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Why is collective bargaining important?

February 20, 2011

I am not a labor scholar. But in the midst of our posts about Wisconsin labor strife, here is a useful reminder from codified U.S. law:

It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce and to mitigate and eliminate these obstructions when they have occurred by encouraging the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.

(U.S. Code Title 29, Chapter 7, Subchapter II, Section 151)

Given that this was written in the midst of the Great Depression (as part of the Wagner Act), the reasons given for the value of collective bargaining are purely economic, with no mention of collective bargaining as one of the sole sources of power for the working class, or as a logical extension of the First Amendment-protected right to freedom of association. (In fact, the International Labor Organization sees collective bargaining and freedom of association as essentially the same thing.) Nevertheless, that’s some powerful language, especially when read in today’s context.

More? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23 explicitly recognizes workers’ rights as human rights, including: “(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

The last word goes to Georgetown’s Michael Kazin, who invokes the argument that collective bargaining is key to a democratic society:

State employees and their allies are standing up for a moral principle that ought to be self-evident: the right to have a say about the conditions that affect one’s life at work. In seeking to return to authoritarian labor relations, Gov. Walker and his fellow Republicans are revealing the hypocrisy of conservative rants about “unelected bureaucrats” and “liberal elites who condescend to ordinary Americans.”

Collective bargaining helped millions of wage-earners to hold down secure, middle-class jobs. It has a made us a more democratic nation.

Flying Whale

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One comment

  1. […] Whale has already covered a lot of what I might have to say regarding the protests in Madison, Wisconsin, and our experience there […]



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