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Thread: An alternative theory of unions

  1. #1
    just me duncan drennan's Avatar
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    An alternative theory of unions

    Paul Graham has a new essay on unions, with some interesting thoughts on whether they are still a valid structure in our current era.

    Difficult though it may be to imagine now, manufacturing was a growth industry in the mid twentieth century. This was an era when small firms making everything from cars to candy were getting consolidated into a new kind of corporation with national reach and huge economies of scale. You had to grow fast or die. Workers were for these companies what servers are for an Internet startup. A reliable supply was more important than low cost.


    In fact there's a simpler explanation. The early twentieth century was just a fast-growing startup overpaying for infrastructure. And we in the present are not a fallen people, who have abandoned whatever mysterious high-minded principles produced the high-paying union job. We simply live in a time when the fast-growing companies overspend on different things.

    Read the full essay, "An Alternative Theory of Unions" on Paul Graham's site
    I'm sure the unions wouldn't like to be thought of like this — they would prefer to be groups struggling for the equality of the working class. But what is their function, really, and do they have a role in our current era?

    PS. Here is a feed for Paul Graham's essays
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  2. #2
    Site Caretaker Dave A's Avatar
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    A damn fine read indeed. Thanks Duncan.

    Putting it in a different context, we could also explore this on the basis of supply vs demand and competition. Perhaps locally the union role has shifted to compensating for the excess supply and is also trying to keep out the competition.

    The core problem I see is that organisations once created are pretty hard to kill - even once they're past their sell-by date. The vested interests tend to adapt the roles to extend the life of the organisation and system. The problem is this is primarily motivated by personal interest as opposed to driven by a group need.

    I'm reminded of a saying in this: A drowning man will even clutch at snakes...

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