Unions in America

UNIONS IN AMERICA….Nathan Newman chastises Kos for claiming that special interests such as unions aren’t the “true” grassroots of the Democratic Party and suggesting that the blogosphere pick up the slack.

I don’t really want to take part in that argument (you can head over to Nathan’s site and comment if you’d like), but I am curious about the role that unions play these days and what their future is. It just happens to be something I’ve been mulling over recently.

I quite agree that union activism has been responsible for a tremendous amount of progressive social change, but at the same time it’s also obvious from declining membership figures that unions are in big trouble. What I can’t quite figure out is what their main problem is.

I mean, I look at a company like Wal-Mart, for example, and I wonder why unions have such a hard time organizing there. Sure, Wal-Mart is opposed, but the workers there are treated shabbily and paid worse, so you’d think it would be a slam dunk to get certified. But it’s not. So what’s the problem? What are the workers afraid of?

I’ve had the vague idea for a while that one of the problems with unions is that their concerns have been just the opposite of what they should be. That is, they haven’t spent enough energy trying to organize low paid workers and then campaigning to get them paid more, while at the time they’ve been over-obsessed with extremely rigid work rules that might not make that much sense in today’s economy. Basically, I think they should be fighting harder to raise wages in the service sector but compromising on work rules in order to get them.

However, this is just talking off the top of my head since I’ve never worked for a company that’s been unionized. So I guess what I’m really doing is (a) asking for comments from my readers, and (b) asking Nathan what his opinion is. I’d be interested to read a generic post from him about what he thinks unions need to do in America to revitalize themselves. How about it?

UPDATE: Nathan responds here (at least, regarding the difficulty that unions have organizing workers).

UPDATE 2: And more here.