Nineteen eighty-six will mark the centennial anniversary of the establishment of the American Federation of Labor. To many, that seminal event symbolizes the genesis of the modern labor movement in the United States. For that reason the Fall 1985 issue of the Government Union Review has been given over to the publication of "White Paper: Organized Labor" which provides an encapsulated, yet holistic, view of that movement. Its author, Edward J. Walsh, is vice president of research for the United States Business and Industrial Council, under whose aegis the study was conducted.
Over the last century labor unions have undergone a dramatic metamorphosis. The original bands of workers, anxious to redress economic inequities, have given way to megalithic political machines. Not only have unions achieved legitimacy but en route they have received an array of legally sanctioned privileges that have tipped the labor-management scale in their favor. The once unthinkable unionizing of government employees has come to pass, making it almost axiomatic to observe the confluence of interests between public and private sector unionism.
In his study, Mr. Walsh challenges some of the basic assumptions about unions: that they began as benevolent organizations, that they were interested in representing all workers, that their leaders' primary goals remain the improvement of the economic conditions of working people. The author perceives labor unions as self-serving entities whose leadership is frequently more interested in their own aggrandizement or the pursuit of their own political agendas than the good of their membership. He maintains that modern unions are essentially coercive in character, using the threat of strikes or violence to extract concessions from management. Ultimately, those concessions tend to reduce productivity and capital formation and are directly responsible for placing American industry at a competitive disadvantage in the international marketplace.
The author concludes that whereas unions had a legitimate role to play in the development of the American economy, today they are a threat to its free market system. In the final chapter he offers recommendations for correcting their "philosophical focus."