Monday, April 11, 2005

Unions vs. Corporations

It's a worthwhile observation that the commentors make on the last post about the difference between shareholders and union members--shareholders having considerably more choice in what company they invest in than which union they join. That point need not be disputed. But to focus on that in the context of the debate over the anti-union initiative misses a more important truth. It assumes that the initiative is motivated by trying to make unions more democratic.

The initiative to require unions to get express permission from members to use union dues for political money may be cleverly cloaked in the rhetoric of democracy for union members, but its clear purpose is to weaken the power of working people's only real force for counteracting the dominance of huge corporate money in politics. In California, at least, unions sometimes beat the chamber of commerce at its own game.

Further democratization of unions is a laudable goal. It would be excellent, for example, if unions weren't so quick to side with the employers against environmental and consumer measures. But if we're going to get seriously excited about cleaning up money and politics, it would be a lot more to the point to slow down the flow of big corporate money than union money.

At least union money buys better politicians.


Anonymous said...

I agree that the motivation for the anti-union intitiative has nothing to do with making them more democratic. That is precisely why I'm opposed to it -- it is intended to take away a major source of campaign funding for Democratic candidates and causes. I guess my point was that I'm a little uncomfortable in acknowledging what amounts to an "ends justify the means" rationale.

Both of my parents are union members (and liberal Democrats) in an area of California that is heavily conservative. Both of them hear complaints from their colleagues about how their union dollars are spent, as many (if not most) of their colleagues vote Republican.

The country would be much better off if everyone voted their pocketbooks. But as we all know, voters are driven by a variety of issues that don't make any rationale sense to people like you and me.

I will vote against this initiative, should it qualify for the ballot, because I know what effect it will have, and how much power would tilt toward corporate interests. But I wish I had a better answer to critics (including those union colleagues of my parents who vote Republican) than a variation on "Trust us; we're fighting for your interests, even if you don't agree with us."
-- Vince M.

Anonymous said...

Motivations aside, I just don't see what it even superficially has to do with union democracy (unless I misunderstand the initiative). "More democratic" might be to internally poll members, after opposing campaigns, on how a set amount of political action money should be spent and go with the majority, but *not* to secure agreement from individuals. Would it be "more democratic" if I were asked to give permission for the disposition of each of my tax dollars? No--it would undermine democracy, which is *collective* action--something that people I think can still understand if clear distinctions and comparisons are made (e.g. you may not have voted for Schwarzenegger, but he's still your governor).

In other words--it's not even *apparently* about union democracy, its about exploiting a pervasive consumerist/market model, which has nothing to do with democracy, and nothing to do with unions, and nothing even to do with corporations as political actors.

--D. Cherry