And now it’s Unions

Posted: December 12, 2012 by jennroig in Articles, Commentary, English
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Let’s begin by saying I don’t quite understand the deal going on with unions in Michigan, Indiana, or any other of the twenty plus states that had already sign the “Right to Work” Bill. Even if I’m journalist, I’m sorry to say that my understanding of unions is poor, but you must consider that I’m Cuban and there… Well, there it’s a whole different planet.

What I know so far it’s that Michigan governor Rick Snyder signed this bill, that unions representatives don’t seem to like it, and that some worker punched Steven Crowder, a Fox News Contributor, in the middle of a protest yesterday. Let me be clear, I don’t endorse violence against people from my craft. That being said, if you go to a worker protest, that it’s been held against a bill that it’s supposed to somehow harm unions, and you work for Fox, and I mean FOX, well, you should be very extremely carefull, to say the least. To draw a metaphor, he could have been safer reporting from Tariq square in Egypt in the middle of the Arab spring. It’s Fox for Christ sake!

So, my knowledge is short. Then I’ve been trying to grasp something by reading my multiple media and checking what some opinion leaders have to say.

Jon Stewart didn’t spin it nicely. According his take away from the issue, unions were jacked: “It’s really A Right To Work AROUND The Unions”, and “layed out how the law diminishes the leverage of unions”, according a Huffington Post’s report. Check the video.

On the other hand, Jordan Weissmann from The Atlantic offered a more nuanced understanding of the bill and its consequences for unions, arguing that in fact, the bill might not pose a death sentence for workers’ organizations, and it may rather force them to offer more meaningful services and representation to its membership. His point basically is summarized by the headline: “Right to Work Won’t Doom Michigan’s Unions—It Might Even Save Them”.

I actually appreciated Weissmann contribution because it explains what’s the bill about:

“Right-to-work laws are not, in fact, really about the right to work.

Rather, they’re mostly aimed at curbing unions by sapping their finances. Under federal law, employees cannot be forced to join a union against their will. But because unions are required to represent everyone in the workplaces they organize, they are permitted to negotiate contracts that require non-members to pay fees covering the basic costs of the services the unions provide. Right-to-work states ban those sorts of agreements, which means that no worker ever has to pay a cent to a union, even if it represents them at the collective bargaining table.

This creates an obvious problem for labor organizers: free-riders. If a worker can get most of the benefits of union representation for no charge, they don’t have a whole lot of incentive to sign up and pay dues. The fewer fees they collect, the less resources unions have to fund their operations and their political activism. The fewer members they have, the harder it is to orchestrate a strike, and the less leverage they have with employers. In theory.”

(If you want to read the whole article, here is the link again).

To this point, my problem is that as outsider, not being born and raised American, it’s difficult to assess who may be right. Unfortunately, no matter how relativistic you are and how much a believer you are of that “there’s good and bad in everything” rhetoric, at the end everything leans to one side, either it will harm unions or not. That’s why I’m eager to figure it out. So I thought going to Twitter to find there some collective voice.

It didn’t worked. If you go and look for #unions, you’ll find a thread of opinions that will contradict and oppose each other.

For instance, @Gabby_Hoffman tweeted “I stand with @SCrowder against union thuggery. RT if you agree!”

@Sheojin tweeted “There WAS a time and place for #Unions…it was back in the 20’s”

In the meantime:

@JobParty put together “a VIDEO COMPILATION of some of the worst anti-union rhetoric from Fox News: http://bit.ly/VTgKJR  via @mmfa #unions #FOXlies #p2MI

@StopFOX tweeted that “ANN COULTER says “Michigan has become a state like Cuba” (destroyed) http://bit.ly/SVz6XB  #unions #RightToWork #FOXlies #p2MI” (By the way, if Ann Couter meant it, then she’s crazy!)

Even there were some sort of neutral voices that claimed to refocus on maybe more… urgent? issues:

@dannyray880624 tweeted: “I’ve noticed a trend in the media away from the #FiscalCliff and toward #Unions & #RightToWork. The priority confusion must stop #OCRA #tcot“.

Of course, two samples from each side don’t even start representing the multiplicity of points of view and how passionate can be contenders from both sides of the argument.

So, I won’t be able to get a final or complete sense of what’s the actual meaning of this new event of American politics, but thank God I have a brain inside my head which allow me to think by myself, after gathering the variaty of arguments, and considering what I’ve learnt from traveling around and living in a few places.

Unions can be both, good and bad, depending on what their goals are, their reach, power, effectiveness, and mostly how corrupt or honest their representatives are. In Italy, journalists’ unions are asfixiating the practice of journalism. Media outlets are not allowed to hire by contract a journalist who hasn’t been recognized by the Ordine dei Giornalisti, so owners take advantage finding the best pretext to not hire reporters, offering low payments for freelance collaborations. The money that Italian practitioners are doing right now after publishing even in the most important Italian media, it’s shameful. The current role of the journalist unions in Italy is that of a mafia organization, they control who’s in, who gets the benefits, and they allow entrance not out of merits, but out of clientelism and favoritism.

But it wasn’t like this all the time. Unions were created to support social causes such as pensions, social securities, paid vacations, and representation against unfair layout, if not because of the unions, without the strikes, very little would have been achieved in these matters, considering that losing money is pretty much the only language that corporations understand.

There’s also the positive case of Germany. Workers are recognized by law as a group of stakeholders for the big companies, so corporations operating inside the automotive industries or the pharmaceuticals, they have a voice that counts when it comes to determine strategies, layouts, acquisitions, etc. And that can’t be something damaging for progress and development, considering the level of development and wealth and progress that Germany has managed to achieve and the positive way it keeps performing.

All this leads me to conclude that, even I don’t quite understand the intricacies of the union conundrum in the USA, it may be a matter of how the unions are being run, but not that unions are bad, perse.

Still, if anyone would offer insight on how harmful, or not, can this turn to be for the American economy, labor rights, etc., I’ll really appreciate it.

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