Realist, not conformist analysis of the latest financial, business and political news

The Amazon Union

From our Swindon Correspondent:

From the BBC

Amazon has defeated activists hoping to establish the company’s first unionised warehouse in the US.

Workers at the Bessemer, Alabama warehouse voted 1,798 to 738 against the effort, labour officials said.

That represented a majority of votes cast in the contest, which was seen as a key test for Amazon after global criticism of its treatment of workers during the pandemic.

The union said it would challenge the results.

With 71% of the votes against? However much you think of Amazon, you aren’t going to bend it back that much.
Rebecca Givan, professor of labour studies at Rutgers University, said she was not surprised by Amazon’s win, given the outsize power employers have to fight union efforts under current US law.

“Employers have a huge advantage in these situations,” she said. “They have almost unlimited money and almost unlimited access to the workers to bombard them with messages of anxiety and uncertainty and we see the result of that here.”

Or maybe, let’s assume the proles at Amazon can do a rough balance and have decided, like the other 94% of American workers in the private sector, that they don’t want to be in a union (it’s around 86% in the UK).
Union membership has steadily dwindled in the US in recent decades, but the pandemic also re-ignited concerns about income inequality and worker safety, with Amazon drawing much of the public scrutiny.
But unions were never about income inequality. Unions were historically a way to prevent exploitation by monopoly employers. That if you worked at t’mill, and walked there, you didn’t have much choice in where to work.So, employers could pay you a pittance. But employees together could down tools and stop production, and force employers to pay a larger share of the money.
It’s often assumed that Mrs Thatcher had something to do with the decline of unions, but it happened around the world at a similar time. And I think it’s linked to a more mobile population. Once people owned cars they didn’t just have a choice of jobs they could walk to, they could go and work in various different places. And that meant employers could poach people from other businesses if they weren’t paying enough, so the market set the rate for labour. It extracted as much wealth from employers as could be extracted, which was previously the job of trade unions. So, why pay them dues to do it?

I’ve worked in a number of factories and warehouses in the UK. Most of them have little union membership, many have none. No-one cares about forming a union. Most union membership in the UK is in the public sector. Effectively, people have a monopoly employer, which is the government. I suggest this is why unions are so anti-privatisation. Once you have private schools and hospitals competing for people, who needs the unions?

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Bloke in North Dorset
Bloke in North Dorset
1 month ago

The one defence of minimum which I think has some credibility is that it has replaced the need for unions.

Whether that is enough to outweigh the downsides is another argument.

Bloke on M4
Bloke on M4
1 month ago

Min wage? Not really. It’s not like the union could extract more money than what the market will bear.

Spike
Spike
1 month ago

No, you cannot maintain higher wages than you are worth—not by legislation, not by acquiring coercive intermediaries with pinkie rings. You can at most cripple the employer on which you depend.

Michael van der Riet
Michael van der Riet
1 month ago

In my part of the world, unions commonly charge dues as a percentage of basic pay. The percentage may be five to seven and a half per cent. That kinda prices them out of the market. Our employees just don’t want to be organised.

Most of the bargaining is done at industry level by something called a bargaining council, from the settlements of which individual employers are not allowed to opt out.

And then they wonder why our national unemployment rate is 35% (or was pre COVID).

Spike
Spike
1 month ago

Amazon, by the way, suddenly reversed field for this election and decided that voting-by-mail was too dangerous.

MrVeryAngry
MrVeryAngry
1 month ago

The unions don’t understand economics – wilfully – as for them it’s all about power and nothing to do with helping workers. In any event any unearned increase in pay simply ends up in higher land rents, especially for housing land. And I agree, that once you have very cheap very flexible and very reliable personal transport it is far far easier to set one employer against another as to who gets to employ you. Which then of course illustrates why there is so much effort going into CO2 and global warming lies – ‘they’ need to stop you having… Read more »

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