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Labor Unions: Good or Bad?

Updated on September 14, 2012

Labor unions have played a major role in United States history, but their pros and cons have long been debated. Unions still wield a powerful influence on American commerce and the country’s economic growth. They represent solidarity between the working class stiffs and top echelon business management. However, there are differing views as to their usefulness in today’s business world.

Throughout history their image has fluctuated between that of a group of organized crime thugs to savior of the American worker. The question on many people’s minds today is “Are they still important?” To answer that, it’s necessary to understand what they do, how they accomplish their goals and why workers thought they were necessary in the first place.

The Industrial Revolution of the 1800s saw a rapid expansion in factories and manufacturing. Many who had formerly performed agricultural work migrated to these factories and mines only to find terrible working conditions: long hours, low pay and health risks.

It was bad enough on adult males, but in that day many women and children were also working in these places. For the most part the government did little to make any changes, other than send in troops from time to time to quell rioting workers.

It was these circumstances that led to forming labor unions. They lobbied for better rights, safer working conditions and decent wages on behalf of the rank and file. In the 19th century disgruntled employees often went on strike to protest. The companies fought back by hiring private militias or thugs as an intimidation tool.

Today, most strikes are conducted peacefully. But, in the past many ended in violence and countless deaths as strike breakers, crossed picket lines to fill jobs left unattended by workers on strike.

Labor unions have made many benefits for workers that in turn benefit the economy. On the other hand there are several ways labor unions can harm the economy. Usually at the heart is human greed.

Workers demanding unrealistic pay and benefits a business can’t afford many times have been the cause for a company’s financial disaster. In other words they killed the goose laying the golden eggs.

In addition, labor unions began losing their popularity with employers who found labor costs were much cheaper in more economically deprived countries. They began outsourcing jobs to countries where employees would work for far less. Now, there are those who say labor unions are hurting our economy.

So, unions can be good or bad depending on who’s running them and their real agenda. One thing striking workers my not think about, especially those, whose salaries are paid by taxes. In view of some modern day worker strikes, public opinion has often not been favorable. Today, millions are out of work. Some haven’t been able to find any employment for years. Those hollering and screaming about getting paid more shouldn’t expect any sympathy from them.

For example, unionized government workers make, on average, double what their equivalent private-sector workers do. This doesn’t include benefits like health care, that more and more private companies are being forced to cut just to stay in business.

Labor unions usually begin with good intentions and for a while might work nicely. Unfortunately, when they are given free reign and control, greed and corruption can take hold. It’s widely known union leaders have exerted leverage in political parties in the form of campaign contributions in the past using member’s dues...regardless of whether they want to fund a specific party or not.

In recent years the country has been rocked by several corporate union scandals. This is nothing new. An example would be Railroads. Early in American history, they expanded their operations by buying political seats. Other corporations have had their retirement and pensions raided by corrupt top union officials.

These types of shady dealings still continue. In light of these revelations, it’s no surprise some consider unions nothing more than an albatross hung around workers necks. The Enron scandal may be the best known of modern times where political connections were used to ensure them a top spot in California’s energy game.

Another point of contention is labor unions are inclined to be inclusive. Those deciding to become members usually gain all the benefits, but in many cases at the expense of nonmembers.

Despite these failings many workers still consider unions to be their only defense against cooperate America.


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    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      I guess that's why were all on food stamps instead of buying postal stamps.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      That's why we have such high postal rates, due to the postal union. Some of the workers don't pull their fair share, but it takes an act of Congress to be fired. The only way I have seen it happen is through theft. Now the USPS is only hiring part time casual workers, but we still have high paid people in there.