I see our right wing friends here are attacking the very concept of unions in a market economy. I think it's important to understand why the union movement is ESSENTIAL as a tool to keep organized corporate power in check.
The Right loves to portray capitalism as merely a beneficent system of free choice... that corporations are merely organized attempts to meet human needs, otherwise they'll fail in the market. Therefore the survivors in this market are merely those who best meet the needs of consumers. If companies mistreat their workers, they can "just leave". WOW! Who can argue with that! But if that were only the entire story.
Painting with a very broad brush… the modern corporation is historically a recent invention… arguably unleashed by some USSC decisions in the late 1800s. Corporations were no longer controlled by state charters to certain purposes, or to finite life spans. They could shop for the state with the least restrictions. They were freed to live forever, accumulate capital forever, and engage in any legal market activity. Their only fiduciary obligation was to shareholders not to society. We had created virtual Frankensteins that would soon try to break any other shackles that constrained their quest for profit or power. While there were certainly battles over working conditions early in the industrial age, the first battles with modern corporations were getting them out of politics, working conditions, and product safety. Unions were a RESPONSE to corporate power. Why?
The competitive marketplace has a dark, sociopathic side where ethics and morality can work AGAINST a company placing it at a competitive disadvantage. Left alone to the pressures of the market, companies are under constant pressure to cut costs and left to itself... everything would be on the chopping block... worker safety, pollution control, benefits, pay, vacations, etc. Corporations would love nothing more than to shed government mandates that "civilized" the rat-eat-rat economic system... the 40 hour week, overtime, minimum wage, holidays, prevention of child labor, social security, unemployment, product safety, pollution controls... or those benefits won though negotiation... pensions, higher pay, health insurance, 401ks, etc. While the Right sweeps US corporate history under the rug, we can see the true nature of corporations today when they move to third world nations, are free of such government mandates, AND don't face an organized workforce that has leverage to negotiate better pay and conditions.
And that's the point. Government has certainly done much to civilize the competitive environment so it's not merely exploitative but works to benefit workers and their families. We protected these gains with tariffs against cheap imports. But corporations still have an advantage in negotiations with workers and could still undo much of what government did to improve wages and working conditions if workers did not have the organized power to match organize corporate power. Can unions go too far acting in their self interest? Sure. But so can corporations.
Corporations are always under market pressures to break out of the box government and unions placed them and the far Right of the GOP has slavishly been helping corporations accomplish this. But the far Right has not always held sway in the GOP. Moderate GOPers had embraced New Deal reforms and programs. Arguably the US enjoyed some of its best years during the post WWII era… and more efforts were made to further civilize the economy… the EPA and OSHA come to mind. But free trade became the escape hatch for corporate America and now Citizens United the latest. Sadly our friend on the Right have been drinking the carefully crafted Kool Aid that corporations are our friends, they're on our side. Perhaps at times. But the dark side of the corporate beast will never change unless we change take the next step… not just reversing free trade and the decline of unions, but changing the very nature of corporations though reforms in their charter. But that's not even on the radar. For in the political arena, without the power of organized labor, the Democratic Party will drift further to the Right seeking corporate dollars. Once that sell-out is complete, where once we controlled our little Frankensteins, they will now control us.