Benjamin Bartel | A Structural Change for Labor Market

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor
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I use Spectrum for my internet. Yes, they have treated me well. But I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw a Spectrum ad on TV the other day that did not advertise some internet deal or discount on cable, but the many benefits of working at Spectrum — a 401k, medical and dental, you name it. That this firm among others would spend precious capital to attract labor via a dying medium is indicative of a wider trend in the economy: a desperate need for labor.

It would be quite useless to attempt to convince all of you just why the labor market now exists in the state that it does, because my explanation would enrage half the American population.

That seems counterproductive. However, I will assert that this labor shortage will result in the empowerment of the worker, and that this leverage will benefit the economy as a whole. It will assuredly reverse much of the stagnation the past 40 years have brought to working-class wages. Millions will now feel confident enough to forge better lives for themselves as they press for unionization, strike en masse, and leave their squalid jobs for livable conditions.

Our societal stereotypes dictate that free marketeers must reject unions. But as an ardent free marketeer, I can attest to the naivete of this generalization. I proudly support unions, organizations that allow for labor to effectively negotiate with employers themselves. In fact, endorsing unions in this way is consistent with my simultaneous approval of loosely restrained capitalism, for it removes the necessity of a bloated bureaucracy to bring some semblance of relief to the suffering of the working class. Truly, many unions have proven themselves to be as nimble, flexible and efficient as the free market itself has been.

I implore my fellow capitalists to consider if Amazon, the embodiment of modern capitalism, serves the best interests of average Americans. The drip, drip, drip never stops flowing out of warehouses across the nation. This company is a gargantuan entity perfectly capable of withstanding the meager demands of localized unions. But Amazon is far from alone. To think Howard Schultz happened to waltz into a Buffalo Starbucks coincidentally just days before baristas planned their union vote is nonsense!

Jeff Bezos and Schultz tremble as their workers rise against them, driven to desperate actions to delay the onslaught. All this by no means disregards the corruption of many titanic unions. But I can assure you, Amazon warehouse workers and Starbucks baristas do not buy politicians. They can barely afford life as it is. Their actions will and must check the power of the largest corporations.

But unions by themselves do not allow workers to clash with corporate bosses. Striking or even threatening a strike are methods of negotiation that raise standards of living. The threat of losing one’s workforce because of a failure to compromise serves as a reliable incentive to increase benefits for workers. The recent Deere strike is an example, a short period of turmoil that ended in an 8% wage increase.

In this hour of labor, moreover, workers must use new tools to solidify their gains and permanently change the structure of our economy for the better. With that goal in mind, I now ask all workers a question: Why disregard worker cooperatives without giving it a second thought? Workers, both rich and poor, are looking for new and improved prospects as it is, with soaring turnover rates across the board. In fact, these numbers may be just the beginning. Pandemic restrictions simply delay the inevitable. There are improved prospects out there with current models of business organization, especially as many businesses wake up to the new dawn of the workforce. 

But if workers united together and created firms for themselves, run by themselves, their views and interests could actually matter in their companies. And rather than rely on potentially corruptible unions to promote their interests and check the power of firms, the direction of the firm would be in the hands of workers alone. Truly, capitalism is an economic system that allows for diverse organizational structures. In our modern economy, this is evident. 

As labor lives again, then, why not embrace organizations whose nature requires them to dignify workers?

Benjamin Bartel


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