In response to my column today about private-sector unions in the United States, a reader writes:
Nowhere in the world is there a greater need for unions than in places like China, India and South America. The workers in those countries are crying out for fairness. Unfortunately, the unions arenít fighting the good fight in those countries. Instead, they focus their efforts on trying to unionize Wal-Mart, which sells the goods these countries produce. I donít understand this thinking at all.
Why donít the unions do what the corporations have done and make the jump to Asia, Africa Eastern Europe and South America? Thatís where they are needed. I think Americans Ė even non-union conservative republicans Ė would have a lot of respect for the AFL/CIO and other unions if they took the fight to the areas where workers are truly being exploited instead of spending their time trying to unionize Wal-Mart cashiers.
Why donít the unions go to work in China and India? Before you answer ďItís because the governments there wonít allow itĒ consider history. When the union movement started here in the U.S., the government did everything possible to crush the effort including using the military and local police and National Guard.
First of all, I think he exaggerates the hostility from the government here. There were some attempts to crush labor, óthe Pullman strike in 1894 was crushed by U.S. Army troops sent by President Grover Cleveland, on the pretext that the strike interfered with the U.S. Mail. In general, government was more tolerant than that. It did not encourage unions (until World War I, and then again in the New Deal), but there was no sustained national effort to crush them.
The main question is India and China, on which I am no expert. A couple of observations. First, there are unions in India. Tooling around the web, I found this page for a (socialist) union federation, and this (communist) center. I have no idea how many members these organizations have, but have a cautionary thought: India is really poor. Productivity is low. Unions cannot do a whole lot about that. It takes investment to raise productivity, and investment comes from capital.
As for China, independent trade unions are forbidden, for political reasons. China is not going to allow in American union organizers to go about creating unions in China. On the web I found a story about China blocking a delegation of Western trade-union peopleóand not organizers, either. You can be sure foreign organizers would be stopped. (And maybe in India, too.)
Respond to Bruce.