Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Worker Unity

There is an oft-made argument in the Marxist literature (for example, pg. 29 of "Production Process In A Competitive Economy" by Samuel Bowles, AER March 1985) that capitalists will seek to sow worker disunity to -- and here is the rub, the sole reason offered is to prevent unionization (the mechanism would be that you bargain seperately with different groups of workers, put workers of different racial/ethnic/gender characteristics in different jobs). There is, however, the trade-off because worker disunity decreases morale and induces shirking. Sowing disunity is hardly a costless proposition. Yet this trade-off for the firm is never mentioned. Plus, arguably, segragating workers of different racial/ethnic/gender characteristics within the firm would increase unity within each individual unit, even if total workforce cohesion is decreased. Then you might end up with unions of, say, janitors. Though this may be clever: you get cohesion at the unit level but no overall cohesion. Hence, all workers don't band together but morale is still high. But I don't think this is right. Point being, the argument strikes me as a rather strained explanation for why there aren't more unions -- those capitalists organize work so as to prevent it! Aren't explanations about collective action and etc. so much more fun?

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