Labor Unions and Evolution
Maia, a real, live Marxist guest-blogging at Alas (a blog), makes some snide comments about a campaign by the Engineers (a New Zealand labor union) to encourage productivity increases. From the press release:
Improving workplace productivity is important for the future of your job, the industry you work in and New Zealand's economy.
A productivity campaign doesn't mean we'll be taking our foot off the accelerator in demanding a fair share for our members though. What it does mean is we'll be looking to grow that fair share. And that means growing productivity.
The EPMU will support employers who develop genuine productivity initiatives.
Encouraging productivity improvements is a bit out of character for labor unions, but with all the recent troubles that unionized companies have been having here in the US, it makes sense in a way. Natural selection acts against a parasite that places too great a burden on its host. Similarly, if a union burdens a business too heavily, it will eventually have to go bankrupt or lay off workers, and the scope of the union will wane.
There are a few ways unions can counteract this. One is to unionize an entire industry, so as to insulate themselves from nonunion competition. Another is to unionize new businesses at least as fast as the old ones fail. But globalization has made both of these strategies much more difficult. A third option is to work symbiotically with the employer. By using their expertise to increase productivity, the unions can drive up wages and increase job security without placing an undue burden on their employers.
If this strategy is successful, the unions which behave more symbiotically should begin to outcompete the parasitic ones, and may eventually replace them as the primary form of labor union. Of course, it's possible that I'm making too much of this or that this sort of thing has already been tried before without much success. But it may be interesting to see how it unfolds in the coming years.