The Labor/Corporate Pendulum

I am here to pay homage to the pendulum. Many famous mathematicians and scientists have studied and learned from the pendulum, including Sir Isaac Newton. By studying the pendulum, Galileo surmised the duration of a single day could be broken down into small measurable increments. By using Galilean principles, Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens invented the first pendulum clock. Leon Foucault, a French physicist, via his invention, the Foucault pendulum, was able to demonstrate that the Earth spins on its axis.  But as important as the pendulum has been to the world of science, the pendulum has served equally well as the great metaphor, demonstrating that, all too often, life swings from one extreme to the other.

I went to college in the early 1970's and received a liberal arts degree in sociology.  Many of my classes centered on the history of American labor. I learned about sweatshops, child labor abuses, destitute coalminers with black lung, and Henry Ford's dark side regarding his factory workers.  I read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.  Political activists Emma Goldman, and legendary union organizer and strike leader Mother Jones, were inspirations to me. As a result, I came to believe American workers needed powerful labor unions to protect themselves against the potential tyranny of corporate America.

College zealotry aside, over the last thirty years, I have been awakened by numerous personal experiences with union workers, and in no instance were any of the gentlemen I worked with the Emma Goldman-type. As a salesperson, I often displayed my wares in various hotel exhibit booths. Without getting too specific, let me explain that certain "union hotels" and big city exhibit halls did not allow salespeople the freedom to carry in their own materials, which, in numerous cases, could have been easily done with a two-wheel dolly. The charged fees by the union workers were exorbitant, as was the fee to pay a union electrician to plug an electric cord into a socket. One time, the sales association I belonged to actually paid the union workers to "let us do it ourselves."

Regardless of my personal experiences, truth be told, for the longest time, the pendulum bob was too far to the right, on the owner and corporate side, and now, all too often, it has swung too far to the left, on the side of organized labor. One of the more worrisome unions, due to sheer size, is the United Auto Workers. They had a wonderful run over at Chrysler with a far superior total package (combined salary, healthcare, and pension) than their counterparts at the Toyota U.S. facilities.

But recently, even after a multibillion-dollar bailout by U.S. taxpayers, Chrysler filed for bankruptcy. When a company goes bankrupt, if it wants to remain in business, a bankruptcy judge must sort out all the IOUs and determine painful concessions from all sides. On this occasion, however, President Obama overstepped his authority. Instead of letting a judge decide, our President acted upon the special interests of one of his political allies, the UAW, and squeezed only management and the creditors. In fact, behind the scenes, Barack Obama pushed the pendulum bob of the UAW so far to the left that it circled round into the ownership side. 

Whatever happened to Economics 101? Adam Smith, known as the "father of modern economics," stressed that if a government wanted to maximize productivity within its borders, it must keep a hands-off approach to business and the private sector. Is Barack Obama, with his socialist hands-on agenda in his first four months as President so right, and Adam Smith so wrong, that we are prepared to abandon two centuries of American capitalism?

Thankfully, the days of sweatshops have passed and I hope that the days of lucrative labor packages that are taxpayer budget busters will disappear as wellNow we have General Motors facing a June 1 restructure or face bankruptcy deadline, imposed by the Obama White House.  What is going to happen?  Will it go to a bankruptcy judge, or will the President meddle once again where he does not belong? Let us hope that the President will stay away and let the chips fall where they may. Let us give laissez-faire a chance.

As for myself, I am not rooting against the UAW. I just want the pendulum to win.

Hal Stevens is the pseudonym of a writer married to a union member.
I am here to pay homage to the pendulum. Many famous mathematicians and scientists have studied and learned from the pendulum, including Sir Isaac Newton. By studying the pendulum, Galileo surmised the duration of a single day could be broken down into small measurable increments. By using Galilean principles, Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens invented the first pendulum clock. Leon Foucault, a French physicist, via his invention, the Foucault pendulum, was able to demonstrate that the Earth spins on its axis.  But as important as the pendulum has been to the world of science, the pendulum has served equally well as the great metaphor, demonstrating that, all too often, life swings from one extreme to the other.

I went to college in the early 1970's and received a liberal arts degree in sociology.  Many of my classes centered on the history of American labor. I learned about sweatshops, child labor abuses, destitute coalminers with black lung, and Henry Ford's dark side regarding his factory workers.  I read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.  Political activists Emma Goldman, and legendary union organizer and strike leader Mother Jones, were inspirations to me. As a result, I came to believe American workers needed powerful labor unions to protect themselves against the potential tyranny of corporate America.

College zealotry aside, over the last thirty years, I have been awakened by numerous personal experiences with union workers, and in no instance were any of the gentlemen I worked with the Emma Goldman-type. As a salesperson, I often displayed my wares in various hotel exhibit booths. Without getting too specific, let me explain that certain "union hotels" and big city exhibit halls did not allow salespeople the freedom to carry in their own materials, which, in numerous cases, could have been easily done with a two-wheel dolly. The charged fees by the union workers were exorbitant, as was the fee to pay a union electrician to plug an electric cord into a socket. One time, the sales association I belonged to actually paid the union workers to "let us do it ourselves."

Regardless of my personal experiences, truth be told, for the longest time, the pendulum bob was too far to the right, on the owner and corporate side, and now, all too often, it has swung too far to the left, on the side of organized labor. One of the more worrisome unions, due to sheer size, is the United Auto Workers. They had a wonderful run over at Chrysler with a far superior total package (combined salary, healthcare, and pension) than their counterparts at the Toyota U.S. facilities.

But recently, even after a multibillion-dollar bailout by U.S. taxpayers, Chrysler filed for bankruptcy. When a company goes bankrupt, if it wants to remain in business, a bankruptcy judge must sort out all the IOUs and determine painful concessions from all sides. On this occasion, however, President Obama overstepped his authority. Instead of letting a judge decide, our President acted upon the special interests of one of his political allies, the UAW, and squeezed only management and the creditors. In fact, behind the scenes, Barack Obama pushed the pendulum bob of the UAW so far to the left that it circled round into the ownership side. 

Whatever happened to Economics 101? Adam Smith, known as the "father of modern economics," stressed that if a government wanted to maximize productivity within its borders, it must keep a hands-off approach to business and the private sector. Is Barack Obama, with his socialist hands-on agenda in his first four months as President so right, and Adam Smith so wrong, that we are prepared to abandon two centuries of American capitalism?

Thankfully, the days of sweatshops have passed and I hope that the days of lucrative labor packages that are taxpayer budget busters will disappear as wellNow we have General Motors facing a June 1 restructure or face bankruptcy deadline, imposed by the Obama White House.  What is going to happen?  Will it go to a bankruptcy judge, or will the President meddle once again where he does not belong? Let us hope that the President will stay away and let the chips fall where they may. Let us give laissez-faire a chance.

As for myself, I am not rooting against the UAW. I just want the pendulum to win.

Hal Stevens is the pseudonym of a writer married to a union member.