Meant to Be Versus Is
Not unexpectedly, my column in last month’s Rhode Island Catholic was my first to garner a letter to the editor of that paper. I’m not sure, though, that William Schecher, of Smithfield, understood what I was trying to say when he writes:
The whole purpose of unions is to join together for the common cause of protecting and advancing the welfare of all workers, whether they belong to a union or not. This begins with a local union, whose members’ freedoms and initiatives must come together in solidarity as one, in negotiating contracts either in the public or private sector, or on a local or national level.
That may, indeed, be “the whole purpose of unions” in an idealized ideological vision (or in literature that unions push on their members), but it is not the reality of their activity. Indeed, my argument was that it’s not a likely outcome based on the incentives of their structure.
A union aggregates the power of its members for concentrated political and economic force. Union leaders often use their political capital in ways that have little to do with their members, and they must devote much of what’s left to keep the workers under their umbrella feeling as if they benefit financially by their membership.