Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Security, Freedom, Choice, etc.

Labor activists have always believed that union security prevents non-members from benefitting unfairly from the sacrifices they make to obtain fair wages and conditions. But union security has always had an even greater relevance for labor leaders because union building in the United States - with its extremely dynamic economy, its divided working class, and its business interests seemingly intransigently opposed to unionization - has made leaders all the more aware of the insecure nature of their organizations. For union officers, the ability to achieve some form of union security protected against employers or non-members undermining wage and labor standards. It also enhanced organizational stability, particularly financial stability; and most importantly, it made the threat of a strike much more potent. By freeing union leaders from these bedeviling problems, union security practices aimed to establish a stable power base for their organizations.

Grounded as it was in a power relationship, the controversy over union security could easily assume expansive conotations. When it did so, the discussion was not really over individual freedom - or the ethics of labor solidarity for that matter. The dispute instead resembled something akin to a debate about the desireable extent of union power in American society. When viewed from this perspective, the volatility of the subject and its keen concern to both unions and employers is easier to understand.

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