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Jul 14 / Great Apes

A Quick Thought On: Greedy Unions

When disagreements about the role of unions in our society come up, supporters of unions will often point out that unions were at the forefront of fighting for many of the elements of our working lives that we consider important, like limiting the standard working week to 5 days and 40 hours, the Canadian Pension Plan, equal pay for equal work for women in the workforce, 2 weeks paid vacation per year (more in much of Europe), etc.

In response, detractors of unions will often say that, sure, those things are important, but now we live in a different society where those kinds of things are guaranteed and now unions are just being greedy and fighting for things that aren’t affordable.  So, here’s the thing that strikes me about that – people said the exact same things about the kinds of things unions fought for in the past that most people now appreciate.  “We can’t afford it”, “unions are just being greedy”, etc., those are the kinds of arguments that have been used to fight against all manner of social progress for as long as unions and liberal democracy have existed.

I’ve mentioned this before and I think it’s worth repeating: if a certain kind of social progress has been necessary throughout human history up until the exact moment during which you live, that suggests that it’s probably worth taking a step back and examining whether the need for that kind of progress has really ceased to exist.  It is of course possible that you do live during a moment in time during which that issue has been resolved; after all, if the issue ever is resolved, some set of people has to be the group to be alive at the time.  But when history seems to come together in such a way that progress ceases to be necessary precisely when you’re the one being asked to fight for it or possibly sacrifice for it, it seems to me highly likely to me that there’s a little bit more going on and that we should reflect on what that might be.

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