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Do Unions Have "Political Penis Envy"?

by: Andrew Davey (atdleft)

Wed Mar 21, 2007 at 15:40:14 PM PDT

(Oh, yeah! I almost forgot to tell you that this whole blogfight started with Mike Lawson's "Why join a union?" post at The Liberal OC. Now go forth, and give Mike some love for standing up for working people! : ) - promoted by atdleft)

[...] Once effective, a powerful legislation ensuring worker's rights will totally nullify the existence of unions altogether. However, what union would want to lose power? In states where they have a commanding power in the legislature, they thrive on their newly found existence. To me, it merely amounts to nothing more than political penis envy on their part.

That was my good friend Ryan Gene Williams, of Orange Juice, talking about why unions supposedly REALLY DON'T want the state and federal governments regulating workers' rights. Wow, and who would have guessed that the unions suffer from "political penis envy"?

For more on why my good friend is wrong about unions and the political process, follow me after the flip...

Andrew Davey (atdleft) :: Do Unions Have "Political Penis Envy"?
So what else does Ryan Gene have to say about unions and the workers who join them? Here are his thoughts about pensions:

Well, pensions are fun little things aren't they? Let's put in 30 years at work and then get paid for sitting around watching CSI reruns on cable during retirement. The obvious argument for that is if you aren't working, you shouldn't get paid. Pension lovers will then, of course, scream that it's their right for getting paid while sitting on their ass doing nothing.

The big problem I have with that, especially in the public sector, is what about my generation? It was the baby-boomer "all about me" generation that brought in pensions in the first place, but my generation (their kids of the baby-boomers) will have to foot the bill for everything going on today. While our parents are living high and mighty in retirement, we're going to have to pay the inevitable higher taxes that come along with it, and help pull our cities out of bankruptcy for engaging in such asinine practices to begin with. We're not going to have the so-called luxury of pensions because down the road we won't be able to afford it. My generation, and those younger than us, won't have the luxury of Social Security either but, that's a discussion for another day.

Well, actually it was that "all about me" Greatest Generation that brought about pensions during World War II. And oh yes, this was originally brought about when wage freezes prohibited outright increases in employee pay. But anyways, what is so wrong about retired employees getting the just rewards of all their hard work? And what's all this talk of "higher taxes" and "bankruptcy"? These workers earned their retirement benefits, and it's their right to collect.

And oh yeah, perhaps if certain municipalities didn't underfund their pension funds for public employees, then there wouldn't be a crisis to whine about!

But anyways, back to the "penis envy" of the unions:

What's that old phrase that everyone loves to say but never do? Call your congressman, is it? If the federal (or state government) can make a law, ensuring that all of us pay taxes every year, or that no more than 2000 sheep shall be allowed on Hollywood Blvd., then how hard can it be for lawmakers to legislate worker's rights?

I doubt that'll ever happen. Once effective, a powerful legislation ensuring worker's rights will totally nullify the existence of unions altogether. However, what union would want to lose power? In states where they have a commanding power in the legislature, they thrive on their newly found existence. To me, it merely amounts to nothing more than political penis envy on their part.

I think we already have government laws protecting workers' rights. And after all, if it weren't for the unions advocating workers' rights legislation, I doubt that we'd have a 40 hour work week, a minimum wage, and collective bargaining in this nation. Nope, we need unions because unions allow for workers to organize and form a strong alliance to negotiate against the strong alliance that is the corporation.

OK, so Ryan Gene still doesn't want to believe me? Then read this from the Economic Policy Institute:

An extensive array of labor laws and regulations protects workers in the labor market and the workplace. From the National Labor Relations Act and Social Security Act of 1935 to the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, labor unions have been instrumental in securing labor legislation and standards. However, beyond their role in initiating and advocating enactment of these laws and regulations, unions have also played an important role in enforcing workplace regulations. Unions have provided labor protections for their members in three important ways: 1) they have been a voice for workers in identifying where laws and regulations are needed, and have been influential in getting these laws enacted; 2) they have provided information to members about workers' rights and available programs; and 3) they have encouraged their members to exercise workplace rights and participate in programs by reducing fear of employer retribution, helping members navigate the necessary procedures, and facilitating the handling of workers' rights disputes (Weil 2003; Freeman and Medoff 1984; Freeman and Rogers 1999).

Unions have played a prominent role in the enactment of a broad range of labor laws and regulations covering areas as diverse as overtime pay, minimum wage, the treatment of immigrant workers, health and retirement coverage, civil rights, unemployment insurance and workers' compensation, and leave for care of newborns and sick family members. Common to all of these rules is a desire to provide protections for workers either by regulating the behavior of employers or by giving workers access to certain benefits in times of need (Weil 2003; Davis 1986; Amberg 1998). Over the years, these rules have become mainstays of the American workplace experience, constituting expressions of cherished public values (Gottesman 1991; Freeman and Medoff 1984).

Less well recognized perhaps, is the important role that unions play in ensuring that labor protections are not just "paper promises" at the workplace. Government agencies charged with the enforcement of regulations cannot monitor every workplace nor automate the issuance of insurance claims resulting from unemployment or injury. In practice, the effectiveness of the implementation of labor protections depends on the worker's decision to act. This is done either by reporting an abuse or filing a claim. Unions have been crucial in this aspect by giving workers the relevant information about their rights and the necessary procedures, but also by facilitating action by limiting employer reprisals, correcting disinformation, aggregating multiple claims, providing resources to make a claim, and negotiating solutions to disputes on behalf of workers (Freeman and Rogers 1999; Weil 2003; Hirsch, et al. 1997).

So can one still say that unions have "political penis envy"? No, in fact, unions EMPOWER workers by ensuring that their voices are heard. So basically, to answer Ryan Gene's initial question:

Is that something the Democrats could legislate both at the state and federal levels?

... I must answer that this has already been done, and that unions have so far been the best ENFORCEMENT MECHANISM to ensure that workers' rights are protected.

And oh yes, what if folks don't want to be in a union?

We can play the "what if" game until the cows come home, but let's say that I had to get a job at Ralphs and bag groceries? Or since I'm working towards my teaching credential right now, if I wanted to be a teacher and not join the union, would I not be able to work? I should be able to work in any profession with, or without, a union card. Shouldn't that be my right? What if we go on strike? How would I be able to work and make money? Of course in that case, I'd go to work anyway.

At least I'm holding up my end of the bargain as a respectful employee. The boss man might find it worth it and promote me... which would be an awesome benefit! Plus, think of all the cash I'd collect from the raise alone. That's collective bargaining... hehe. ;)

Ummm... Again, all those benefits WOULDN'T BE THERE if there weren't a union there. These workers like their jobs because of the high wages and good benefits, so why not ask the workers to be part of a collective bargaining group that ensures that these high wages and good benefits are protected? Maybe the "boss man" will temporarily reward the "scabs", but what happens to the "scabs" when they're suddenly demoted, or mistreated, or fired? Where can they turn for help? Oops, no union to help them collectively bargain for better.

So can we NOW see why unions help, and why they're not just suffering from "penis envy"?

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Unions (8.00 / 1)
are the only way to give any bargaining power to the masses of workers that are supposedly "negotiating" their wages and benefits in a "free" market. Otherwise, all of the power lies in the hands of the employers. I'm not sure why some people find that so hard to understand.

Do they think employers magically decide that it might be a good idea to make sure their employees can, like, eat?

Don't the markets take care of EVERYTHING? (0.00 / 0)
I mean, wasn't everything great in 1907?

Seriously, these "conservatives" forget their history...
And they're not too much interested in a good future, either.

Had enough of the "red county" right-wing crazy-talk bulls***? Well, then come and visit us at The Liberal OC! Yes, there ARE liberals in The OC! : )

[ Parent ]
Sometimes (8.00 / 1)
I really think they learned a totally different version of US history than I did. It would explain so much.

Oh, yeah, wait. Those hungry people who had to send their children to work too so the family could survive... they were fine. Market would've balanced eventually. They should be happy they had jobs.


What creeps me out is that I know people doing the same shit work I've always done who hold some of these views. I'm not sure why they think it's dandy that they work full time and can't both pay their rent and eat, all so some guy at the top can buy another luxury car, but there you go.

[ Parent ]
True... (0.00 / 0)
But Ryan Gene, along with most of my other conservative friends, are supposed to be "THE SANE ONES"! Oh, and they're pretty smart, too. I guess that's why I'm kinda shocked to see him go all weird and use wingnut talking points to just trash all unions...

Can you help me understand this?

Had enough of the "red county" right-wing crazy-talk bulls***? Well, then come and visit us at The Liberal OC! Yes, there ARE liberals in The OC! : )

[ Parent ]
I don't get it either (8.00 / 1)
I usually suspect it has something to do with the what's-in-it-for-me-ism that is pretty rampant in this country for some reason, combined with a general short-sightedness and belief that we have some mythical meritocracy where the Good, Hardworking People are rewarded and the only people who have anything to complain about must, therefore, be the Bad, Lazy People.

But I don't really know. I've worked enough crappy jobs to just not understand how they can be seen as anything but exploitation of people with few options.

[ Parent ]
what opened my eyes (8.00 / 1)
was watching the way that the university dealt with grad student employees before and after a strike. a light sort of went off, as i watched us go from paying tuition and fees for the privilege of teaching their discussion sections, to not paying tuition and fees while on contract, and getting dental coverage to boot.

lesson learned. the trick is for people to realize that if they have a beef with crappy wages, that they're better off banding together and going after the people paying those wages than sniping at other workers who make a little more than them because they have a union contract.

[ Parent ]
after all (8.00 / 1)
things were so good in the antebellum south, in the conservatives' ideal labor market.

[ Parent ]
anyone else notice (8.00 / 1)
that noone ever calls for the abolition of chambers of commerce? if one side gets to organize, the other ought to be able to do so as well.

Good point... (0.00 / 0)
So it's OK for big business to organize, but not the workers? What's wrong with this picture?

Had enough of the "red county" right-wing crazy-talk bulls***? Well, then come and visit us at The Liberal OC! Yes, there ARE liberals in The OC! : )

[ Parent ]
conservatives see employment as a charity (8.00 / 1)
and not as a interdependent relationship. thus, workers should be grateful for the wages they're granted, they shouldn't actuially have the gall to bargain hard for the value of their labor.

[ Parent ]
and by "conservatives" i include a lot of democrats and many liberals [nt] (8.00 / 1)

[ Parent ]
Perhaps you're right... (0.00 / 0)
But really, why should workers be "grateful" for living near poverty, working all day with no breaks, and being LITERALLY WORKED TO DEATH?

(After all, this is what the American workplace would still look like if there were no unions and no rights for workers.)

Had enough of the "red county" right-wing crazy-talk bulls***? Well, then come and visit us at The Liberal OC! Yes, there ARE liberals in The OC! : )

[ Parent ]
um, because conservatives are weenies? (8.00 / 1)
sorry, that's all i got. it's not a worldview that i can accept as reasonable.

[ Parent ]
One of the important moments (8.00 / 1)
On my path from my idiotic preteen conservatism to my much more sensible and mature socialism was when I was spouting conservative talking points like these about unions to my grandmother, who used to listen to Rush Limbaugh with me in the car and such. (Yeah, I know, I was 13, like YOU didn't do anything embarrassing at 13?!)

And she looked at me very firmly and sternly and set me straight about unions. She was active in her teacher's union local down in Mission Viejo, and explained to me how the union was responsible for her health care, her steady income, and in keeping some truly nutty creationist types off the school board. Once I realized she was right, I began reevaluating my positions, and ever since I've been an ardent supporter of unions.

Most OC conservatives know absolutely nothing about unions. Their ideas come from Fox News and the comical opinion pages of the Register. To them unions are a conspiracy between Jimmy Hoffa and Tony Soprano and all workers are either morons or complicit with this criminality.

As your comments above bear out, conservatives simply have a low opinion of working people. They think hard, blue collar work is for losers, except when conservatives are in campaign season or bashing brown people - then, they're the worker's best friend, but even then it's a thinly veiled patronization. No, most conservatives believe themselves to be better people than you and I, and only losers and failures would ever be happy with a union.

I stopped having conversations with conservatives about these things years ago. It's like talking to a brick wall.

You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

Not exactly... (0.00 / 0)
In fact, I was surprised by HOW MANY REPUBLICANS are union workers in Orange County...
The last figure I heard was that as much as 50%of union voters in OC are registered Republicans, so there is a subculture of union folks here in OC (and even the OC GOP). Now yes, you're right that all the white-collar conservatives know nothing about unions, and that their "ideas" do come from Faux News and Red County/OC Blog. However, there are also folks like Art Pedroza (who used to be a Republican), who is with the teachers' union, and many county workers who are with the county employees' union, and these folks just care about their jobs and about their families' well-being...
And even though they like all the "high-minded conservative rhetoric", they like MAKING A GOOD LIVING even more, and they'll go with their union brothers and sisters.

So basically, I think it's useful for me to continue having conversations with these "thoughtful conservatives" (especially the ones IN UNIONS!) about this stuff, and show them how their own movement doesn't care about their families' well-being. : )

Had enough of the "red county" right-wing crazy-talk bulls***? Well, then come and visit us at The Liberal OC! Yes, there ARE liberals in The OC! : )

[ Parent ]
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