The 2023 WGA Strike: A Lesson in Trade Unions vs. Other Types
A good colleague once confided in me at one former employer that he felt unions were obsolete. He believed that while they helped build this nation’s Middle Class, they were no longer helpful.
I’ve always disagreed. Unions are like for-profit and non-profit corporations and just about any other institution. They can be run efficiently, in competitive ways, and in line with industry trends and needs, or they can be out of touch, bloated, and corrupt.
The gradual recovery of unions here in the USA, at least in some industries, is a good thing that gets a good amount of press.
However, the difference between labor organizations at the company rather than at the sector level needs to get more attention. America needs to learn more from Europe in this regard. “Labor Union” means organized workers, whereas “Trade Union” is more specific. Using the terms interchangeably can be a trap.
When employees of a given company organize, they need to negotiate just with the management of a single, specific enterprise. When workers collect across a whole sector, they deal broadly with the management of companies that compete with one another.
That’s a huge difference. It can make talks between management and labor way more productive. It helps maximize partnership and keep the relationship in between from becoming adversarial. By design, it makes strikes much less likely to happen in the first place and keeps them from drawing out if and when they ever do. When a whole industry gets locked up, there’s much more urgency to find common ground so everyone can return to work and business can resume normal operations.
Structural details matter. I’ve yet to operate out of Europe or any other continent. As an American laborer, I’ve been proud to be a member of a collective bargaining organization as a freelancer (actor). Whenever working as an employee (tech worker), I’ve never been a union member. In my world, the two concepts have never conflicted or been in contradiction with one another.
Apples and oranges. Sure, work is work, so ultimately, it’s all fruit. But the details make the difference in whether everyone has enough to eat.