Striking Out
November 13, 2007 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Striking Out by James Surowiecki. "As TV writers hit the picket lines, Surowiecki discusses the motivations and consequences of labor strikes. Historically, he argues, strikes have rarely ended up benefiting workers; the deals reached are usually similar to offers on the table before workers walk out. So why strike? For one thing, he writes, striking may clarify how serious your employer is about his stated position. And strikes are often about fairness, rather than economics -- people tend to reject deals they view as unfair, even when doing so leaves them worse off. A cogent analysis offering some interesting, timely tidbits of economic theory." [via]
posted by shotgunbooty (12 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
...strikes have rarely ended up benefiting workers...

But when they do....well, just look around you. Unless you are crouched on the floor of a hovel hammering out pins by hand, you are better off than your ancestor.

By this same argument, evolution doesn't happen. Mutating/scrambling genes "rarely" ends up benefiting organisms.
posted by DU at 9:52 AM on November 13, 2007

posted by destro at 9:55 AM on November 13, 2007

Does the New Yorker always have a terrible article for every good issue it publishes? They may have a great article about a co-founder of greenpeace who rams whaling ships near the article circle, and then another about how Google Books is a flawed idea and they shouldn't continue.
posted by destro at 10:00 AM on November 13, 2007

The article circle. Yes. That's where Santa Clause writes.
posted by DU at 10:04 AM on November 13, 2007

But when they do....well, just look around you. Unless you are crouched on the floor of a hovel hammering out pins by hand, you are better off than your ancestor.

I don't think you can reasonably attribute most of those improvements to strikes, per se. Unions? Sure. The threat of strikes? Sure. Progress is made all the time during negotiations without resorting to strikes (look at the auto industry, which until this year had a long series of contracts that were each more beneficial to workers than the last, without a strike). One of the points of the article is that most strikes end up with the workers no better off than the deal on the table at the start of the strike, and in my personal experience that's accurate.
posted by pardonyou? at 10:27 AM on November 13, 2007

Seems to be written from an exclusively US context, which I'm not particularly familiar with. I am convinced to my own satisfaction that if previous generations at home hadn't put the fear of God into the the ruling class in England I'd not have benefited as I did from opportunities my forebears never had. It's often not about a victory over the immediate issue; it's keeping the cost of pissing on the poor worker that bit higher, among other things. That affects the whole attitude both sides bring to the negotiating table even before you begin.
posted by Abiezer at 10:28 AM on November 13, 2007

and for some, strikes are more of a national passtime/tradition, or should we say were?
posted by barrakuda at 10:28 AM on November 13, 2007

You can't measure the value of a strike by looking at one particular contract in dispute. As the article states, unions are generally successful in improving wages for their workers. If unions never struck, the employers would know that they were bluffing, and there would be no incentive to make concessions.
posted by designbot at 11:07 AM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Historically, a lot of the great strikes were fought just to win unions in the first place – any analysis of their utility without recognizing that (and the article doesn't appear to) is fruitless, of necessity. Once the union's won, the threat of further strikes often is what gets the goods, as has been noted above.
posted by graymouser at 11:15 AM on November 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

The "threat of strikes" cannot have a positive benefit to Labor if strikes never actually occur. Separating the two falls somewhere in the list of Logical Fallacies. Bad article.
posted by wendell at 12:52 PM on November 13, 2007

Yeah, I was expecting some Gladwell-or-Levitt-esque analysis of strikes from 1945 on or somesuch, rather than just a couple of anecdotes and a bald assertion that strikes are shit.
posted by Jakey at 1:25 PM on November 13, 2007

Part of the problem is that the Federal Government will take the teeth out of a strike if they think it will affect the economy too much. In the past 15+ years there have been times where the Fed essentially forced Teamsters to not strike. There's a law that allows this, but the name is escaping me right now.
posted by drezdn at 2:24 PM on November 13, 2007

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