The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, August 04, 2000

'The greater the political power, the greater the bargaining power'

By The Building Tradesman

By Professor Daniel Kruger
MSU School of Labor
and Industrial Relations

The political season is upon us. Television, radio and newspapers present an ongoing stream of articles and ads on the presidential primaries. Candidates for public office seek support from both individual citizens and groups in their effort to get elected. Business groups, environmental groups, gays and lesbians, pro-abortion, anti-abortion, doctors, lawyers and unions all engage in various types of political action.

As a professor, students ask me why unions engage in political action. Below are 10 reasons why I believe unions engage in political action:

  • To help shape legislation that supports the individual in his or her dual role as a citizen and worker.
  • To help shape the role of the federal government and its impact on the job economy through monetary and fiscal policies.
  • To influence the appointments by the president of the U.S. as cabinet members, members of administrative agencies and federal judges.
  • To have a voice or help shape U.S. foreign trade policies which affects jobs and therefore the livelihood of American workers.
  • To help shape policies of the federal, state and local governments as they relate to their employees. Government in the U.S. employs about 20 million nationwide.
  • To help elect governors in order to shape the state budget and the allocation of tax revenues for human services. The governors in some states appoints judges to state courts.
  • To serve as a countervailing force to the legislative agenda of business and other special interest groups.
  • To expand the institutionalization of collective bargaining which is the only legally mandated system of employee involvement in the U.S.
  • The work of a democratic society is achieved through a system of negotiated transactions with groups who possess political power. Political action by unions gives workers a seat at the social negotiating table.

Through political action, unions seek to enhance their political power. Why is political power so important? In a democratic society the extent or magnitude of political power gives unions their voice and their seat at the great social negotiating table provided by democracy. The work of a democratic society is accomplished through a system of bargaining by those who possess political power. The greater the political power, the greater the bargaining power.

In the words of Samuel Gompers, one of the founders of the American Federation of Labor, "elect your friends and defeat your enemies. This statement was made in or about 1881 and applies as well today.

Political action is part and parcel of a free democratic society, and unions, as part of the democratic community, not only engage in political action, but are obliged to do so on behalf of their members and their interests.