File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 626


Date: Thu, 30 Oct 1997 14:39:47 -0800 (PST)
Subject: M-I: Re: labor's bargaining room


On Wed, 29 Oct 1997, Louis R Godena wrote:

> Is there, I wonder, any hard figures comparing plant modernization between
> the open shop and those manufacturers subject to collective bargaining
> agreements?  I know that in some industries, like coated paper and textiles,
> there is fierce resistance to automation on the part of unionized workers.
> At least part of the "contracting out" issue is tied in to this question of
> plant modernization.  And what does Dennis mean by the "long run"?

Longer than one business cycle. I'm not claiming that the presence of
unions automatically means peace and prosperity, just that the stereotype
our neoliberals constantly propagate -- that the problems of the US 
and UK were the result of fat, lazy union bosses who gummed up the
business of accumulation -- is a crock. Unions in Japan and Central Europe
have not, as a rule, tried to resist labor-saving technology; rather, the
goal has been to co-determine productivity increases as much as wage
rates. IG Metall is one of the most fiercely class-conscious unions in the
world, and yet its workers build world-class-quality Mercedes, BMWs,
machine-tools and the like. The relations of production in many Japanese
factories are similarly egalitarian, and similarly productive; union
density is far higher in Japan than the US, and yet annual investment
rates as a percent of GDP averaged 30% in Japan and 16-7%
in the US during 1990-86.

Interestingly, economic dynamoes Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong all
have significant labor movements; while in Singapore, though state-run
unions have been pretty spineless, the state has consistently
practiced an export-platform kind of socialism, by reinvesting the social
surplus into fresh plant and equipment, rather than siphoning off such for
rentier parasites. True, these labor movements are still pretty inchoate
and underpoliticized, but they're learning fast: the South Korean unions
are now calling for state intervention to save the troubled Kia auto
chaebol, i.e. beginning to actively intervene in the industrial policies
of the future.

My guess is unions can actually spur productivity, by partially 
socializing the forces of production, democratizing internal hierarchies
and allowing for greater information-flow, creativity and cooperation on
the shopfloor. And given the complexity of modern industrial enterprises
-- the hundreds of thousands of processes involved in making computer
chips, e.g. -- it shouldn't at all be surprising that greater cooperation
yields a more effective division of labor and ergo greater long-term
returns than short-term penny-pinching. The seeds of the socialisms of the
future are being sown by Daimler-Benz and Mitsubishi, whether their
C.E.O.s realize it or not.

-- Dennis




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