Gail Heriot takes the birthday of labor hero Cesar Chavez as an opportunity to point out a change in union activities since Chavez’s heyday:
Things are different now. Instead of focusing on their members’ wages as the bottom line, union leaders are often unwavering in their support for the leftist party line. It’s about political power. In order to gain or keep it, they seek to keep the coalition together, even if it means sacrificing the short-term good of their own members. Fight global warming. Support abortion rights. Honor same-sex marriage. Elect Democrats. Any of those may or may not be good policy. But none is directly the concern of farmworkers as farmworkers. Somehow union leaders have to believe that in the long run their members will be better off by maintaining the coalition.
The problem with this strategy is that it’s so easy to lose sight of the people you are supposed to be representing. The thinking gets very complex. It gets easy to confuse policies that benefit union leaders (or just make them happy) with policies that benefit union members. One can always come up with a story about why the policies you personally favor will, in the long run, benefit the rank-and-file members too. Sometimes it’s just wishful thinking. Keeping the goal simple is a better guarantee that the fiduciary will remain loyal to the beneficiaries’ interests.
One wonders about such things often, in Rhode Island, where the labor unions (particularly government labor unions) seem to be behind every left-wing cause, not only through support but also through funding. Does every public school teacher in Rhode Island, for example, support the full range of their union’s activities? The prospect seems… implausible.
Indeed, this changing attitude — with unions’ seeming to treat labor services as the fundraising mechanism for their real purpose of progressive activism — may be a big contributor to opposition to unions. It may also be a big factor leading to the Supreme Court’s pending ruling on compulsory union membership.