The Problem with Trade Unions
I like trade unions. They do a great job of fighting for workers’ rights. Without them, we’d probably still have 8/0-hour working weeks with no sick leave or holidays. But it’s not all good.
A trade union’s primary motivation is to fight for the rights of its members. Just as a short-sighted corporation typically fights for profits over the interests of the general public or its workers, a short-sighted trade union fights for the employees in its sector over the interests of the general public or the corporation. Neither view taken to an extreme is good. All three interest groups — the business, the workers, and the general public — need to be considered.
For example, a hypothetical strong coal miners’ union today might be strongly opposed to reform of energy production towards renewable energy sources, because it would reduce the need for coal miners, even though the needs of the population as a whole are in favour of cleaner energy for environmental reasons.
More relevant to today, transport unions in London fight for keeping more public-facing staff, which I agree with, but then they also fight for some truly incredible bonuses for certain staff to work at key times (such as train drivers during the Olympics). I couldn’t help noticing that non-train drivers in that union didn’t get that bonus. Either way, I’m not sure people should get a bonus for simply doing their job correctly. Following the lead of bankers simply results in a race to the bottom. And train drivers going on strike for pay that is often twice that of their passengers doesn’t do much to elicit sympathy. Yes, driving a train is stressful. But the transport union would elicit a lot more sympathy if they on strike over the lousy service the underground offers to Londoners. I’ve more or less given up hope of doing anything in London on weekends due to closures. On weekdays, the trains are so overcrowded I’m lucky if I can breathe in fully, let alone find a vacant seat.
When the unions have already struck a deal far superior to what the customers (“passengers” we used to be called) get, they could more usefully campaign for a better service to be delivered. Or at least, campaign for the rest of the transport workers to get as good a deal as the train drivers. I wonder if the train station cleaning staff get paid more than minimum wage, or if that union even cares.