The Chicago teachers strike is over, but the public didn't win. Schools will still transfer bad teachers to other schools because it's nearly impossible to fire them. When bad teachers go from school to school, principals call it "the dance of the lemons." It would be funny if those teachers didn't slowly wreck children's lives.
The basic issue is: Who decides how to manage a workplace? Unions say it's good that they protect American workers from arbitrary dismissal and make sure everyone is treated equally.
But it's not good.
Rules that "protect" government workers from arbitrary dismissal and require everyone be treated equally are bad for taxpayers and "customers" -- and even union workers themselves.
But this is not intuitive. Union workers certainly have no clue about it.
At a union rally, I asked union workers if it bothered them that slackers are paid as much as good workers. The activists actually said, "There is no slacker," and that union rules mean less productive colleagues are helped, "brought up to speed."
C'mon, I asked, aren't there some workers who are just lazy, who drag the enterprise down?
"No!" they told me.
The union activists were also quick to say that unions built the middle class, that without unions, greedy bosses would lead a "race to the bottom" and pay workers next to nothing. "There would be no weekend, or eight-hour day!" they told me. "All that came from unions!"
Workers' lives improved in America because of free enterprise, not because of union rules. Union contracts helped workers for a while, but then they hurt -- even union workers -- because the rigid rules prevent flexibility in response to new market conditions. They slow growth. And growth -- increasing productivity, which leads to higher wages and new opportunities -- is what is best for workers.
In 1914, Henry Ford doubled his employees' wages to $5 a day and cut their workday to eight hours. He then hired more people. He didn't do this out of benevolence. As Adam Smith wrote in "The Wealth of Nations," "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest." It was in Ford's interest to increase his company's profits, and to do that he needed to attract the best workers he could find. When companies compete for workers, they get higher wages and better working conditions. Ford shortened the workday to better compete. Then GM and Chrysler matched Ford's deal to keep up. Workers won.
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