The NLRA's adversarial process came to dominate labor-management relations and attract other workers. By the early 1930s, 35 percent of private sector workers had union representation.
That number has fallen drastically since then. There was a slight uptick last year, according to the Labor Department, but the number is still just 7 percent.
Why the shift against unions? The auto industry is a good example. Adversarial unionism prevented the Detroit-based automakers from adopting the flexible labor relations employed by non-unionized foreign-based automakers.
In addition, the Detroit firms' managers were themselves hooked on Taylorism. They saw workers as a lower class of beings who needed to be bridled and saddled like horses.
As a result, foreign-owned automakers produced vehicles of much higher quality. In adversarial-union plants, some workers delighted in sabotaging their cars. In non-union plants, workers came forward with suggestions on how to make them better.
It took a long time for the UAW and Detroit management to acknowledge the problem. As Megan McArdle points out in her new book "The Up Side of Down," organizations that have long been successful are reluctant to change their ways during years of slow, sometimes imperceptible decline.
UAW president, Bob King, says that his union has learned to be cooperative with management. Improved quality of Detroit-made cars and anecdotal evidence that has come my way tend to support that claim.
But Chattanooga's VW workers don't seem to think they need the union to cooperate with the company. They're already working together -- and new hires make union-level wages.
And workers can't help but notice that the UAW helped push General Motors and Chrysler -- and, indirectly, Detroit -- into bankruptcy.
The bottom line is that the 1930s adversarial union model has little appeal to workers today. And that few Americans want to head on the road to Detroit.
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