Once upon a time, when Simon Legree was the boss of everybody, strikes were important. They were necessary for people working in horrendous conditions who had no option but to withhold services to try and force employers to treat them humanely. Strikes were the only way to show ruthless bosses that they needed their workforce as much as their workforce needed them. That was back in the 19th Century
Now, 150 years have gone by and, in my opinion things have changed a bit in the wonderful world of work. So, surely-to-god we have more sophisticated ways of settling disputes between employer and employees?
Over time, unions have ensured fair wages, reasonable work hours, safe work places, holidays, benefits and other rights and freedoms for most of the western world’s workforce. Along with the grey pony-tail guy from your office, unions employee legal teams, professional negotiators, PR people, etc., — why the hell do they still need the workforce to strike? What does this ever accomplish except save the employer a few days or weeks’ worth of wages?
It’s humiliating to stand on street corners with hunks of cardboard grousing about whatever the union thinks you should be grousing about.
I’m obligated to be part of a union in my workplace. I pay monthly union dues. Is it too much to expect them to negotiate a contract once every 3 or 4 years without hauling me out on the street? Our union calls a strike almost every time contracts need to be re-negotiated. Nobody asks us if we want a strike. Nobody asks us if we’re willing to accept the offer put on the table by our employer. We strike for a while, get legislated back to work and nothing changes. And the union has the balls to tell us we’d better show up on the picket lines “or else”.
And they’re pretty ugly about it. Threats are made. Scrawled notes are left on our desks. Phone calls are made to our homes. Thuggish union types stop you in the hall and tell you what will happen to you if you don’t picket – everything from facing a law suit, to having our homes picketed to veiled, “you better hope we don’t see you out walking on your own some night” physical threats.
Ironic, isn’t it, that the main thing making our workplace unpleasant these days is the union? And that’s before we even look at how they’ve hogtied workplace processes to such an extent that staffing takes forever; that there is no way of rewarding exceptional employees and no way of dismissing non-productive employees; or that ever-increasing salary costs have driven manufacturing to close up shop and outsource their business.
I don’t agree with taking away anyone’s right to strike, just as a matter of principle, but I see no need whatsoever in the 21st century western world for anyone to need to exercise that right. It’s not civilized. It’s not enlightened. It’s not constructive. The whole process is brutish and thuggish and causes rifts in the workplace.
I still think unions have a place in this world. We just need to find a way to keep them in their place.