], are such that it is impossible for the more powerful actor to give credible commitments to the weaker. At this point, disparities of power prevent trust from arising, and make distrust the likely outcome. Where substantial asymmetries of power co-exist with uncertainty, it may be difficult for actors to be sure which side of this dividing line they are on.” (Farrell, p.25, “Trust, Distrust, Power”) Thus, for you, an evaluation of power relations is both prudent and necessary before credible judgment can be rendered.

Combining the above, I have simply extended your own analysis to your judgment that the reforms are illegitimate, by asking what about your position allows you to credibly assert to weaker, less powerful, less knowledgable actors to trust you. How do you fulfill (b)? What is it about a rich, privileged academic that founds the requisite relationship of trust between yourself and a union member? Is it that you have no material interest in giving them bad advice? I don’t either, so where does that leave us?

If you want to retreat from the field, be my guest. Your recent series of ad hominems just signals surrender.

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Dan Simon 04.04.05 at 10:26 pm

Your point about reform is a reasonable one – but is also not applicable in this case. The kinds of reform that you’re talking about are only going to happen when either (a) the putative reformers are also those whom we want to benefit from the reform, or (b) the putative reformers have interests that are somehow aligned with those we want to benefit from the reform.

I don’t know why I’m bothering, but what the heck….

Henry, this is complete nonsense. We’re not talking about electing an administration, here, or supporting a political party. We’re talking about two specific regulatory measures: toughening the transparency requirements for union finances, and enforcing secret ballot requirements for union elections. These measures, on their face, are good for unions. After all, union corruption is not exactly unheard-of, and where it exists, it tends to help neither union workers nor unions themselves. Increased transparency and secret ballots appear to be excellent means by which to combat union corruption, to the benefit of both workers and their unions.

Now, you could perhaps present arguments to the effect that these measures would likely fail to decrease union corruption, or might even increase it. Or you might argue that they would have negative side effects that would overwhelm the positive ones. The one thing you can’t do, though–at least not without looking utterly ridiculous–is blithely assert that these measures are bad for unions or their members, solely on the grounds that someone that you believe to be hostile to unions supports them.

After all, you don’t trust this person as far as you can throw him (or her). How can you reliably infer his beliefs or motives from what he says? He may be lying through his teeth. He may have sinister ulterior motives for supporting this measure in spite of its positive effects for unions and their members. More to the point, he might be a complete idiot, attempting to undermine the workers by means that actually benefit them. Judging these measures to be pernicious by the mere fact that an anonymous Bush administration official is backing them for reasons you disapprove of–without even pausing to consider the measures themselves on their actual merits–is, simply put, asinine.

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Peter 04.04.05 at 10:28 pm

Sebestian, you are right that attacking an opponent’s motivations is not a substitute for reasoned criticism. But I would say that the Bush Administration’s anti-labor record creates a strong prima facie case that the financial disclosure regulations are NOT in the interests of labor union members. The Bush Administration is hostile to unions, whether they are corrupt and secretive or open and clean. Moreover, the fact that labor reformers — a group that has a genuine interest in transparency — have been of the Bush proposal also strengthens the case against these disclosure rules.

While there is nothing wrong with improving financial transparency, there is evidence to
that these regulations will be a major financial burdens and drain away precious manpower.

Also, Henry, I think it’s important to note that strong unions are not just in the interest of union members but of non-union members as well. , since the threat of unionization forces businesses to raise wages to ward off organizing campaigns.

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Henry 04.04.05 at 10:39 pm

Post-modern critiques do not posit things in the world, so post-moderns are in no position to deny existence to material or immaterial things. They were reacting against a type of metaphysics in which this talk was supposed to make sense. If you understood their attacks on metaphysics, you would know this. Perhaps you are confusing the distinction between material & immaterial things with the distinction between (Kantian) things-in-themselves and things as they appear, or the world and appearance. For post-modernists, that distinction collapses; the world is all that remains. (What else would there be?) But since I made no distinction between material interests and interests generally, I’ll pass over it, noting only your confused understanding of post-modernist critiques of epistemology. (See Nietzsche, Will to Power, (Kaufman, ed.), or anything by Rorty)

From Charles King, “The Six Evil Geniuses of Undergraduate Essay Writing.” http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/kingch/Six_Evil_Geniuses.htm

Evil Genius No. 4: The Jargon-Meister
The Jargon-Meister attempts to blind the reader with science. Using an array of political science terms – most of which he probably doesn’t understand – he hopes to lull the reader into a state of social science ecstasy. In such a state, the Jargon-Meister thinks, the professor will ignore the fact that the essay really doesn’t say anything:

QUESTION: What do some theorists mean when they say that humans are “rational actors”?

ESSAY: Rationality is an exogenous component of selective incentives. As such, and in direct contradiction to the concept of endogenizing preferences, actors cannot be truly rational unless they have engaged in side-payments to rotating credit organizations. This gives Mancur Olson (1965) a collective action problem from which he cannot reasonably recover. . . .

The Jargon-Meister appears to make an argument – and a forceful one at that. But once you peel away the terminology, you realize that there is not much content to the essay at all. Zero points.

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Peter 04.04.05 at 10:39 pm

Sorry, my links didn’t work. (I really wish you’d bring back the Preview button)

On labor reformers against the Bush disclosure rules:
http://www.labornotes.org/archives/2003/07/d.html

On the burden the rules will have on unions:
http://www.nathannewman.org/log/archives/001237.shtml#001237

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Nicholas Weininger 04.04.05 at 10:53 pm

Matt M:

The problem with your argument is that when unions get to require (through the force of labor law) “representation fees” even from workers who are not union members, they’re no longer *voluntary* collective organizations. “In or out” works fine if, and only if, those who are out don’t have to pay for decisions made by those who are in.

If you want to claim that collective bargaining fees must be required from all to avoid free-rider problems, then at the very least you have to give the payers of those required fees a voice in what’s done with them, and their right to that voice cannot depend on their willingness to pay for the other, voluntarily-funded, non-collective-bargaining activities. Otherwise you’ve got taxation without representation.

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Mark 04.04.05 at 11:07 pm

Lol. Truly, Henry, that is the lamest response I have ever seen by an academic, inside and out of academia. This wouldn’t be funny in high school. You don’t have the courage or wit to substantively engage with the statements, so you link a silly web-joke and hope your confusion goes unnoticed. I take my previous statements back: you have no dignity to preserve. Good show.

The other posters are doing a much better job than I of shredding your poorly argued position, so I’ll leave them to it.

The best part is, a portion of my taxdollar goes, or did go, to fund Henry’s paycheque. I’m paying to get insulted, spat on and name-called by him. It’s like a Mony Python skit ; )

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scouser 04.04.05 at 11:10 pm

Matt – the complaint is this: only that set of employees initially voting the union in to the workplace choose to become part of the collective. From that day forward, the union has, by statute, a representational monopoly for all current and future employees but – and this is key – only as to the terms and conditions of employment bargained with the employer. Union political involvement is found nowhere in the law, has nothing to do with collective bargaining, and yet an employee may be denied membership in his mandatory bargaining agent on that basis alone. That is troubling enough.

Add to that the utter lack of institutional democracy that you recognize but assume away – appointed leaders, arcane voting and eligibility rules, multiple organizational layers feeding dues money upwards towards full time political professionals accountable to no one but those at the very top, a lack of full accessible financial disclosure (where this whole discussion got its start), limited resources and coordination problems for those choosing to mount an opposition. IOW there’s little that is or for practical purposes can be democratic or voluntary about a union’s use of dues monies for politics.

BTW I could ultimately care less about unions and politics, it’s the unions’ use of their statutory leverage to force employee choice between paying political money or facing expulsion that bugs me.

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Michael Blowhard 04.05.05 at 12:18 am

For all the good points that are being made here, I’m struck by a few things: none of us seem to have any specific info about the proposed regulations; and none of us seem to combine the scholarly, legal, and practical experience to say much of use about what the impact of the Bushies’ regs is likely to be.

I confess I’m a little thunderstruck by the contention that because it’s a Bushie thing, it’s time to circle the wagons. I have no trouble being suspicious — I’m suspicious of all new rules and regs. But leaping to judgments about the whether or not a set of proposed regulations is worthwhile or not based entirely on a dislike of the Bushies? It seems to express a conviction that good laws only come from good people, and that bad people only generate bad laws.

Which is childish, fairy-tale thinking, no? Why not view things more opportunitstically, and less in a partisan-cheerleader kind of way? If a proposed law or set of regulations seems likely to have a good impact, why not go for it, even if it’s being sponsored by people you dislike? If it’s a bad proposal, why not oppose it even if it’s coming from people you like? Are you out only for the Democrats or are you out for all of us more generally?

Setting up a good-vs-bad politicians thing seems … I dunno, a little naive. Isn’t it safer to assume that they’re all driven primarily by ego and power. Maybe not entirely but primarily? Yet sometimes something a little semi-decent or worthwhile gets proposed, and maybe even passed. I voted for Clinton but came to think he was a sociopath — yet I was pleased by some of the legislation he passed, and admired some of the ways he handled the economy. Yet I don’t for a moment think he did any of that … because he was a good person. I think he took the stances he did because they made him president, and because he wanted to get into that office and keep it.

Take two politicians. Both are mainly out for power and ego-stroking. One proposes a law that look awful. You denounce it. The other proposes a law that looks helpful. Do you oppose it because you dislike his motivations?

Me, I’ll focus on the results. And it seems to me that none of us have any idea what the results of these regulations is likely to be. Suspicion is good. But suspicion of all politicians and political moves is good.

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john c. halasz 04.05.05 at 4:35 am

Die verkehrte Welt.

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abb1 04.05.05 at 4:43 am

Michael,
it’s not about politicians being sociopaths or good persons or about their ego. It’s all about interests these politicians represent, about their constituency.

Politician who is a humble well-meaning genius who happens to represent big business would be much worse for the unions than an ego-driven sociopath who represents workers.

Nothing good (or even semi-decent) for the unions can come out of this administration, that’s just as certain as the law of gravity.

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Brett Bellmore 04.05.05 at 5:20 am

Of course, Republicans aren’t too fond of labor unions. But this isn’t a labor-capital thing, it’s simply due to the brute historical fact that labor unions typically extract money from Republican members, and spend it advancing Democratic party interests. Reforming labor unions would make this less of a problem, and thus IS in the interest of the Republican party!

So Republicans are, in fact, perfectly capable of wanting to genuinely reform labor unions. It’s not the only thing they want to do to unions, of course, but while no unions would be idea, honest unions are better than corrupt ones, even from a Republican perspective.

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Jon R. Koppenhoefer 04.05.05 at 5:27 am

“The power of unions” intimidates the Bush administration and the corporate class, despite the fact that fewer than 15% of the American labor force is represented by a collective bargaining unit.

What is the labor force were to organize at a level seen at the end of the Second World War?

The Republican oligarchy would be raving insomniacs, tearing their hair and gnashing teeth over nightmares of aggrieved employees breaking into the boardroom to lynch their bosses.

Oh were it only true…

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Brett Bellmore 04.05.05 at 6:02 am

A pity that can’t happen, so long as people retain any choice at all about whether to join unions, eh, John?

The problem for the union movement, John, and the reason it has been shrinking, is that the mere threat of their employees unionizing is enough to keep most employers treating their employees well enough, that actually carrying through on the threat, and unionizing, would be a net loss for the employees.

Kind of like nuclear weapons; Handy for the deterent value, but everybody loses if you actually use them.

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abb1 04.05.05 at 6:22 am

It’s only a net loss for the employees because it’s so difficult to organize; it’s an up-hill struggle that takes years. And that’s also why the ‘well enough’ is not really that well.

Besides, in more progressive societies the main role of the unions has already shited from forcing employers to treat their employees well to mild syndicalism, routine participation in management, as unions now have seats on boards of directors allocated to them by law.

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John Q 04.05.05 at 7:38 am

Not quite what “no employee in the United States must join a union” meant in John Q’s post, now is it?

I stand by my post 100%. I said no one — anywhere in the U.S. — has to join a union. You have not disputed that. But you want someone to be able not to join the organization and not pay full dues and yet exercise the privileges of membership? A union is a voluntary membership organization — it is not an apparatus of the state.

Ever heard of the Enmons decision?

Yes, have you? It interpreted the Hobbs Act not to apply to violence is employed during a strike. And individual who perpetrates an act of violence is subject to arrest and imprisonent, and the same is true for any union that participates.

The union knows who’s holding out, and everybody is well aware that by not signing they risk consequences.

What consequences? You think it’s like “On the Waterfront” or something? Oh, it must be like the times you allegedly worked at “union shops” and bricks were constantly hurled through your windshield. Yeah, that happens all the time. (By the way, you might want to update your lingo next time you invcent a fantasy life: no one really uses the phrase “union shop” anymore.)

So Republicans are, in fact, perfectly capable of wanting to genuinely reform labor unions. It’s not the only thing they want to do to unions, of course, but while no unions would be idea, honest unions are better than corrupt ones, even from a Republican perspective.

Wrongo. Who was the only large union in the AFL-CIO to support Reagan? The Teamsters led by Jackie Presser. Reagan loved to wear his Teamsters jacket! As you say, the Republicans would rather have no unions — that’s their ideal. Unions that are corrupt and ineffective are digging their own graves. The LMRDA itself was passed by a Democratic Congress, and was spearheaded by Sen. John Kennedy (D. Mass.). Historically Democratic administrations are enforced it more strenuously than Republican ones. It’s only this little game with the LM-2 that has caught the Republicans’ eye.

The problem for the union movement, John, and the reason it has been shrinking, is that the mere threat of their employees unionizing is enough to keep most employers treating their employees well enough, that actually carrying through on the threat, and unionizing, would be a net loss for the employees.

That was partially true during the 60’s and 70’s but is less true because there is little possibility of employees successfully organizing a union. (Parts of the auto industry are an exception.) Hence you see income inequality unseen since the Gilded Age and the slow decline of the middle class.

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Brett Bellmore 04.05.05 at 8:50 am

“(Parts of the auto industry are an exception.)”

Fancy that, John; I live in south-east Michigan, and work in the auto industry. And know people who had bricks hurled through their windows during the Detroit Newspaper strike.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 04.05.05 at 9:33 am

John Q., you just lost major credibility points with the union violence doesn’t happen that often line. It happens in almost every single big strike. Next we are going to hear that union violence is an understandable side effect of the fact that there are activist judges, whoops I mean e-vil corporations exploiting the poor worker.

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Peter 04.05.05 at 10:38 am

With all due respect, Mark, when you call somebody a “priviledged, rich academic”, you should not expect a civil response. I do not have the philosophical background to comment on the relationship between power, trust, and interest. However, as I said above, I believe that the Bush Administration’s strong anti-labor record creates a strong prima facie case that the disclosure rules are not in the interests of labor union members. Moreover, the fact that union reformers criticize these regulations as onerous — sucking crucial time and money away from union members — further strengthens the case against them:
http://www.labornotes.org/archives/2003/07/d.html

By the way, while some people have making comparison between stockholders and union members, whereas I think the more relevant comparison is between union members and employees in general. What control do employees have over the resources that their corporations spend on political activities, or other major decisions, for that matter?

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Sebastian Holsclaw 04.05.05 at 11:16 am

Union Members are to Unions as Employees are to Corporations? I’m not sure you really want to accept the implications of that analogy.

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Mark 04.05.05 at 11:21 am

Peter, I’ve explained, above, how in Henry’s own theory, it is necessary and prudent for an actor to undertake an evaluation of relative economic, social, and/or politcial positions before coming to trust another party and their recommendations/actions. I’ve quoted his words. Review them if you don’t believe me, or reinterpret his theory as you like. Henry wants union members to trust him to advance their interests; he believes that they should trust his evaluation of the reforms. I simply performed the same evaluation on his (academic) position that he performed on Republican law-makers. He has conceded the reasonableness of this move by challenging me to prove that he has a material interest in giving unions bad advice. I noted that this was not the test he outlined above, in (a) and (b) (identity of actors or exact alignment of interets). He has yet to respond substantively to this and other criticisms, hoping that his ad hominems and irrelevancies will persuade the more foolish among us. Apparently unable to comport himself with dignity usually associated with professional academics, he has retired from the field.

I’ve had debates with John Quiggin before, and he managed to maintain a civil and dignified demeanour. I’m not sure why Henry finds this so difficult.

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cm 04.05.05 at 1:23 pm

Ah, transparency and accountability. Just like “healthy forests” and “clear skies” – everyone likes cute kittens and apple pie.

You have to get past the bs to see what it is they’re actually trying to do, which is prevent unions from engaging in issues advocacy. I’ll support that just as soon as the Bush administration passes a law preventing corporations from engaging in issues advocacy, I mean supports ‘transparency and accountability’ for themselves.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 04.05.05 at 2:22 pm

“You have to get past the bs to see what it is they’re actually trying to do, which is prevent unions from engaging in issues advocacy.”

No, it is to prevent unions from engaging in issues advocacy while hiding the particulars of the advocacy from union members. If revealing it causes the advocacy to cease, I don’t see the reason to believe that there was a compelling case that the unions were really representing the union members in the first place.

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abb1 04.05.05 at 3:06 pm

I don’t understand why advocacy or any particulars of it would be objectionable. Every human being has multiple roles in the society, multiple contradictory interests. For example, you may be simultaniously a union member, NRA member and a member of, say, the Libertarian party. The union will defend your interests as an employee by sponsoring Democratic politicians, the NRA will promote your gun-owning persona by sponsoring Republicans and you’ll vote for Harry Browne (or whoever it is now). I don’t see much of a problem here. It’s a complex world.

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Brett Bellmore 04.05.05 at 6:34 pm

Ok, first off, I wasn’t automatically made a member of the NRA when I took my last job. If I refuse to join the NRA, I am not required to pay partial dues to the NRA, based on the NRA’s assessment of how much it’s services are worth. And the last time I decided not to take part in an NRA activity, nobody keyed my car.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 04.05.05 at 7:17 pm

“I don’t understand why advocacy or any particulars of it would be objectionable.”

We can’t really know if it is objectionable when they get to hide the particulars.

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abb1 04.06.05 at 2:17 am

Brett,
IIRC, in some states you’re required to join the NRA if you want to buy a firearm, so there is some similarity here.

I don’t think any union has a policy to key cars, so this seems to be a purely law-enforcement matter.

Now, I suggest that you may want to view union as just a fact of life. When you take a job you’ll have a boss. Why? This is how workplaces are organized and for a good reason. And the same is true about the unions.

Life is full of contradictions. You take a job -> you need a car to get there -> you’re coerced to buy insurance -> insurance company supports politicians you don’t like. Unfair? Perhaps, but this is how the system works, and it is full of contradictions.

As far as transparency goes, I would concede that the government may have a legitimate (but limited) role in regulating unions, but is there really any evidence that unions are less transparent than other public entities? If not, then obviously this is just a political action, which I am sure it is.

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Dan Simon 04.06.05 at 1:16 pm

Now, I suggest that you may want to view union as just a fact of life….Unfair? Perhaps, but this is how the system works….

As far as transparency goes….obviously this is just a political action….

Abb1, you might want to view political actions as just a fact of life. Unfair? Perhaps, but this is how the system works….

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abb1 04.06.05 at 2:53 pm

Dan – absolutely. I agree.

It’s just that a couple of people here insisted that it’s a sincere effort on the part of the Republicans to clean-up the unions. I can’t imagine why they say this silly thing.

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Dan Simon 04.06.05 at 4:45 pm

I didn’t notice anyone making any such argument (although I may have missed it). What I did notice was that lots of commenters took issue with Henry’s assertion that administration’s alleged nefarious motives were by themselves enough to brand the new regulations as a terrible thing. Like me, the commenters were generally of the opinion that the administration’s motives were quite irrelevant, and that the regulations could, and should, be judged on their own merits.

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abb1 04.07.05 at 7:13 am

Well, then, may I suggest a legislation that requires thorough yearly auditing tax returns of one Dan Simon? Transparency is important and I don’t see any downsides of this legislation. On its own merits.

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McGroarty 04.07.05 at 9:35 am

Hogan wrote: “Would you like to compare the staff resources of the average CFO of a publicly held company to the staff resources of the average local union treasurer? Not even in the same solar system.”

Hogan observes two men helping a third into the emergency room. “Boy, sure is lucky the guy in the middle is the one who got cut! I can see he’s the one wearing the bandages!”

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Dan Simon 04.07.05 at 10:08 am

Abb1, I don’t see how the law you propose enhances transparency–I already provide the IRS with copious documentation supporting my tax returns. It sounds like what you’re advocating is using government resources to intensify oversight of my personal finances. If you think this is a good and important use of the taxpayers’ money, go ahead and advocate it. I’m guessing it won’t get far, but you never know….

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Uncle Kvetch 04.07.05 at 1:03 pm

I don’t see how the law you propose enhances transparency—I already provide the IRS with copious documentation supporting my tax returns.

Which is exactly what the labor unions are saying. If I’m not supposed to believe them, why should I believe you?

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Dan Simon 04.07.05 at 5:15 pm

Well, if you think the information I provide in my tax returns is insufficient, then propose measures to remedy the problem. (I seem to recall that in Canada, I used to have to supply more original documents with my tax returns than I do in the US, so it’s not out of the question that more needs to be done here in that regard.)

Keep in mind, though, that Henry didn’t give a single reason for believing that the new proposed transparency requirements for unions were either onerous or unnecessary–apart from the fact that the current administration is generally anti-union. Fortunately, some of the comments did touch on the pertinent issue of what information, exactly, unions are currently required to reveal, and whether or not it suffices. That discussion was interesting, if somewhat technical–and certainly more enlightening than making a strained analogy to my personal tax returns.

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