Unions, Money, and Mergers

by Carl Proper

Carl Proper

Carl Proper

Money matters to unions. Financial resources are hard to obtain, easy to waste, and essential to union survival. Historically, the effort to accrue or protect a financial foundation has also caused many internal union conflicts, mergers and failures.

Capital’s obvious understanding of the power that derives from fiscal strength explains, among other realities, the persistent – and recently successful — efforts of labor’s corporate enemies to de-fund unions through blocking dues collection. Union leaders, unfortunately, are often untrained and unskilled in managing this critical resource, and may think it is inappropriate or unnecessary for them to learn. Through mismanagement of money, they may defeat the purpose for which they presumably became leaders in the first place – serving their members, or the working class.

This history recounts a struggle between two great and historically progressive unions over leadership, organizing jurisdiction (itself a form of property rights), and inherited financial resources. I focus here on financial issues, not because they were the core of the struggle, but because they are seldom discussed, and critical to labor’s history and future. I will also focus on the roles of labor leaders, who are the financial decision-makers, rather than on the rank and file. In later chapters, questions of leadership character, membership involvement and exploitation, and jurisdictional issues will get their due. One conclusion that I would reach, however, is that open discussion of money matters with union members produces better decisions than haste and secrecy. Continue reading