After a business trip to Denver and a month in Israel that
was a wonderful combination of being with family, celebrating the holidays and
more work, it has taken me a while to dig through accumulated mail. Coping with
jet lag and fighting a not-very-successful battle against a bug I picked up on
the plane home has made me process my pile of mail more slowly than usual. For
this reason, I am only now uncovering letters that may be a month old.
One of them is a lengthy hand-written letter from a Musings’
reader, taking me to task about using my column to bash unions. I searched for
the letter today, wanting to reread it more slowly and thoughtfully, so I could
respond appropriately, but I can’t find it. So – I hope the author is still
reading online and knows that I’m not ignoring her, although without the letter
in hand, I can only speak in general terms.
My correspondent asked if I was aware of the good that
unions did and if I knew of the terrible working conditions that used to be. The
answer is yes. I learned about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the
Pullman strike, the terrible conditions in coal mines and I read Upton
Sinclair’s book, The Jungle. The grievances that led to the formation
and strength of the unions were real and needed attention. I have no doubt that
a complete laissez-faire economy would be a sad step backward.
However, in what seems to be a problem inherent in the human
condition, we tend to swing the pendulum too far when trying to right a wrong.
We legislate too broadly and for worst-case scenarios rather than validating
the efforts of those who try to behave well. The result is that rather than
creating a more just society, we simply create a different injustice down the road.
A radio listener sent the following quote to my husband:
The strength or weakness of
a society depends more on the level
of its spiritual life than
on its level of industrialization. Neither
a market economy nor even
general abundance constitutes
the crowning achievement of
human life. If a nation’s spiritual
energies have been
exhausted, it will not be saved from collapse
by the most perfect
government structure or by an industrial
development: a tree with a
rotten core cannot stand. This is so
because of all the possible
freedoms the one that will inevitably
come to the fore will be the
freedom to be unscrupulous; that is the
freedom that can be neither
prevented nor anticipated by any law.
It is an unfortunate fact
that a pure social atmosphere cannot be
legislated into being.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “Our Own Democracy”
Just as some
employers without unions and legislation to stop them imposed dangerous and
unethical working conditions, others held themselves to a higher standard. I
have no doubt, as my letter writer contends, that many union workers today hold
themselves to a higher standard. Nevertheless, others deploy the union power
structure, destroying lives and our democracy with their own unscrupulous and
unethical methods. In non-union shops, are some employers shortsighted,
greedily reaching for more than is wise? Certainly. Are some union advocates shortsighted,
greedily reaching for more than is wise? Certainly. Flawed politicians trade
favors for votes, as they always have, further corrupting our system of
government. When I write negatively
about unions, I don’t mean it as a blanket negativity covering all unions, in
all times and in all places, and certainly not as an attack on my
correspondent. I am expressing my disappointment and anger towards the unions
that I see condemning children to failure, sending operatives to threaten free
elections, and threatening economic productivity, among other things. If I am
tarring with too broad a brush, I would very much appreciate getting positive
details on current union activity. When it comes down to it, we need to hold both
ourselves and others to a higher authority than human laws or we drunkenly
lurch from one hazard to another in a vain attempt to attain perfection.
Missing Thought Tools while it is on a short hiatus?