A few days ago, we discussed people in "public service" work who are forbidden to strike.
The consensus among District Liners was that those who hold such jobs should have the right to be represented by unions, but they should not have the right to strike if such action violates a law or the contract under which they work.
Today we hear from Richard D. Hippert who wonders: What's the point of having a union or belonging to one if it can't strike?
"The union can bargain all it wants to," he argues, "but if management decides not to pay what the union asks, what can the union do about it?"
Hippert also wonders on what basis policemen, firemen, postal workers and other public service employes are denied the right to strike. "Why," he inquires, "should these individuals be denied the same recourse that is accorded to others in their fight for higher wages? I think it is wrong to expect civil servants to go without what those in private industry have."
These are questions worth answering.
It is quite true that the strike is labor's ultimate weapon, and that a union legally forbidden to strike has less bargaining power than a union whose options are not impaired. However, even a union that has no right to strike can be worth having, and worth belonging to.
Collectively, employes may be emboldened to ask for wages, working conditions or job security that individuals would hesitate to pursue. Collectively, employes can afford to be represented by professional bargainers and they can hire counselors versed in labor law. Collectively, employes can be affiliated with national or international groups that can help them achieve their goals. So even without the strike weapon, employes may form themselves into a union that will serve them well.
A detailed discussion of the second question wouldn't fit into a week of columns. An abridged version would go something like this: It appears to be the opinion of the majority in this country that public servants give up their right to strike in exchange for certain advantages they enjoy - not in every instance, certainly, but advantages that are visible frequently enough to be worth mentioning.
People on public payrolls tend to have better job security because they are not subject to private industry's mass layoffs in hard times. They get better pensions than most people in private business. Most federal, state, county and city pay scales are comparable to those available in private jobs. The work pace is usually less hectic for those who don't have to show a profit to survive. The public has a right to set conditions for those it hires, and one of those conditions can be a prohibition against strikes.
The most forceful argument of all, I think, is: You knew when you applied for the job that you would be denied the right to strike.
However, it goes without saying that when we deny people the right to strike, the take-it-or-leave-it final offer we hand them must be fair.