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Labor unions and their impact on America's economy

By Kendra Tetrick
web posted November 1, 2010

Today America is in the midst of many economic struggles, one of which is the struggle of organized labor to remain a relevant force.  Originally the purpose of the labor movement was to protect employees and improve working conditions, but now that these unions are struggling, one must ask, "Would America benefit from completely wiping out labor unions?"

In 1820, the first national labor unions gained strength, uniting together to change the work day to ten hours, instead of the grueling twelve.  This proved successful and in 1866, the National Labor Union persuaded Congress to reduce the workday to a total of eight hours.  With this success, the American Federation of Labor was established and in 1914 this organization passed the Clayton Act, allowing boycotts and strikes to be used as negotiating tools with corporations.  Ever since, labor unions have been a major part of America and its economy.

However today, even though these unions are still protecting their workers and looking out for their interests, corporations cannot afford to pay them and instead have to turn to foreign countries to manufacture their goods.  My dad is the manager of the human resources department at U.S. Steel and as the manager; he tries his best to negotiate deals with the labor unions.  However, he says it is very difficult to do so because they are so demanding and want so much money.  As a result, U.S. Steel has to turn to their neighboring steel plants in Slovakia or Serbia in order to remain competitive.

E.J. Dionne from the Washington Post writes, "The union movement has always been attached to a set of values –solidarity being the most importance, the sense that each should look out for the interests of all."  With all due respect, selflessness is not the key to a successful economy.  This nation has always prospered by looking out for its own self interest, and if this is the true message of labor unions then America would certainly not benefit from keeping them.  Just by understanding what my dad goes through, I see that the labor unions discourage competition because they demand and expect so much from the corporations who cannot afford to pay them.  If corporations cannot afford to pay them, then the future of the labor unions is indeed questionable.

I do not see how labor unions are helping the country and the economy as a whole.  What this economy needs right now is more competition, and if labor unions are discouraging that, especially with a major corporation like U.S. Steel, then yes, America would certainly benefit from wiping out the labor unions. ESR

This is Kendra Tetrick's first contribution to Enter Stage Right. © 2010, Kendra Tetrick




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