Are unions still viable?

An interesting thread started in the comments of the post asking if Congressmen should recuse themselves from votes where there is campaign cash involved- and it came down to business vs. union.

Jeffrey of Louisville (former publisher of the much missed Daytonology blog) contributed this comment after we’d already taped today’s Dayton Grassroots Daily Show- on the very topic. Greg and I aren’t near as well informed on the history of Dayton’s union movement:

The Dayton business community had a very successful history in crushing unions. In the 1890s about 40% to 50% of the workforce was unionized. The business community was able to organized and destroy these unions, rendering the city mostly union-free by 1910 or so (the industrial sector). Then the streetcar union was busted (but not without some violence, riots on West Third Street at the carbarns). So the city was virtually union-free. The only problem is the workers started voting for socialists. This was busted via municipal reform government.

It took the CIO organizing drives in the 1930s to bring unions back to Dayton. This only worked because of two things…the CIO union active here, the UE, used disciplined and committed CPUSA cadre to organize, and there was a big influx of briars from the coalfields of Appalachia, who were favorably disposed to unions due the UMWA and John L Lewis. It was this Appalachian workforce that signed those cards and brought the unions back to Dayton.

That era is over now, the private sector union has had its day. The unions that need to be busted today are the public employee unions, which includes the FOP as well as the NEA and AFCSME. People don’t want to touch the cops and firefighters but public safety payrolls and pensions are the big line items in local government budgets.

via Congressman, recuse thyself? NEVER..

The reality is that some of the benefits that unions expect like pensions require the business to continue and grow- just like the base for Social Security- or the funding system breaks. When the car manufacturers reduced skilled labor due to automation, or sending jobs offshore- the backs of the existing labor force were made to carry a heavier load to support the pensions promised.

Also, pension plans are hugely tied to the Wall Street Casino– which means the crash also wrecked a lot of pensions.

As Jeffery points out, the public employee unions are creating an even greater drag on the system- since they are backed by the government, not by companies that actually have to make money. Who ends up paying the price? All of us, as our debt responsibility to these pensions grows, it creates an even greater tax burden, which in turn, drives more jobs overseas.

There are huge arguments in Europe going on about their retirement plans: Germany raised its retirement age by 2 years to 67, while being asked to bail out Greece which still has 60 as the checkout age. As life expectancy gets older, the costs continue to rise.

The old model is breaking- and the unions don’t have answers either. With the adversarial model of unions vs. management, no one seems to be winning. One thing is for sure, the only guaranteed retirement plans these days belong to government workers and the CEOs of the Wall Street Casino ilk.

The rest of us- well, try to get a government job?

Here’s our show for the day- watch at your own risk.

Note- these shows aren’t pre-scripted or discussed before we start. We pick a topic and go. Sometimes we’re just bouncing ideas as they come- and are here for you to share in the discussion. We value your input, and hope that you find something stimulating in the discussion.

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Jeff of LouisvilleFTLODDavid LaurijstultsJesse Recent comment authors
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Unions are a thing of the past.


Your title is so funny.  “Unions a Good Idea Lost.”  I think that the concept of unions were a bad idea that have been expanded throughout society.
Essential concept:  You can join together and vote and if you get a majority then you can force (via government coercion) the owners of property to “negotiate” with you and they may not hire replacement workers without “approval” from the agent of coercion.
People now believe that social security is a right.
People now believe that health care is a right.
People now believe that a minimum wage is a right.
People now believe that they have the right to stop owners and their customers from smoking in their own businesses.
People now believe that unemployment benefits are a right.
People have joined together and voted on the ability to steal from others and give to themselves using the coercion of the government to enforce the will of the majority.  Who needs to be a member of any specific union…we can do it en masse.


Watch the dancing state population graph (new Google toys).


Unions seem to destroy any given business/any given industry if given enough time. The idea of paying someone well beyond their retirement years is a sure way for any business/industry to fail. Fund your own retirement. I do and it works out just fine.

David Lauri

People now believe that social security is a right.
People now believe that health care is a right.
People now believe that a minimum wage is a right.

You’ll like this article from the BBC, “Internet access is ‘a fundamental right.’” It reports that “Countries such as Finland and Estonia have already ruled that access is a human right for their citizens” and that “International bodies such as the UN are also pushing for universal net access.”

Jeff of Louisville
Jeff of Louisville

The history of unionization Dayton is obscure, but there is stuff out there if you look hard enough.  One of what I wrote was speculation, about the influence of the briars.  They were supporters, though.  At least one or two were organizers and officers in the UE.   Two other things influencing unionization sucess here was , perhaps, the economy coming out of the Depression and the Wagner Act curtailing the free hand of management to break unionization drives.
For a great blog post (with pix) on the high water mark of the UE organizing efforts, a big strike involving thousands on the picket lines and the National Guard patrolling the streets of Old North Dayton, read this one on the Great Univis Strike of 62 years ago in the spring and summer of 1948:


I wonder what effect Taft-Hartley had on unions in Dayton.

Jeff of Louisville
Jeff of Louisville

I think the city was pretty much organized by the time Taft-Hartley came on the scene.   Check out the map “The CIO Organizes Dayton” at this blog post on “Organizing Dayton”: nearly every major industrial employer was unionized by the late 1940s, with one exception:
That was a fairly impressive sucess, and would be unthinkable in modern times given the animosity towards the concept of unions.