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Amazon's Anti-Union Training Video [video] (youtube.com)
212 points by danielinoa 79 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 127 comments

Similar info from "unionproof.org"[1]:

Managers may notice a change in the language of employees because it becomes more formal and legal in nature. Employees may start using union words like “grievance,” “arbitration,” “job security,” “employee rights,” “prevailing wage” and “unfair labor practices.” They may also start asking their immediate supervisor or manager questions around these topics, so be sure you have a system in place for your front-line managers to report a change in employee behavior that could be an indication of organizing activity.

"Union Proof Certification" is a thing.

The Communications Workers of America describes typical employer tactics from the labor side.[2]

Historically, neither side is very creative, so once you know what the standard moves are, you know what to expect.

[1] https://blog.unionproof.com/are-you-missing-these-10-signs-o...

[2] https://unionbustingplaybook.com

Absurdity of this video aside, but I just wish there was room in today's political environment to discuss pros and cons to unions and non-unions. There are some pretty good examples of unions being corrupt, there are examples where unions work. There are examples where like Amazon says, having a direct relationship with your employer is the best. Nuance is gone which is the biggest loss.

So little is said about unions today. There was a time when newspapers had a "union beat", and you'd read about who was elected head of the UAW local and how the Steelworkers negotiations were going. It's been a long time since WCFL radio, "The Voice of Labor in Chicago".

Few people know how unions work any more. They vary as much as companies do. Some are top down, some are bottom up. Some run their own insurance and pension plans. Some are craft oriented, like the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and some cover everyone in a plant, like the United Auto Workers.

For the "tech" industry, the Hollywood unions are worth looking at as a model. Most are under the umbrella of IATSE, The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. The Animation Guild represents most of the animators at the major studios. IATSE has grown over the last decade, which is unusual for unions today. They've picked up many people in Hollywood effects houses. They have not, however, been able to organize the game industry, despite trying.

IATSE figured out the "gig economy" long ago. Their contracts cover things like "minimum call time" (if you're called into work for an emergency, that's not only paid time, there's a minimum number of hours, usually 4), and overtime (not just paid, but time and a half and double time during crunches). This is why, as I've pointed out before, film scheduling is an organized discipline but software development scheduling is a joke.

There are advantages to working at a company with a partly unionized workforce even if you're not in a unionized job. There's less being jerked around. Management is aware that their authority is not unlimited. Hours also tend to be more reasonable.

I actually worked as a production electrician & lighting designer for a couple years, and I can say from my experience that IATSE is a cancer on the industry. I wouldn't join or support a union for computer technologists.

My main concern for the tech industry is that a union is fundamentally exclusionary. It's survival depends on preventing competition- any other activity it undertakes is only to serve that goal, or to justify it.

Unions prevent competition by demanding exclusivity in a company's labor supply, they prevent competition from new entrants by being outright hostile to young tradespeople (in most trade unions, it's basically impossible to join without sponsorship form an existing member), and they prevent competition among members by fixing wages, suppressing the earning potential of the most valuable employees.

Once a union has succeeded in restraining trade, it can extract monopoly rents from the flow of labor. At best, this looks like an ever-growing university-style administration that exists to justify its own existence. Unions can never exist to create net value, only to capture it, and that by necessity means that value is destroyed by their existence. They're antithetical to the principles of fairness, openness and inclusiveness that we claim to value.

Moreover, why would we even want a union, on an individual level? We (American citizens with a BSCS or similar) each already hold a golden ticket directly to the gentry class. We are, by pure luck of nationality, already privileged beneficiaries of the American coastal tech boom cities, of American currency and political dominance of the past seven decades, and of our restrictive immigration policies that artificially inflate wages for computer professionals across the country above their global equilibrium price. A CS graduate today can reasonably expect to be a millionaire by midlife, if they choose to save accordingly.

And if you don't like having to work late sometimes, you have the option to take a job that doesn't require it. If you don't want to live the Senior SRE lifestyle, you don't have to.

What's a good way to learn more about the history and function and current status of unions? Are there any good books/resources that aren't particularly biased toward one side or the other?

It's harder than I expected. Try: [1], which is a study of how unions have interacted with the gig economy. (Mechanical Turk workers had an organization, Dynamo. Last update on their web site was 4 years ago, though.)

Teen Vogue (which has better content than the name would suggest) has a good article.[2]

[1] http://rooseveltinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Mil...

[2] https://www.teenvogue.com/story/what-a-labor-union-is-and-ho...

There Is Power in a Union by Philip Dray is worth a read.

At the same time, there should also be room to discuss the pretty good examples of employers being corrupt and even engaging in wage-fixing collusion against workers across companies within an industry. On this site there’s plenty of anti-worker sentiment and not enough discussion of the misdeeds [0] of the employers.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-Tech_Employee_Antitrust...

There are plenty of issues that should be on the table when it comes to technology workers like equity arrangements, severance at high risk companies, systems for promotions, actual vacations, open source funding, health care between employment etc. The reason it won't happen isn't because there isn't cause, or that employees would suddenly sabotage the company, but that any such organization would be a politic force. Especially in a country like the US where there are only two parties as contenders and only 50% of the eligible population votes. It doesn't take that much to change the political landscape, which is why no one can be allowed to.

Companies view everything as a cost whether it is infrastructure, health care or rights. They lobby broadly to minimize those costs and to keep their own position. And that is unlikely to change. If there is any argument against unions it is that it is already too late. Unions ultimately work by having a war chest for strikes. The company, or the employer organization, then have their own war chest. Tech companies have so much cash, and the cost of living is so high, that a strike wouldn't even be thinkable for many many years. Making an effective union impossible.

I’m not sure I’m convinced that going into any discussion that prefaces worker organization as “impossible” is entirely in good faith. All industries view worker-related expenses as costs (they are) so I don’t see the exception in this case.

What I do see is that a $350-400M settlement was seen by insiders as being short an order of magnitude, meaning that the 65,000 tech workers affected by this wage-fixing crime left a lot on the table. Class actions lawsuits, it seems, aren’t the correct tool for this kind of negotiation and unions are a viable alternative.

I guess my comment can be read both ways, but for what it is worth I support unions. It is just that people tend to discuss it like it is a choice of equal difficulty. The tech companies now are so large, and have so much capital and influence that it might take 10 years in the best case scenario to even have a choice to sustain a union. Unions just like any other organization are effective because the things they have. You would have to build the capital, institutions and influence in face of the companies. And that only happens when they are afraid of conflict. But the only thing they are afraid of is losing is influence so the might for example have to tax their offshore earnings to contribute to infrastructure spending and social reforms. So they will fight unions at all cost, because that is one of the few ways that could happen.

That’s fair and I’ll admit that I read your comment as a slight-of-hand anti-union statement akin to the linked Amazon video. There’s a lot of FUD spread about organizing that masquerades as well meaning advice: the company will fight it, they’ll shut down your shop, it’s not worth doing it, etc.

I don’t disagree that companies will fight unionization in the industry but that describes the history of unions and ironically workers are better protected these days by the NLRA and the low likelihood that business will hire armed goons to attack striking workers violently than in the days where large strides were made by the labor movement in the US.

Well... better get started now, then!

Definitely. Unions brought progress in terms of worker rights, up to a point. They helped transform the landscape for all workers.

But, like all big and complex organizations they become corrupted and rather than having the interest of workers and society as foremost goals, self perpetuation and preservation become the goals.

Except for Bernie no other candidate explicitly and implicitly supports unions. All the others support policies which would undermine unions, except for where it’s politically expedient.

But this is natural. Even in the proletarian era of Mao, unions/workers suffered descent too. Often a most favored group would be pitted against another when necessary, for example the Hong Wei Bings [紅衛兵]

> Unions brought progress in terms of worker rights, up to a point.

What does "up to a point" mean? Like these videos, this makes it sound as if the progress of workers' rights is over, and we've got all we'll ever need.

What about, say, "a living wage", which the government's minimum wage law is unable to provide? This isn't done. It will probably never be done.

The thing is not all jobs need pay a living wage. Not everyone works to live. Some people work for extra income and their spouse works for a living. Others work to save for splurge purposes while being supported by parents. Others work for socialization after retirement. Forcing companies to pay living wages for every job means they are more reticent to create jobs which could help take families out of poverty or keep seniors from falling into hard times, etc.

Governments need to pursue policies to ensure there are a surplus of jobs paying living wages for the number of workers that need to live off work. This is not the same as pursuing policies to ensure every job pays a minimum wage.

Even Bernie came against this reality: his workers demanded $15/hr, you know in line with his stated policy platform. So, he did concede the raise but cut back on their hours.

Now, I’m somewhere in the middle. I think shipping jobs overseas has had a catastrophic impact on wages and jobs (unions can’t protect against this in any meaningful way). Also unions will milk a company dry regardless of consequences. But they occasionally protect against some abuse. On the other hand they stifle innovation in very counterproductive ways.

> I think shipping jobs overseas has had a catastrophic impact on wages and jobs

On the flip side this is also what has contributed so much to global progress in terms of increased wages globally, increased standard of living, life expectancy, literacy levels, and every other measurable positive progress indicator. I'm conflicted as well.

> But, like all big and complex organizations they become corrupted and rather than having the interest of workers and society as foremost goals, self perpetuation and preservation become the goals.

The same can be said of corporations too.


Workers produce useful stuff


Unions strengthen workers. A company that negotiated 1000 small contracts has the upper hand in each of them, if it is forced to negotiate 1 big contract, then they are on equal footing.

So if only the people, the workers produce stuff, and the form of organization like the union is parasitic then the cooperation does not produce stuff as well.

Organization is necessary for large-scale production. It's not necessary for employment at any scale.

The only way to have any negotiating power is to present yourself as a single, unified entity. A union. Single workers or small groups have no power against a corporation. Just like individuals have no power against a government. It's only when they come together that they can effect change.

So fighting against unions is the same as fighting against people's right to associate since any group can have the same shortcomings unions do.

>Definitely. Unions brought progress in terms of worker rights, up to a point.

That point being when capitalists convinced the government to limit the power of unions and stifle their use of union pension funds to finance things that would be beneficial union.

Taft Hartley Act of 1947

> I just wish there was room in today's political environment to discuss pros and cons to unions and non-unions

I agree with this from both perspectives. Companies and business-owners should also be allowed to espouse anti-union arguments without automatically being tagged as "evil" or subjected to extra scrutiny.

That said, you're certainly not going to find a nuanced debate in a ... training video. The purpose of this video is literally for the company to train their employees, not to serve as a forum for debating the pros and cons of unions.

The major problem with this is that the employees are captive for a company's anti-union arguments; they're integrated with the job.

As long as the union gets to speak to the employees on company time and gets to add pro-union arguments to the training videos, I see no problem with the boss doing so as well.

Amazon never espoused anti-union views, so how could anyone accuse them of being evil? It is however Amazon's firmly held belief that a union-free environment will maximize benefits for its shareholders, customers, and associates (in that order).

Likewise. Nuance is gone on almost all topics. It's very frustrating.

I honestly believe the Internet, specifically places like Twitter have destroyed civil discussion and consideration of alternate viewpoints.

Also, I don't think the video is absurd at all. What advantage would Amazon have by being pro-union or pretending to be pro-union? And what advantage would they have by not addressing it at all?

Humans have never been particularly good at considering alternate viewpoints. What's changed is that people holding alternate viewpoints (and unwilling to consider yours) are now much more visible to you.

(Edit: This was meant to sound hopeful.)

Also different kinds of unions. For example, American style “union shops” are uncommon in Europe, and illegal in some EU countries.

I saw a Youtube video of an American political campaign event where someone from Europe ask a question about unions and pretty much saying that American unions are weak compared to the ones in Europe. Is this true? How are the unions in Europe? Or any other place?

without writing a thesis, here are some thoughts:

- US is/was about 100 years behind european labor movement (germany, sweden, etc. started mid 19th century; US not until 1935 Wagner Act)

- ghent system - in scandanavian countries, unions provide most unemployment benefits, not .gov. you can imagine this leads to large union membership

- americans lost manufacturing/blue collar ("union" jobs) en masse as white collar jobs rose, whereas trade skills are still a thing in countries like Germany with their sort of parallel university system for trades

- there is probably a relationship between strong social welfare and union membership, though directionality isn't clear - perhaps large % of union membership enables more tolerance towards social welfare, or perhaps social welfare allows people to not worry about retaliation from attempting unionization, or ..

"The principle is sound but sometimes the implementation is weak"? A question to ask is perhaps, if a Mondragon workers cooperative should have a union?

Devil's Advocate: If there are so many examples of weak implementations, then is the principle therefore unsound?

is it pointless to attempt democracy when so many democratic states are corrupt?

No, but perhaps we should recognize the common errors of implementation and use that to improve the concept of democracy.

It's not that this state or that state is corrupt. It's that democracy is vulnerable to corruption, so we should have systems in place to guard against that.

Not a good comparison because democratic states are consistently better than non-democratic ones, so we have evidence that democracy is an improvement compared to other methods.

> democratic states are consistently better than non-democratic ones

Union wages are consistently higher than non-union wages, so we have evidence that unions are an improvement compared to direct relationships with employers.

Source: literally every long-term economic comparison of wages done for the last 50 years.

And not only wages, almost every single work right has been won by sweat and blood of the organized workers. 8 hours working day, 2 days off a week, vacation time, pregnancy leave, medical insurance, etc, etc. None of them was implemented as result of the benevolence of the dominant classes.

Is the pen mightier than sweat and blood? Upton Sinclair had a lot of impact, just sitting behind a desk, writing books about how nasty factories can be. Shabbat is basically two days with modern sleep schedules. Insurance started off as perks to attract top-tier. Progress for workers comes from many places.

What are you talking about? Unions are a 19th century European (mostly British) invention. Sinclair is a 20th century US writer, 100 years before him there were already strikes all over the world requesting better working conditions.

Spartacus is crying on Hades' shoulder due to your insensitive remarks. Organized conflict between social strata has been happening for eight thousand years. It's not particularly British. Nor was the movement to abolish slavery. That's a French and Vatican invention.

No, they were implemented as a result of labor-saving improvements in technology.

Activists always want to take credit, but it's the engineers and scientists who actually did the thing that changed the pattern that had lasted for 10,000 years. Unions are just one particular way of structuring one side of a human conflict that is as old as civilization and as inherent as gravity.

And not locking workers inside factories? Was that implemented as a result of labor-saving improvements in technology? You should look up the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York, 1911, which it could be argued is what kicked off the modern unionization effort. [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fi...

Nothing you said argues against me point at all. You're shouting pre-written talking points which are complete non sequiturs. Please engage in the actual discussion.

I'm not shouting anything, and my "talking points" aren't pre-written. I'm sharing with you examples where organized labor lead to clear improvements in working conditions. The world before organized labor was truly awful and pretending otherwise isn't going to help advance your cause. You get to look backwards from the world of "weekends" and "unlocked doors" and assume they were always there, but the fact is they weren't, and organized labor is why. I'm not saying I support all the positions espoused by unions unequivocally however I do respect the role they play in pushing back against capital. In the end you've got organized labor on one side, capital on the other, and when the dust settles, a happy middle ground.

I'm saying the root cause is not organized labor. It is technology.

For thousands of years those bad conditions reigned. For thousands of years, 'organized labor' changed nothing. Then technology changed, and suddenly 'organized labor' became able to offer all these wonderful things. Does it sounds like 'organized labor' can take credit for all that? That they just happened to succeed in the decades after industrial technology took off?

The timeline clearly indicates technology, which increased productivity across the board, as the root cause.

It also kicked off efforts for engineers to build better safety technologies, and for politicians to codify their use into law. A tragedy might grant an organizer an opportunity to make things better at one company, but that doesn't help the working class as a whole. In many ways, scientists and engineers really are the true progressives.

Because of the unions.

Union wages have always been consistently higher enough to make the idea of shutting down and rebuilding on the other side of the planet just to ship the goods back attractive to many companies.

There's no evidence to support this and it's pretty easy to describe intuitively how this is irrelevant, untrue, or both.

If unions raised wages enough to offshore jobs those jobs would no longer exist, that union would not exist, and those wages would not contribute to the total average wage breakdowns that show an 18% increase in wages for union members.

Yet, today, union members make 18% more than non union members. The only thing the data actually suggests is that if you want an 18% raise you should join or start a union.

That's not really true, for instance Singapore isn't really democratic (it's effectively a one-party semi-totalitarian 'democracy') and you know what, it works really well there.

Singapore has also really only existed in its current form for a bit more than a half century and has had three leaders, two of which were immediate family. It hasn't really shown that autocracy works over longer time scales - in history there are plenty of cases where benevolent autocratic governments (monarchies, empires, etc) had extended periods of stability and prosperity.

> democratic states are consistently better than non-democratic ones

This statement is so vague that it is not worth debating. What does "better" mean?

You silly man, the only fallible institutions worth to maintain are those which benefit the people in power. All the rest are pie-in-the-sky utopias which should never be even discussed unless you are a commie lover.well, are you?

I think there are at least an equal number of cases where a company without a union took advantage of their employees.

It comes down to information asymmetry and mitigating free-riders. This seminal 1965 book explains the necessity of unions in game theoretic terms.


As for particular criticisms of any particular org (unions, corporations, government, whomever), the evergreen all purpose prescription is to increase transparency, responsibility, and accountability. What's going on, how are decisions made, who gets the blame.

Everything else is just rhetoric (partisan squabbling).

> examples of unions being corrupt

This is largely a legacy of the police Red squads funded by the capitalists all over the USA starting in the 1930's. To get the radicals and other effective organizers and voices of the working classes out of the unions, local politicians and the police looked the other way as organized crime gained influence over many unions, thus simultaneously corrupting local governments, law enforcement, and organized labor.

Do you have some citations for this claim?

I would be VERY interested in a reading list of any kind, as I have lived near Chicago, which has an interesting history with both police officers and unions.

The wikipedia article on Red Squads has many references about this ugly fact. Where I live, in Portland, the Red Squad was founded in reaction to the Depression-Era victory of labor, aided by loyal American leftists, in the West Coast dock strike. It was a part of the police department located in a separate headquarters, funded in part by private contributions, and its existence was not even admitted by the mayor for about 60 years. The Red Squads found organized crime a natural and profitable ally in wealth's struggle to limit workers' power. In the 1950's, the United States Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in Labor and Management found organized crime working closely and routinely with local authorities in Portland and well on its way to taking over the state attorney general's office. This is where Bobby Kennedy's battle against corrupt labor unions began and gave them so much national attention, when organized crime showed that it had learned that it could corrupt Republican politicians as proficiently as it had corrupted Democratic politicians.

The best/worst parts:

- Valuing innovation while saying that nothing should ever change in their relationships with employees

- Using the words "vulnerability to organizing" and "dangers of organizing" as if it's a terrible disease

- Saying that unionizing employees aren't displaying "normal behavior"

- Calling the phrase "living wage" a warning sign

- Refusing to explain why it is that employees might want to unionize

I like how they claim they're not "anti-union" but also not "neutral": sounds like following a very within the letter of the law way to union bust without actually falling afoul of labor laws.

There was a Home Depot anti-union video floating around yesterday. [1]

What really struck me is how much they remind me of the cringey anti-drug videos we used to watch in like middle school, “If you see a suspicious person smoking something that looks like a cigarette but smells funny, cross the street to get away. They may offer you a joint for free to get you hooked. If you smoke that joint, before you know it they’ll be giving you free crack. Cool kids just say no.”

I mean, obviously, just like everything, unions have pros and cons, but does this kind of cheesy fear mongering actually work? If we could see through it and make fun of it as children, surely a grown adult would find it as off putting as kids do?

[1] https://youtu.be/QrmNojOCiak

Even if I didn't know anything about unions before, the mere fact that all these mega-corps are spending the money to make anti-union videos would seem awfully suspicious. Why would companies have anything to fear, if unions were really so terrible for workers?

These anti-union videos are indeed reminiscent of the anti-drug videos. Drugs are unhealthy, expensive, and illegal -- so DARE should be shooting fish in a barrel, and yet they still have zero demonstrated effectiveness. Hearing an adult in a position of power tell you not to do something only makes it seem more attractive.

These videos have definitely made a lot of people curious about unions.

The cynicist in me says these videos are not going to change anyone's minds. Either you think highly of unions, in which case this will make it even more clear to you that Amazon workers need to unionize. Or you don't like what unions do, in which case the video provides you with arguments.

It’s the Streisand Effect all over again.

I love how they list "living wage" as a warning word.

Any phrase that's open to interpretation helps organizers. The migrant might think a living wage is $15/hour while the native feels it's $60k/year. Two very different beliefs; but on the surface, they're both getting pumped up in agreement behind the organizer who's demanding it. That scares management. They know they'll lose control the moment someone comes along, who's more effective than them at winning over the hearts and minds of their employees. It's why I'm always a bit disappointed to see big businesses reacting with FUD rather than HOPE.

It is not always an objectively used term. At a previous job, everyone earned well and we still had an employee trying to get people worked up about earning a living wage. To him, it just meant a pay raise, but trying to get it through an organizational political process.

Among pretty much every other activity. "Showing interest in benefits or plans"

I'd tend towards it being a fake, if it didn't seem reasonable these are the kinds of ends Amazon HR goes to in order to keep their labor pools un-unionized.

It wasn't simply "showing interest in benefits or plans", it was showing "unusual interest" in them.

Amazon commented on the video saying Gizmodo "“cherry-picked soundbites” from the video". If it was fake, Amazon wouldn't say something like that, Amazon would say it's fake.


YouTube comments are usually a cesspool, but sometimes a real gem makes it through, like this:

  > notices another worker says "grievance"
  > i was trained for this
  > i run to the hrm 
  > i twist my ankle jumping over my piss bottles
  > i struggle to limp through the warehouse as the other 
  workers have to push me over so the make their times.
  > i fall over from heat exhaustion because the hvac has 
  never worked
  > finally at the hrm 
  > i get fired before i can report the red scourge

Or this one from Garmen Lin:

Why did Jeff Bezos get divorced? Because his marriage... was a union!!

Given the wage stagnation in the U.S. since the mid-1970s, it is fairly clear in 2019 that capital won and labor lost.

The conflict between labor and capital comes from the nature of labor and the nature of capital. It won't ever be won or lost; the conflict will carry on or labor and capital will no longer describe how our productive capacity is organized.

1970 to 2020 is 50 years. Consider how long feudalism lasted before it was discarded.

I love how they say "associates" instead of "employees". Indeed the sheen of the coat of paint is different and shinier, but the tactics and morals are as scummy as 100 years ago.

There's only one company whose recruiting emails ALWAYS get deleted sight unseen: Amazon. Who in their right mind would want to work for a company that encourages union busting?

If you're not and don't want to be a member of a union it's unimportant trivia really.

Let them eat cake?

Unclear to me how that applies; it's more like: 'I do not eat cake, therefore I do not care for whether the canteen serves cake.'

Per their own words, worker unions impede "speed, innovation, and customer obsession."

Yeah, gotta feed that customer obsession at all costs.

It's also a very strange way to spell "shareholder"

By definition obsession is a pathology...........

It's funny how they couldn't get an amazon warehouse employee to stand in front of a camera and read this script.

I’ve got imagine this is to make it appear friendlier. I think it’d be a bit more intimidating to have a person on camera telling me not to use the words “living wage”

all amazon training videos use cartoons from what I have seen.

robots are cheaper.

“We’re not anti-union, we’re just anti-everything-a-union-does.”

What company wishes their employees were unionized? I’ve yet to find an example of management demanding unionization of their free workforce.

Unions, by definition, are strictly about the collective over the individual. You must acquiesce that you have no individual value and qualities that raise you above the minimal employee in order to benefit.

Decisions like Janus are supremely on-point: let unions justify their existence to their own members. Forcing one to join the union as a prerequisite for employment is undeniably immoral and robs employees of free choice.

I would have thought this was parody if it hadn't recently featured in John Oliver's Last Week Tonight...


Organized labor was extremely problematic for capital since WW2.

The new dealers ( FDR, Truman ) gave organized labor tremendous power because without it the USA would probably have had a big communist party.

They also knew the deflationary period of the 1930s lead to the rise of fascism and nationalism in Europe. So the petty greed of capital was scarified at the altar to maintain peace. They were also willing to sacrifice growth to maintain peace.

We are going through a similar period of deflationary shock, so it's going to be interesting to see how it plays out and ends.

Most likely the source of unrest may not be US but China.

Uhm, modern Germany? Many companies have labor representatives on board (for example Volkswagen). The country is just fine.

> They were also willing to sacrifice growth to maintain peace.

Who would do such a thing! We should get back to my grandfather times, he was happy because he was a child, and children did not only get a few potatoes to eat per day, but also a little bit of oil with it. Also I suppose it's kind of romantic to have sex with a stranger on the barricades before being shot to death and having your body join the decomposing pile of bodies in the streets.

European style unions are not the same as American ones, despite the same name.

One huge difference is there can only be a single union at an American company, while with the European style an employee can pick which to chose from.

I don't think that is correct. My understanding of American union activity was that it was much less associated with communist movements than Europe, in large part because of its history with machine politics and various ethnic affinities.

The real problem with American unions is its bloody fight against suppression in the late 19th century. American labor relations with management are war compared to Europe and Asia.

The Industrial Workers of the World (founded in Chicago, 1905) had very strong ties with socialism. Helen Keller was involved in both the Socialist Party and the IWW, but you won't find her political views on a motivational poster at your offices.

Why is anti-union a bad thing? Couldn't resonate with the idea that union is saving workers. They are not.

Don't you find it at least a little bit suspicious that the big companies are putting so much money and effort into preventing unions "for the benefit of the workers"? Since when has Amazon done anything for the benefit of the workers?

Care to elaborate?

If Amazon's work force unionizes, Amazon will cease to be a dynamic company that sees rapid foreign expansion and growth in export revenue it earns for the US.

The US will see yet another major driver of innovation and production growth, this time the tech industry, succumb to social activists and their rent-seeking-motivated ideological narratives.

A century of pro-union-monopoly advocacy will not change the fact that unions as generally conceived are anti-market interventions and thus economically unsound.

A century of pro-corporation-monopoly advocacy will not change the fact that corporations as generally conceived are anti-market interventions and thus economically unsound.

Corporations as generally conceived are not anti-market interventions. A union backed by the state imposing a rule that violates an employer's contracting rights by 1. preventing them from negotiating with workers outside of the union, 2. preventing them from firing workers who unionize or strike and replacing them with new workers, is.

These are blatant anti-market interventions that give any group of workers that unionize an effective state-backed monopoly over their employer's labor force.

The conspiratorial narratives about opposition to such state-backed monopolies being nothing more than Big Business trying to mislead and exploit the little guy, and such monopolies being in the public interest, is nothing more than economic quackery, on par with anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories about vaccination being a harmful practice that is only widely promoted because of the nefarious influence of Big Pharma.

The economic reality is that these rules create rent-seeking and reduce economic efficiency. They will destroy Amazon's dynamism.

Giving a select group of workers a temporary wage boost at the expense of the industry that sustains them is the same short-sighted policy implemented in the post-war era, which saw workers see large wage gains, and then saw the industries that employed them suffer massive bankruptcies and contractions.

It's true that the legality of unions in the US depends on an exception in antitrust law. But it's also true that corporations depend on state-backed exceptions to common law. As such, corporations were generally illegal in the US until the late 1800s.

There was an exception for corporations serving the public interest. Initially for building canals and railroads. But in the late 1800s, a series of Supreme Court opinions removed those limitations. Eventually, they got some protection under the 1st, 5th and 14th Amendments. And recently, wider protection under the 1st Amendment.

As long as we're going to allow collective action by business owners, it's only fair that we allow collective action by workers.

Any form of business larger than a sole proprietorship is a collective action.

The “corporate” form of a business (as supposed to a partnership or other structure) is mostly a matter of taxes, legal liability, and the manner of raising capital and distributing profits.

Powerful unions are typically larger than the workforce of any one single company.

Right. Sole proprietorships and individual workers have similar market power. But without unions, workers have virtually no market power vs corporations (and partnerships, for that matter).

I do agree that both corporations and unions ought to be regulated by antitrust law.

Market power is irrevelant to workers being able to fetch the market rate for their labor. Corporations compete with each other for a limited pool of labor. There is no generalized class conflict between corporations and workers in a free market. Competition happens just as much within classes as between them.

Ultimately that results in the wages offered being determined by the underlying market forces of supply and demand that are far larger and more powerful than the efforts of any single party. And it is in society's best interest for wages to be determined by supply and demand and not some social agenda.

The only policy which provide zero sum benefits to corporations at the expense of workers is immigration. And that can be addressed by workers through political coordination. The primary purpose of unions is to give select groups of workers the ability to engage in rent-seeking at the expense of the wider economy. We can get political coordination between workers without resorting to unions and all the harm that comes along with them.

> Market power is irrevelant to workers being able to fetch the market rate for their labor.

If the market consists of few actors, you get collusion to depress wages and opportunity (in tech you had https://pando.com/2014/03/22/revealed-apple-and-googles-wage...) but it exists across a number of industries. Your assertion assumes only good actors, which is not commensurate with reality.

Collusion of this type has a very minor impact on market rates. The example you cite is tech companies coming to an agreement to not cold call each other's employees to head hunt them. And wages in Silicon Valley have exploded over the last couple of decades so obviously there are much larger forces at play in setting wages than these collusions.

This sort of collusion can also be addressed in a much more targeted way than creating laws that give workers who unionize control over major hiring decisions of their employer.

I'm certainly no expert, but it's my impression that workers for large corporations generally get screwed when unions are weak. Based on data from the past several decades.

Unions were very weak in the late 19th century, because the only tools at their disposal were extra-judicial violence, which was met with state retaliation. During that period, when contracting rights were at their strongest, workers saw wages grow at the fastest rate in US history.

Unions in the private sector became much weaker over the last 40 years, but that was not due to the labor laws that empower unions being eased. It was due to the type of industries that unions are prone to form in (e.g. labor-intensive, high volume manufacturing) contracting in the US.

The laws that empower unions make the US inhospitable to key industries.

What's going to happen to the US electric car manufacturing industry if Tesla's workers unionize?

What's going to happen to Amazon's business units if they see massive unionization?

The consequences for a US-based operation when their work force unionizes is a major disincentive for investing in production in the US, and a major impediment to existing US-centred companies from expanding.

You're basically just arguing that corporations will operate where there's the best mix of worker ability and low wages. That's understandable, but short-sighted. Because poor people aren't good customers.

It's a prisoners' dilemma thing. Businesses that can move production to low-wage countries are leeching off businesses that can't move. Also, it rather destroys the concept of a nation, where workers and businesses depend on each other.

When wages were rapidly growing in the late 19th century, the US offered the highest wages in the world.

It's possible to have both high wages and competitive production facilities. That happens when the skill-set of the workforce and the infrastructure and supply-chain of the nation improve enough to compensate for the higher wages.

Forcing companies to pay wages that are above the level that they would be at if left to market forces results in parties in the US less effectively utilizing labor and capital to raise productivity. Less productivity growth ultimately means less wage growth.

The wage boost that comes from a law mandating companies pay higher wages is a one time event, that results from an increase in labor's share of total income, and comes at the expense of lower recurring boosts to wages, because the disruption to the economy caused by such a law reduces the rate of economic growth.

So laws that force companies to pay higher wages mean, in the long run, people being poorer than they would otherwise be.

Unions depend not just on an exemption from anti-trust law, which in itsef is an anti-market intervention, but on state-imposed restrictions on businesses to give unions a monopoly over their workforces.

It's an extreme disruption in the economy, with all predictable consequences for productivity.

As for corporations and common law, that's a relatively minor deviation from the free market that would be almost entirely ameliorated by removing limited liability from tort cases.

>>As long as we're going to allow collective action by business owners, it's only fair that we allow collective action by workers.

Collective action is not the problem. Laws prohibiting employers from exercising their right to contract liberty and free association, to fire workers who unionize or strike, or to negotiate with workers not in a union, when a union has voted to collectively bargain, are the problem.

Like I said, the state gives unions a monopoly over any workforce in which they form. Giving a party a monopoly by restricting the contract rights of other parties is entirely different than "allowing" a monopoly to exist.

> state-imposed restrictions on businesses to give unions a monopoly over their workforces

That's not how all unions work. That is how the worst ones are implemented in the US, imo. eg govt unions, teacher's union, police union, NRLCA vs UFCW or Airline unions (eg https://www.swamedia.com/pages/contracts)

That's how laws relating to unions and collective bargaining and striking work. You cannot negotiate with other parties once the majority of your employees in a work unit vote to collectively bargain. That means the union gets a monopoly over who you can negotiate with.

Similarly, you cannot fire and replace unionized workers who strike, which again means the union is controlling your company and determining who you can employ.

Reminder to everyone that a downvote is not an "I disagree" button. This is a perfectly legitimate opinion to have; stop mobbing people for having a controversial opinion (or at least, mob them with replies and arguments)

On HK the downvote button is in fact an "I disagree" button (or more specifically that is one valid use of it). See:


Now if it is reasonable that a designed in "disagree" button is also used for automatic moderation (greying/hiding/easier flagging/etc) I'll leave up to the opinions of the reader.

Multiple sites have implemented some form of upvote/downvote. That within itself is a great proxy for agree/disagree. The problem sites have is when they take a downvote to mean both disagree and low quality/bad/de-modded. HK technically has flag to solve this, but that isn't how the site is implemented.

PS - I didn't vote on the post above at all.

PPS - You should downvote this very post per (last line): https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

I stand corrected then. Not a great move from me to correct others on what the downvote button is for without even knowing myself...

Of course, when asking whether or not I think a downvote should be a disagree button, my answer is a resounding "NO!".

Unions were a central driving force in labour protection laws and the lack of unions in the US might be a reason why you have so many people that are overworked and burn out.

Labor protection laws restrict contract liberty. They mandate minimum benefits and standards. On the surface that sounds nice, but in reality you don't improve working conditions and wages by making poor working conditions and poor wages illegal.

Every single benefit comes at a cost. Companies do not have an infinite amount of resources to spend on benefits. The optimal mix of benefits should be determined through bottom up organic processes, not by state fiat based on simplistic assumptions.

The process by which the market develops and quality of life improves is much more complex than these cookie cutter rules assume.

Ah you mean,like Hollywood.


I'd argue it's only because the nature of film making - with many short-lived independent productions - doesn't give unionized work units the monopoly control they would have in large stable production facilities, like factories, and moreover, due to being cultural work, is very difficult to outsource.

For a time all major industrial sectors were dominated by unions. It resulted in America losing its manufacturing edge and seeing most manufacturing migrate to Asia. The entire passenger rail service also went bankrupt due to the demands of the Brotherhoods, which had a stranglehold on the industry. Today, besides a few notable exceptions like Hollywood and the screen actors guild, unions are only growing in the public sector, and that's because taxpayers are forced to subsidize their inefficiency.

As a general rule, industries lose their dynamism when they come under the domination of unions, which is exactly what standard economic theories on free markets and efficiency predict.

And yet Germany (among others) an industrial powerhouse full of innovation has a pretty strong union sector.


Germany seems to have strong unions and a strong auto industry, but the German economy as a whole has suffered decades of wage stagnation. One outperforming industry alone doesn't negate the broader correlation between restrictive labor laws, and degraded economic performance.

Also, Germany has many advantages in manufacturing that are independent of its labor laws, like a strong work ethic and tradition of engineering, good trade schools, etc. So an argument can be made that it has a strong tendency to be a manufacturing power that is capable of counter-acting the harmful effects of bad policies.

One possible indication that unionization has had a harmful impact on German economic development is if you look at Germany's past compared to its present you see that it developed more rapidly relative to its contemporaries before embracing the social-democratic/unionized-workforce model.

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