This subject is truly a difficult problem. I don’t know enough about
the economics or about how to organize unions so my post will suffer
from lack of specifics. And, as I came to realize (again) as I wrote
this - unions are really a sort of “plan B” when it comes to solving
the problem of living decently. Still, “Plan A” doesn’t always work
The following exchange in Sunday’s Digest ( 9/4) caught my eye;
The best way for any of us to protect our work is to get better at what we do. It is our creativity and our skills which will protect us, not a union or a government regulation.
Bravo Batya!!! Yours is a voice of reason and reality in this debate! When we rely on others to protect us we simply become slaves to the protectors.....
Well, of course we all ought to improve our skills and excel at our
work. It is a great joy. But it ain’t that simple even if you are
really, really good at what you do. I think I recognize the
sentiments that underlie these two statements; people who have a
great confidence in their abilities (good) but who think they can be
exempt from larger economic realities. (bad) I sense them wanting to
feel themselves as exalted above the great mass of “slaves” or
however it is they think of ordinary people. This is a manifestation
of the deeply ingrained “winners vs. losers” attitude so prevalent -
especially in the US. Of course their skills may be marvelous and
unique and should be recognized and praised. That is not the issue.
No amount of creativity and skill will protect individualists like
these when some entrepreneur can find a way to replace them with
cheap foreign labour or some new kind of machine. No amount of skill
will keep them going if they happen to come down with screwed up
lungs from poorly ventilated shops. I have nothing against
foreigners or machines, but we must remember that the replaced or
damaged individuals are not simply to be discarded like used sandwich
wrappings. They are still human beings, maybe with families to
support etc. If times change, or if their good luck changes, they
will need a cushion, some time and resources with which to change
their skills. They won’t have this cushion if they’ve been stuck, as
so many are, in low wage jobs where each paycheck barely gets
through to next payday. We all need some kind of protection which
comes not from “others” as Steve fears, but from simple and sane
agreement between us all. “Us all” being, of course, us all - which
is what we generally recognize by the name “government.” However, if
government is not doing its job, then “unions” or whatever other
collectivity people can cobble together to treat each other as
humans, not as disposable diapers.
I wish Steve Stempinski and Batya all the success they can achieve,
and all the good luck too. And if they fail, for whatever reason, I
think they’d feel a lot better being treated as though they have
some generally accepted right to live at a dignified level rather
than to be a charity case. That way they get to try their excellent
Now - don’t jump on me - I am not confusing union benefits with
welfare programs. This is why I started out by describing unions as
"plan B." Welfare programs are also “plan B”, likewise unemployment
insurance is “plan B.” Likewise food stamps and Workers’
Compensation. B stands for Band-Aid. These are all like the different
shaped band-aids we pull out of the first-aid box and apply to
various self-inflicted wounds that our society commits upon itself.
These are the things we have to use when things have somehow gone
wrong. We don’t have to assume any kind of malice in Humanity or
Nature to know that things will go wrong. And wrong doesn’t even
always look like wrong. Sometimes it goes by the name of "progress"
or merely “change.” Ask any buggy-whip maker.
In this trade I would support any serious attempt to organize a
guild-like certifying body - whose duties to members include skills
training and other defined benefits re working conditions etc. But
as to merely enforcing an artificial scarcity or monopoly (like De
Beers) one must calculate what leverage we have to apply - and
against whom to apply it. Remember that jewelry is only a luxury,
not a necessity like food. Its intrinsic value, if any, boils down
in hard times to so much per ounce - meltdown value. And in really
hard times most folks would trade a gold ring for a potato.
So, once again, with all best wishes to the trade and all its
workers and entrepreneurs, recognize that your own intrinsic value
is that you are a human being, not that you are a highly skilled
jeweler or whatever. If you live in a society which is organized so
that it honestly recognizes that kind of value you won’t need any
unions. But, as we’ve seen in New Orleans this week, and elsewhere
in other weeks, merely being a human being doesn’t cut a lot of ice.
Some struggles remain.
Marty in Victoria - where we took our deaf old cat, Durante, for a
walk on a leash today.