A sad and familiar refrain among the now fading trade unions – foregoing confrontation for illusory accommodation. There is perhaps no dumber talking point than that of the “value proposition” or the idea that union labor is of higher quality therefore brings more value to a job than non-union. First, there’s flimsy evidence to support that being true and second, no one cares anyway.
Labor unions, especially trade unions, were not developed because of a lack of job training, they were developed to ensure fair compensation for workers. The “value proposition” makes no sense for an employer or developer – they care about profits, that’s their value proposition. If globalization has proven anything it is that cheaper unskilled labor is considered more valuable to capital than more expensive skilled labor (see Walmart for details). Which makes complete sense – the honor is in the dollar. Even if, for some odd reason, there was higher quality and less cost overruns with union labor why the hell would management care if they have to pay more than the difference in wages and benefits?
This accommodation strategy is essentially Third Way economics, pretending labor unions are somehow both good for Capital and Labor – news flash: they aren’t. That’s why Capital has been trying and succeeding at crushing Labor for the past 30 years. They don’t want to pay higher wages and provide benefits they want to cut those costs so they can have higher profits.
Playing Capital’s value game hasn’t been working for Labor so far. Maybe it was Scabby’s idea to leave the AFL-CIO, rats know how to leave sinking ships.
You can certainly debate the efficacy of an inflatable rat. It might be a bad, or at least lazy, tactic. But that’s not really the point here. The larger question gets at the failure of union leadership to understand why the labor movement became successful and what creates a culture where the risks of an organizing campaign are acceptable to workers.
The ability to talk and negotiate with employers is important. But it only matters if you have an organization that actually organizes workers. Fundamentally, if you think that making nice with CEOs is more important than organizing culture or building workplace solidarity, you don’t understand why the labor movement succeeded. I know these labor leaders have been active for decades and so maybe deserve a break, but they’ve overseen the collapse of organized labor. Much of that isn’t their fault. But then there’s parroting corporate speak, prioritizing the boardroom over the shop floor, and trivializing workplace culture and solidarity. When you do these things, you aren’t creating a movement that will exist in 10 years.