President Obama and the union movement are missing the boat built from advances in technology and have failed to realize the crushing blow to labor workers that tectonic shifts in the technologies of production has and will continue to exercise.
The labor union movement should transform to a producers’ ownership union movement and embrace and fight for a new economic democracy. They should play the part that they have always aspired to––that is, a better and easier life through participation in the nation’s economic growth and progress. As a result, labor unions will be able to broaden their functions, revitalize their constituency, and reverse their decline.
Unfortunately, at the present time the movement is built on one-factor economics––the labor worker. The insufficiency of labor worker earnings to purchase increasingly capital-produced products and services gave rise to labor laws and labor unions designed to coerce higher and higher prices for the same or reduced labor input. With government assistance, unions have gradually converted productive enterprises in the private and public sectors into welfare institutions. Binary economist Louis Kelso stated: “The myth of the ‘rising productivity’ of labor is used to conceal the increasing productiveness of capital and the decreasing productiveness of labor, and to disguise income redistribution by making it seem morally acceptable.”
Kelso argued that unions “must adopt a sound strategy that conforms to the economic facts of life. If under free-market conditions, 90 percent of the goods and services are produced by capital input, then 90 percent of the earnings of working people must flow to them as wages of their capital and the remainder as wages of their labor work...If there are in reality two ways for people to participate in production and earn income, then tomorrow’s producers’ union must take cognizance of both...The question is only whether the labor union will help lead this movement or, refusing to learn, to change, and to innovate, become irrelevant.”
Unions are the only group of people in the whole world who can demand a real Kelso-designed ESOP, who can demand the right to participate in the expansion of their employer by asserting their constitutional preferential rights to become capital owners, be productive, and succeed. The ESOP can give employees access to credit so that they can purchase the employer’s stock, pay for it in pre-tax dollars out of the assets that underlie that stock, and after the stock is paid for earn and collect the capital worker income from it, and accumulate it in a tax haven until they retire, whereby they continue to be capital workers receiving income from their capital ownership stakes. This is a viable route to individual self-sufficiency needing significantly less or no government redistributive assistance.
The unions should reassess their role of bargaining for more and more income for the same work or less and less work, and embrace a cooperative approach to survival, whereby they redefine “more” income for their workers in terms of the combined wages of labor and capital on the part of the workforce. They should continue to represent the workers as labor workers in all the aspects that are represented today––wages, hours, and working conditions––and, in addition, represent workers as full voting stockowners as capital ownership is built into the workforce. What is needed is leadership to define “more” as two ways to earn income.
If we continue with the past’s unworkable trickle-down economic policies, governments will have to continue to use the coercive power of taxation to redistribute income that is made by people who earn it and give it to those who need it. This results in ever deepening massive debt on local, state, and national government levels, which leads to the citizenry becoming parasites instead of enabling people to become productive in the way that products and services are actually produced.
When labor unions transform to producers’ ownership unions, opportunity will be created for the unions to reach out to all shareholders (stock owners) who are not adequately represented on corporate boards, and eventually all labor workers will want to join an ownership union in order to be effectively represented as an aspiring capital owner. The overall strategy should assure that the labor compensation of the union’s members does not exceed the labor costs of the employer’s competitors, and that capital earnings of its members are built up to a level that optimizes their combined labor-capital worker earnings. A producers’ ownership union would work collaboratively with management to secure financing of advanced technologies and other new capital investments and broaden ownership. This will enable American companies to become more cost-competitive in global markets and to reduce the outsourcing of jobs to workers willing or forced to take lower wages.
Kelso stated, “Working conditions for the labor force have, of course, improved over the years. But the economic quality of life for the majority of Americans has trailed far behind the technical capabilities of the economy to produce creature comforts, and even further behind the desires of consumers to live economically better lives. The missing link is that most of those unproduced goods and services can be produced only through capital, and the people who need them have no opportunity to earn income from capital ownership.”
Walter Reuther, President of the United Auto Workers, expressed his open-mindedness to the goal of democratic worker ownership in his 1967 testimony to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress as a strategy for saving manufacturing jobs in America from being outcompeted by Japan and eventual outsourcing to other Asian countries with far lower wage costs: “Profit sharing in the form of stock distributions to workers would help to democratize the ownership of America’s vast corporate wealth, which is today appallingly undemocratic and unhealthy.
“If workers had definite assurance of equitable shares in the profits of the corporations that employ them, they would see less need to seek an equitable balance between their gains and soaring profits through augmented increases in basic wage rates. This would be a desirable result from the standpoint of stabilization policy because profit sharing does not increase costs. Since profits are a residual, after all costs have been met, and since their size is not determinable until after customers have paid the prices charged for the firm’s products, profit sharing [through wider share ownership] cannot be said to have any inflationary impact on costs and prices.”
Unfortunately for democratic unionism, the United Auto Workers, American manufacturing workers, and American citizens generally, Reuther was killed in an airplane crash in 1970 before his idea was implemented. Leonard Woodcock, his successor, never followed through.
Now is critical that the President lead the way and that new labor movement leaders emerge to create an OWNERSHIP CULTURE.
Also please see my article published by The Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-reber/who-should-own-america_b_2040592.html
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