This section is from the "Elementary Principles of Economics" book, by Richard T. Ely and George Ray Wicker. Also available from Amazon: Elementary Principles Of Economics: Together With A Short Sketch Of Economic History
Some of the weaknesses of labor organizations have already been touched upon. These and other weaknesses, some inherent in the nature of the unions and some accidental, may be briefly summarized as follows :
1.Based on Strife.It too often happens that labor organizations are based on strife. They aim to prepare their members for industrial war ; but we must hope for peace in industrial society, and any organization that does not look beyond contention to a cessation of strife has inherent in it a certain weakness.
2.Limitation of their Benefits. They have often, particularly in their early history, sought to gain benefits by a selfish and exclusive policy toward other laborers. In some cases, they have been able to build up an evil labor monopoly. It must be admitted, on the other hand, that there is sometimes, even in these days, valid excuse for limiting numbers. Unscrupulous employers have at times sought to increase unduly the number in a single occupation in order to have a reserve force of unemployed from which to draw in case of need and thus to keep down wages.
3.Production not directly Increased. Even when labor-unions do not actually try to limit production by restricting individual output, they usually make no effort to increase production or to diminish the wastes of competition. This is narrow, short-sighted action. What is to be desired is not merely that a greater proportion of produced wealth should fall to the wage-earners, but that the total national dividend to be distributed among all classes should be increased; in other words, that the laborer should receive an increasing share of an increasing product.
4.Ultra-conservatism. While radical in many ways, labor-unions have been too conservative in clinging to old methods and opposing progressive policies that will not benefit them immediately as labor organizations.
5.Narrow and Short-sighted Views. It has been one of the weaknesses of labor organizations in general that they have not been sufficiently interested in public measures and reforms designed to benefit society. For example, they have given too little attention to sanitary matters and too little support to public health authorities in efforts to benefit the poorer classes. They have underestimated the importance of purity in politics and a highly trained civil service. At times they have favored measures which were bound to be ultimately injurious to them, simply because such measures would increase temporarily the supply of work. Opposition to labor-saving machinery and processes is of the same character.
6.Lack of Flexibility. Labor organizations show another inherent weakness which is common to all great political and social organizations. Here red tape is necessary. General rules must for the most part govern, and individual interests must often be sacrificed or injured in seeking the welfare of the whole. One who examines into the nature of labor organizations will be able to find many good reasons why union men should object to working with non-union men. (a) The union entails certain expenses, and union men object to having non-union men reap the benefits secured to labor by the organization without sharing in the burden of support. (6) An even more serious argument lies in the danger that employers will gradually substitute non-union men for union men who are strong in their organization, and thus break down the union before the workmen perceive the drift of things. Pretext can usually be found for discharging a workman, obnoxious as a labor-leader, however faithful and efficient he may be in his work.
7. " Itching " for Political Power. Labor organizations too often have acted on the assumption that their members are fitted for political administration. Whatever the cause may be, however much the fact may be regretted, whatever the hope that the future holds out to them, labor organizations should frankly recognize that they have not the trained intelligence or the trained moral character needed for governing our country. Whatever benefits the wage-earner truly and permanently, we may all join in demanding, confident that it will also benefit the country as a whole ; but the tendency to encourage the political aspirations of workingmen cannot be accepted as in the line of such reform. The appointment of working-men to office is an expedient which fertile demagogues have used more than once to turn the attention of the workmen from real reforms.
All this does not militate against the recognition of ability and merit in a member of an organization, when such ability and merit actually exist. Some of the best appointments made under the Low administration in New York City were from the number of organization men. But workmen should scan such appointments narrowly to make sure that they are not simply bribes. Finally, it must be remarked that the election of thoughtful and intelligent workmen to legislative bodies stands on a different footing from that of their appointment to administrative office. Legislative bodies should include, so far as possible, representatives of all social and industrial classes, but they should have in their service highly trained administrative experts to carry out their policies. Hence the efforts of labor organizations to secure representation in the municipal, state, and Federal legislatures is in keeping with intelligent and conservative labor policy.