The Conservatism of Unionization


                                                                                      July 2002


The American labor movement is to be praised – not only for its contributions to economic and social equality but for helping the Democrats fall a tree across the highway of unbridled capitalist excess that led to the great depression.


But labor’s success helped create the conditions for its demise. It grew too big, and thus often corrupt and fundamentally undemocratic.


Now unions often stand in the way of new and progressive opportunities for workplace democracy based on holistic, human scale relationships.


I cannot speak specifically to the health care situation in Vermont. But lessons from other sectors warn us that unions are not always the solution to the problems they are created to resolve.


Often they create a whole new set of problems.


The worst of these is an increasing litigiousness, which feeds off the adversarial atmosphere that the formalization of conflict between groups inevitably produces.


More and more details of a worker’s life become bargaining chips at the negotiating table. Stakes are raised to ridiculous proportions in a dance of deceit that is time consuming, depressing and expensive. Egos become increasingly involved and the adversarial character of workplace relationships is escalated to still higher levels.


The potential for commonsense, compassion and cooperation is replaced by the reality of controversy, contentiousness and conflict. 


I see this happening at the University of Vermont where I am a faculty member. A union means higher salaries  -- we are told. Perhaps. Work place conditions will improve we are told. No


Workplace conditions will not improve. How can human relationships improve when human beings are set apart from one another – locked into roles that are inherently divisive?


With every E-mail I get from the union I am more and more convinced it wants me to believe that the management at UVM is unfair, unresponsive and fundamentally uncaring about the faculty.




Nor do I believe one of the arguments by union organizers last year. “All faculty members at the University of Vermont are equally deserving.”




Could I use a little more money in my paycheck?


You bet.


But not at the cost of eating baloney.


This is Frank Bryan in Starksboro.