Towards a more perfect union.
February 7, 2012 2:51 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about companies that encouraged or directed employees to form a guild or union from the beginning. What did they do, why did they do it, how was it received and how did it work out?

I have never heard of this myself but if it exists, I would like to know about it.

If you can point to something that proves this never happened or something about a company considering it but ultimately declining, that would be very helpful. Otherwise, links or anecdotes pertaining to the question only, please.
posted by michaelh to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Wouldn't companies that wanted this just start themselves as employee owned co-operatives, like Mondragon?
posted by speedgraphic at 5:07 PM on February 7, 2012

It is (currently, in the US) illegal for employers to do something like this. There are lots of laws about how companies can participate in the organizing process that even extend down to low level supervisors. Of course, the laws are widely ignored, but companies have to be somewhat tricky and sneaky about what they do.

There is however, a long history of "company unions" - situations where an employer will make a deal with a certain union to help that union represent workers in return for a promise to restrict demands. This generally happens when workers are looking to organize with a union the employer is afraid of. I have also seen situations where an employer will set up some sort of internal committee that pretends to be organic and worker led, but which exists solely to kill organizing with the argument that there's a process or organization for making improvements already.

Is this the sort of thing you wanted to know about? I have never seen or heard of a benevolent example of what you describe, and as I said, it would generally be illegal. By the way, I have rarely even seen a union or non-profit that was happy to see its own staff organize a union - many fight them harder than nasty private sector bosses do (yes, it's hypocritical and depressing)

If you can clarify what you're looking for, I might be able to help more. Mail is ok too if you're asking about your own work situation or something.
posted by crabintheocean at 1:03 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Wikipedia article "company union" is pretty good actually. It elaborates on what I describe, and if you're happy with an example from the 1930's it's in there for you (spoiler: the workers voted to join an independent union).
posted by crabintheocean at 1:10 AM on February 8, 2012

You might be interested in Bourneville, which was developed by the Quaker Cadbury brothers. This seems like a much more likely birthplace for a trade union than, say, Port Sunlight, and there are extensive histories of both available.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:59 PM on February 8, 2012

Thanks everyone so far. speedgraphic, Mondragon's model is a good one but I wondered if other methods of 'labor and capital' cooperating had been tried. crabintheocean, I guess that law shuts down most of the main inquiry. Interesting articles. Perhaps you might know if 'company unions' have had more success in other countries? DarlingBri, those articles also were interesting -- do you know about any specific union developments that happened because of Bournville?
posted by michaelh at 2:59 PM on February 8, 2012

My experience is only with the US and UK, I don't know more about other countries than is covered in the Wikipedia article I linked.

I don't believe that capital and labor can cooperate. I believe that workers have varying levels of power and control in the workplace, and that when they are self-organized and work together they are stronger, although a traditional union doesn't have to be the form that takes. I don't believe though that bosses working with or forming organizations that are supposed to be worker driven is ever a good thing or an attempt to do anything other than preempt and limit the strength and self-organization of workers.
posted by crabintheocean at 6:13 PM on February 10, 2012

I see. What are some other forms that worker self-organization and solidarity take in these modern times?
posted by michaelh at 2:38 PM on February 16, 2012

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