Those who insist on looking for purer motives, in contrast, might see something potentially more sinister. They might see a former community organizer acting out of a sincere conviction that America would be better off with a much, much larger unionized private sector.
That prompts the question of what the private sector would look like if nearly half its workers were union members, as is the case now with the public sector.
As one who grew up in Detroit in the heyday of the Big Three auto companies and the United Auto Workers, I have some idea what the answer would be.
Adversarial unionism, as prescribed by the New Deal-era Wagner Act, would mean an end to management flexibility and the cooperative management techniques employed by, among others, the foreign-based auto manufacturers. UAW contracts had some 5,000 pages of work rules; if any were violated, the shop steward could shut down the assembly line.
We know how that story turned out. It took the U.S. manufacturers multiple decades to achieve quality levels comparable to those their foreign-based competitors achieved with American workers.
We also have some idea how seniority promotion systems work out from what happens in unionized school systems. Incompetent senior teachers get their choice of assignments and, thanks to union contract provisions, are almost never fired, while talented junior teachers are laid off.
It is no accident that the rate of unionization in the private sector has plummeted since its peak in the 1950s. Scholars have found that unionized firms are at a competitive disadvantage against non-union firms. Over the years, their workforce tends to shrink, while non-union firms grow.
Since the 1950s, private-sector employees have gained protections that only unions once provided through pensions laws like ERISA, anti-discrimination legislation and developing human relations law. We're a long way from the 1930s.
But the Obama Democrats want to take us back to a system that produced huge inefficiencies and rigidity in the private sector. Does that sound progressive?
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