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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Strong unions can be good for business

Strong unions have a definite place in making a better world. Not only do unions play a vital role in collectively bargaining for decent wage rates and conditions for workers, but they can be a vehicle for improving business performance. One of the most successful restaurant and hotel workers union is Local 6 in New York. This union was founded in 1938 and organises 23,000 restaurant and hotel workers. The union has created, with the Hotel Association, a hotel workers’ health plan that is a model for what a health care system should be – effective, humane and efficient. A healthy, efficient workforce is the result.
What business-owners can gain from a professional relationship with a strongly organised union is also shown in the New York hotels. Those that are non-union suffer from the continual, unmediated conflicts that plague all-too many New Zealand workplaces as well. The union-sites in New York are, in contrast, relatively conflict-free. In the hotel industry petty corruption and favouritism is rife. Organised workers have rights and these are respected by all when the union is known to be strong enough to enforce them. Demoralising disrespect of workers, and corruption, are ferreted out to the benefit of company and employees alike.
As a veteran waiter at one New York hotel put it: “The union takes jobs and turns them into professions. It makes better managers out of management. The good ones get better – the bad ones don’t survive.”
What’s more, the fact that all the good hotels have to pay the union-negotiated wage rates means that hotels are competing on an even playing field when it comes to labour costs – the union takes wages out of the equation. This means that the productivity benefits from better paid more contented workers are shared by all hotels. It also means that rapacious, profit-gouging REITs (real estate investment trusts) cannot wreak the havoc in the hotel industry that they do in other “less regulated” markets.
Thirty years of failed neoliberal policies have empowered the very-rich classes at the expense of the rest of us. It is time to try a new way to run our businesses, and our world.  

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Equality is the new “big idea”

“Equality is better for everyone” is the “big idea” that has been sweeping through policy and political circles since the 2009 publication of the book The Spirit Level. The authors, Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, are British health researchers who discovered that all the social and health measures they investigated are significantly better for everyone in societies that are the most equal.
Anti-social behaviour, crime, poor health, mental illness, lower life expectancy, child abuse, high imprisonment rates, high rates of infectious diseases; all these markers of a “broken society” and the “broken economy” are the results of the growth of inequality. Screeds of evidence from dozens of countries, particularly comparisons between the most equal rich countries (Japan, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark) and those that are least equal (USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand), show that people are happier, healthier and live longer in the countries with greater equality.
Not only that, but greater equality means less cultural pressure for the rampant and wasteful consumerism that is likely to push economic activity beyond the environmental limits of our ailing planet earth.
So better wages make better businesses; a more equal society is a healthier society; and the environmental threat we all face can be better tackled when we realise we are all (equally) on the same space-ship together.