To the Editor:

Mr. Raskin’s article, “Unions and the Public Interest” (February 1954), is a clever attempt to use misleading unsubstantiated generalization to support the argument that an ominous trans—formation is taking place in the U. S. labor movement. Mr. Raskin glibly compares the wealth of unions to “our best-heeled financial institutions.” Recent studies, of which Mr. Raskin seems unaware, show that, in contrast with the great wealth of large corporations, the resources of the labor unions of today are but puny. (These statements and figures are not my own. They are taken from an article in Industrial and Labor Relations Review: Vol. 4, No. 1, “Role of the Unions in Contemporary Society,” by E. E. Witte, Chairman of the Department of Economics at the University of Wisconsin). . . . In other respects besides finances the great corporations are much more powerful than our largest unions, or all unions combined. Mr. Raskin compares members of the largest American international union with the stockholders of the largest American corporation. But if he were to compare the large corporations with their unionized employees, he would find that in many large corporations the stockholders outnumber the employees. Mr. Raskin forgets that the great corporations also have far more extensive propaganda facilities and generally get much more favorable publicity through regular news channels. When Mr. Raskin says, “Too many unions are in a ‘robber baron’ phase . . .,” what does he mean by “too many”: One? Ten? Twenty? Vital statistics and even approximations of vital statistics are lacking. When he states that “fixers and ‘influence peddlers’ have set themselves up as merchants or labor peace,” the reader would like to know what percentage of labor unions are so affected. And once the percentage is stated, how does this compare with the percentage of “fixers” in government, in big business, and in the general public? Are unions more afflicted with fixers or less?

A clue to Mr. Raskin’s methods of statistical analysis can be found in a later paragraph when he talks about “A lot of local union officers who function as silent partners in companies that operate under union contracts they help to write.” Then, in his next sentence, and talking about the same group of union officers, he states: “Their number may be microscopic. . . .” Slipshod writing, the reader may think, but when Mr. Raskin goes on to say that the existence of this “microscopic number” indicates “the direction in which we are going,” Mr. Raskin’s whole system of computation becomes suspect.

Mr. Raskin indulges in this type of magical computation in numerous other places in his article. He says, with assumed authority, that “most unions stored their education programs away so long ago that the chances of reviving them are slim.” This “most” is very similar to Mr. Raskin’s “a lot of” and “too many” statements. Unions, though they are not educational organizations, are devoting increasing attention to union education and the training of their officials and representatives. Mr. Raskin is ignorant of the hundreds of schools and institutes for workers that the CIO and its international unions conduct in every part of the United States and Canada. These union institutes provide a variety of courses in history, economics, labor legislation, and community services, in addition to courses in various phases of union administration. The union education movement is one of the most vital forces that do “promote the sober sense of civic responsibility” that Mr. Raskin so valiantly, and yet so blindly, seeks. . . .

Sid Blum
Toronto, Canada

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Mr. Raskin writes:

Faith is a wonderful thing in this era of nuclear destruction, and I have no quarrel with Mr. Blum’s right to believe that all is well in this best of all possible labor movements. I think less euphoric readers will recognize that my article was not an indictment of organized labor but a plea for sober thought to set right some things that are unwholesome in its current development.

As for statistical comparisons of the prevalence of corruption in labor and industry or politics, even if these were available, I would consider them of little significance. It has never seemed to me a sufficient defense to say it is all right for me to steal because the man next door steals more. Labor is long past the days of impoverishment. In New York State alone, union welfare funds have an annual income of $365,000,000 and reserves of $2,500,000,000. The treasuries of the United Mine Workers and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters contain more than $30,000,000, without counting welfare funds or money held by their locals. A dozen other unions are in the $10,000,000 to $30,000,000 class. That may sound like small change to Mr. Blum. It doesn’t to me.

A. H. Raskin
New York City

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Unions and the Public via @commentarymagazine
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