Post by Patricia Hewitt, contributing Women On Business writer
Republicans are digging in their heels when it comes to the car manufacturers bailout plan – a far cry from their rapturous embrace of a similar fix for financial services firms. While there are a number of reasons for this change in attitude, I can’t help but recall the heady days of the Reagan administration, when our President told the air traffic controller’s union to go fly a kite. Could some of our representatives in Congress believe that this is their chance to deal a deathblow to the unions once and for all?
Unions have long been the favored scapegoat when it comes to pointing fingers about the demise of the U.S. car-manufacturing sector. But, what worries me about this type of witch-hunt is that too often it results in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Lest we forget that unions were born out of some of the worst management practices in modern history. Workers were exploited on all levels and in order to make certain they enjoyed at least some of the fruits of their labors, the early union organizers fought a bloody battle to gain the dignity and benefits they earned. However, as in all cases, absolute power corrupts absolutely and when there’s money to be made – all hands come out and all pockets get filled.
Now, the threat is that instead of unions overseeing the well being of employees, it’s the government that’s stepping in to make sure all things are made equal. Does this make anyone else nervous? The United States economy is built on the principles of capitalism. When was the last time you met a true capitalist that cared a whole lot about the worker? And with the majority of any company’s overhead wrapped up in employees, we are experiencing unprecedented levels of layoffs.
The point is that now more than ever, companies should be doing everything they can to protect and preserve their workforce. As companies grow larger, this becomes more difficult since management is often insulated from the plight of their average worker through layers of middle management. This is why small business owners mortgage themselves to the hilt to prevent layoffs, and the CEO’s of car manufacturers didn’t see there was anything wrong in taking a company jet to Washington where they were going to ask for money.
However, our workforce is the engine that makes the business world go around. Creating a thriving, empowered, and enthusiastic work environment means that the employees have to believe in their company. In other words, they have to be “company men”. One of the things that unions got right was their commitment to the company since their well being was tightly coupled to the company’s well-being.
Unlike some of the recent reports, unions have stepped up and are continuing to step up in order to save their companies. I would argue that unions have a place in the American workforce as one of the balancing factors that helps to keep in check the naturally aggressive appetite of the American capitalist enterprise. Without organizations like the unions, and with a government in transition, the rights of all American workers are in danger once again.