Unions and Democracy
Further to Jim’s post on the recent ratcheting up of the war on unions, I note that Hudak’s lead argument is that voluntary union membership is needed to “make unions more responsive to unionized employees.” (p6) “Labour laws” it is alleged “have given union leaders substantial powerÂ with little or no accountability.” (p9) The basic idea seems to be that unions don’t have to listen to or reflect the views of their members since the members have no choice but to shut up and pay their dues.
Unions are imperfect institutions, but they are nonetheless democratic institutions. Even the mainstream economics and industrial relations literature recognizes that union leaders have to respond to rank and file needs and interests since they are elected by those members. Thus there are models of collective bargaining outcomes based upon the idea of the “median union voter”, which explain why bargaining tends to flatten wage differentials between union members in the same workplace and industry.Â Almost all unions involve the membership in bargaining, albeit to a varying degree, and activities outside bargaining such as lobbying and political action are undertaken through internal procedures involving elected leaders.
The irony of all of this is that the most democratic unions, the ones that most closely involve rank and file workers, also tend to be the most militant in terms of both bargaining and political action.Â That is, of course, not at all what Hudak wants.
Jim is bang on that elimination of mandatory dues would create a major free rider problem. This is not true just in economic terms, with respect to access to union wages and benefits, but also in procedural terms. When it comes to issues like promotion and discipline and work rules, the union represents all members of the bargaining unit.Â I would guess that very few union members would drop their membership if they were also required to waive their seniority rights, protection against layoff, right to appeal arbitrary changes in responsibilities and work rules etc.