Monday, September 2, 2013

Labour Day & the Zombie Apocalypse?

Labour (Labor US) Day traditionally celebrates the contributions of workers in the US and Canada. Nothing wrong with that. It's become an annual parade event, celebrated mostly by unionized labour, especially in Canada.

Unions are in trouble all over the world. In almost every OECD country there has been a decline in union representation since the mid-1980's. In some countries the decline has been huge over the last 30 to 50 years, in others things have changed little. In the US 30.9% of workers were in unions in 1960, only 11.6% by 2007; in Canada, 29.2% in 1960, 29.4% in 2007. In almost every OECD country recent trends have been downward. Lately Canada has up-ticked because of a growing public sector. Globalized labour markets have shifted jobs to lower wage centres around the world. The unions see the writing on the wall, their position has been made even worse by the financial crisis after 2008, followed by recessions and austerity moves in Europe and elsewhere.

So how are unionists and zombies related? Zombies are difficult to kill, they frequently operate in large groups, seek brains to consume, and most compelling, they seem mindless with respect to their opposition. 

The strength of unions in Canada makes them virtually indestructible without an act of Parliament. Their ability to collect fees, and control labour markets are enshrined in a variety of arguably illegitimate and ill-considered laws that have accumulated over the years. Today most of the reasons for these protective laws have been enshrined in other laws, which makes them unnecessary, redundant. The fact that union membership represents 30% plus (extended family) of the electorate, makes it political suicide for any government Party to contravene union legislation. They are unstoppable.

Lately, noises made by some Canadian governments, and unfriendly legislation by others, have forced unions to amalgamate into much larger groups; strength in numbers.

But underlying much of the thinking amongst union leadership, both public and private sector, and transferred to their masses, is a distorted theory of value. What is the actual worth of the labour provided by their workers public or private?

When I was a young teacher, I spent enormously long hours trying to work out effective lessons for my students. This went on for years. I often thought that if I were paid at the hourly rate of my actual teaching time, I'd make a lot of money. But I knew I was not worth it. My job was protected by my union, and the teaching job market was controlled by the union together with the government. No one could have my job without their say-so, and I would have to screw up pretty badly to get booted out of teaching. This is typical of government monopolies.

Was I even worth what I was being paid? How was that determined? That number was determined by negotiations in what is called euphemistically collective bargaining. If someone was a better, more experienced teacher than I, but lacking certain credentials, applied for my job, they were out of luck even if they tried to underbid for my job.

The compensation for my job had little to do with reality, it was contrived. I understood that as a young teacher, very few of my colleagues did. The entire government public school teaching profession is based on the Labour Theory of Value. The worth of your job is based on the effort you put in to get the credentials (the years of schooling etc.) plus your experience. That sounds fair, but its wrong.

It would mean that each job could be assigned some objective value unrelated to the market place. That's the way union shops and their leadership think. If that were true, my junior years should have been my best in terms of effort expended and salary paid.

Zombies seem mindless and unwilling (unable) to even acknowledge those who appose them.

The truth is my job should have paid, much, much less if it were bid for by parents in a competitive market place. This should be the way to think about value in a job. How much would a competitive marketplace of parents looking for teachers actually pay for the service of teaching their children. It's a purely subjective value, worth something to some, and nothing to many others. This Subjective Theory of Value, makes every union negotiated settlement (by collective bargaining), a distortion of the labour market in that field or market place.

It's early days yet, but the Zombie Apocalypse is coming.      

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