Monday, May 04, 2009

Beyond the Labor Arms Race

So how is my idea different? What does it contribute? It looks just like a regular employees' union, don't you think? Who needs more unions?

Now, that in itself is going to turn off about half of you. People who know business owners tend to sympathize. I guess that's where my sympathies are as well. I worked in a union shop long ago, run by the Teamsters. I ran afoul of them for various reasons, and their first impulse was to threaten me. They also took far more of my monthly paycheck than could be justified by any reasonable person. What could they be doing with all that money? Not only that, they kept my wages low. I knew that people were getting literally three times what I was earning across the river for the same exact job. (If I'd had any brains at the time, I would have taken one of those jobs and bought a car with the extra money.) Are you getting the picture yet? The union was in bed with management. Somebody was getting paid to run a charade union, and shop stewards were being paid to keep people in line. Did I know this at the time? I knew that Rock and Roll is Here to Stay ... and not much else.

How can we characterize such an organization? It was top-down, recruitment driven, parasitic, authoritarian, and probably counter-productive. The company went out of business a few years later. I sometimes wonder what happened to those shop stewards. Companies that specialize in recruiting stupid people and keeping them stupid are not exactly in touch with their Model Modern Business Practices.

I am also opposed to card-check, but not without reservations. We've all heard stories of companies that have been raked over by unions, and we've all heard of workers that have been raked over by management. Privately owned companies will do just about anything to stop a union from forming. They own the business. They don't want outsiders to tell them what to do. It's understandable. I've heard of cases where the owners closed down the company, fired everyone, sold the inventory at a loss and left the state – all rather than accept union representation. People can be very bull-headed – or very principled, depending on your point of view.

Unfortunately, good owners and nasty, rotten no-good owners that really need union supervision all have the same response. I've had managers that qualified for sainthood and others that smelled of brimstone. I was reasonably suspicious that one VP, on that Teamsters job, was actually a Nazi, and not just because of the accent. None of them, the good, bad or ugly, would tolerate real unions.

The tactics that Management uses to discourage unionization are famously deceitful and cruel. So union people – honest union people that is – often come to the conclusion that you have to fight fire with fire. And they are often fired up with righteous wrath, justifiably if you ask me. In those days I knew a real Red communist. He had the zeal, the rage and the knowledge, and remarkable courage. He couldn't get very far with that crowd of workers, or with me either, but he had our respect. He didn't need no stinkin' card-check, though. What he needed was a cultural shift that wasn't going to happen.

In today's business environment, people just accept union and management because they have to. Nobody really likes either. Yet, here I am trying to sell you on my voters' union approach to the world. So what's the difference? What makes me think that it won't turn into some top-down, parasitic something or other?

The organization I'm proposing is home-grown. Recruitment is anathema. You click with your friends. You inspect them for the trust that you share. The only objective is to grow an information entity, starting with a tendril of reliability spread outward into the unknown soil of modern life. It is a worthy effort in itself. Representation is organic, not functional or confrontational. We are simply trying to get things straight here. Anonymity is helpful to keep out the control freaks and the spies and the zealots. We don't need to be manipulated and tricked into our choices. We will make up our minds according to the channels of trust that we construct. It's more of a defense against disinformation and arm-twisting than some power-seeking entity. I want it to become part of life, not part of the job, and I want it to be fun.

Membership is not exclusive to specified groups. Everyone is invited in, union and management if you honestly trust one another, but invited not as agents, only as friends. The idea is to start with trust and build on it, testing and strengthening it. In time we will grow a tree of trust. Things of importance can flow though the body of that tree without arousing animosity or suspicion, without causing polarization.

I'm not pushing mysticism. I'm proposing a calculated methodology conjoined with a shared philosophy, a social algorithm for calibrated connection.

Unions are like the Blob, growing constantly larger by spreading out and moving into new territories, engulfing and absorbing whatever organized relationships already exist. Only the Blob chooses. Well the Blob hasn't been very successful lately because the victims know how to defend themselves. And the Blob is not very happy about it. Voter's unions – I don't really know what to call them yet – are more like Tinker Toy sets, where the toys construct themselves and piece themselves into progressively larger groups, according to fixed rules of node and branch.

Well, OK. But what makes me think it will not degenerate into the Teamsters, or the Pinkertons for that matter? Americans have had nightmares about cabals and secret societies. We don't like to be told what to do. We don't like to defer to others. So how can I square the organization I've described with the individualism of America. I don't know yet, but I've been trying to convey my vision in a convincing way for a couple of years now, a vision still under development, I'm afraid. If you have any suggestions, I'll be glad to entertain them.


The glimpse of an unintended motion,
The shake of a head, an unexpected shift of the eyes,
Teaches more in a flash than you'll learn
From eight patient hours of listening to lies.

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