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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Inactivation of the Labor Studies Department Underlines Waning Influence of Organized Labor

Members of the recently inactivated Labor Studies Department making use of the Labor Resource Center
Members of the recently inactivated Labor Studies Department making use of the Labor Resource Center


Where does the closing of the UMass Boston Labor Studies Department fit in with the larger scope of national politics? From the recent right-to-work legislation passed in Michigan to the waning union membership across the country, the answer is obvious: the era of powerful organized labor is on its last legs.

Since the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also known as the Wagner Act, labor unions have used collective bargaining rights to extort employers, driving up both their wages and the prices of the consumer goods.

Still, the power of unions, although waning, is not to be underestimated. According to the nonpartisan group OpenSecrets.org, seven of the 10 top donors to political campaigns since 1983 have been unions. Despite all the worry about corporate influence in politics, the real concern should be the influence of organized labor.

Unions have constantly used their clout to influence elections and legislation in their favor. Proponents of organized labor argue that unions protect workers from exploitation by their higher-ups and provide better conditions for their workers.

However, today’s workers are not exposed to the dangerous conditions workers would have been 100 or even 50 years ago. The best protection for workers from an unsafe workplace or a low wage is a competitive and free market in which prospective employees are free to choose from a multitude of companies. These companies must in turn press to provide the best possible conditions in order to draw employees.

What unions and their backers really mean by “protection” is protection from the natural ebb and flow of the marketplace, at the expense of consumers and non-union workers. When collective bargaining agreements drive up the wages of employees, or when legislation is passed creating tariffs on imports, or when any allegedly “pro-worker” policies are implemented, the immediate effect is always increased costs for the employer.

Employers must then compensate for these increased costs, and the compensation comes from increased prices, decreased labor force or both. Recently, bloated pensions and wages have forced corporations like GMC and Hostess into bankruptcy.

Organized labor groups and their sympathizers have shown themselves to be willing to engage in unscrupulous tactics in order to advance their cause. Although American history is rife with examples of malfeasance on the behalf of employers as well as employees, recently it has been the unions alone engaging in exploitive or violent practices.
Unions in Michigan opposed the right-to-work legislation that prevents union dues from being automatically deducted from paychecks. The fight to save forced unionization became so frenzied that scores of union workers attempted to storm the state house.
Threats to curtail benefits for public sector employees in Wisconsin, whose pensions were threatening to cripple the state financially, catalyzed the left into organizing a spurious recall election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Walker withstood the political challenge and stands more popular than ever.

The Labor Studies Department at UMass Boston released a statement saying, “Students, faculty and staff in Labor Studies are often members and active participants in the organized labor movement.” Instead of viewing labor organizations and labor history through an objective lens, this department promulgates one-sided rhetoric that serves the dichotomous view of abusive capitalists and exploited laborers, spinning or ignoring any evidence to the contrary.
With courses titled “Workers of the World Unite,” named after the famous Marxian slogan, the symbiotic relationship between the Labor Studies Department and the radical groups that populate the campus is unsurprising.

The Labor Studies Program does not promote the study of labor so much as the capitulation to the paradigm of powerful interests masquerading as oppressed victims. In reality, unions benefit a select few at the expense of society at large.