Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Something is not rotten in the state of Denmark

A rare moment of disharmony in Copenhagen came in 2010, when Carlsberg workers struck over management demands that they drink beer only during lunch hour. Via CBS News.

What's David Brooks wrong about today? He's startled to note that the congressional Republicans haven't offered any help to the workers who, he believes, put them in office ("The Workers Paradise", missing apostrophe sic):
I am appalled that Republicans didn’t seek to balance this tax bill with an equal effort to help the people who actually got them elected. The central problem of our time is the stagnation of middle-class wages, the disintegration of working-class communities and the ensuing fragmentation of American society.
So he's got one of those laundry lists of "reform" conservative proposals from the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute, and National Affairs, including of course "mobility vouchers" to help people flee their dying villages and go where the jobs are, which is a great way of halting the disintegration of working-class communities, as is well known (another effective method is hurricanes).

Thing that really stood out for me was this:

Union Reform. Writing in City Journal, Oren Cass argues that worker co-ops, of the kind found in Sweden and Denmark, are better suited to today’s flexible labor markets than old-fashioned unions. These would be worker-controlled and worker-funded organizations that would train workers, represent workers and look after worker interests far beyond any individual workplace. They wouldn’t be compulsory, but they would be civic organizations providing support to workers in all aspects of their professional lives.
What on earth is that? Unions are being replaced by worker cooperatives in Denmark and Sweden? That doesn't sound right at all! Trade union density in Sweden is at 71%; around 66% in Denmark. And the worker cooperative movement in Scandinavia was and is about something entirely different than support groups; worker-owned industries (like the dairy co-ops that still operate in a lot of states here).

What Cass is "arguing" is from the usual conservative point that unions are nasty to proposing a concept for a better-bred and more clubbable sort of labor organization, one that won't be putting people off with its constant demands and adversariality, which you could call "worker co-ops" as a way of emphasizing that they aren't unions. Not that Scandinavia has them.

These are not going to be at all like Scandinavian unions either (which are less adversarial than our own only in the sense that they long ago demanded and still receive equal treatment with employers in a negotiation and have no need to yell). They won't be strongly attached to one political party, which Cass thinks is a terrible problem in the US, and they won't get all bent out of shape about safety regulations and the like, since everything in the US has been perfect since the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935.  They will just lack certain features that Scandinavian unions have historically done without and have been absolutely vital to American ones: the closed shop (in the old days, Nordic social pressure and shunning were enough to compel everybody to join) and the requirement of bargaining "in good faith". Included apparently as a poison pill to make sure no American interested in organized labor will ever agree.

Also, they will provide social benefits, in the way Swedish and Danish unions sell unemployment insurance on top of the benefits provided by the governments, which encourages union membership even though you don't need to join the union to get it, and they will participate in planning for worker flexibility systems like Denmark's "flexicurity", which would be intolerable in the United States without the very generous welfare benefits (and high-tax environment) the Danish state affords. The real reason for bringing up Sweden and Denmark is to allow Cass's troll line:
Remarkably, the American conservative Yuval Levin offers a prescription for twenty-first-century America that echoes the central tenet of mid-twentieth-century Swedish social democracy. Supports for workers, he writes, “will need to help make a diffuse labor market more secure, rather than trying to reverse its diffusion.” Co-ops could help do this. 
Such a plan can work only where government provides real social and health security, on the level of Denmark and Sweden, and if it does that it's not a conservative plan any more. The whole argument is just a ruse.

What else? Brooks is very upset about how hard it is to get a license to practice certain professions in various states (I believe Matt Yglesias gets very exercised about that too) and opposes "College for All" because some young people would benefit more from other types of training, as if anybody was opposed to that ("No, I'm sorry, no phlebotomy cert for you, you'll have to do four years of art history at St. Swithin's, so you can rebind our society and reweave its distressed fabric"). And he's down with employers not checking job applicants' credit scores or criminal histories, which seems fine with me. But as always when he writes this column about all the brilliant things conservatives are planning to do for the workers if they every get into power, it's pretty thin stuff, and even thinner now that conservatives are absolutely in power and not even slightly interested in what he and Oren Cass and Yuval Levin might want.

Driftglass notes some especially malignant bothsides lying. That was really the only good part.

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