Monday, March 06, 2006

Smith's Sypathies Were Not Unconditional

"Automakers and the Voice of the UAW"
I’m a third generation autoworker, and am damn proud of it. By Ronda Hauben, in OhmyNews – international (a South Korean publication):

“In his book, "The Wealth of Nations," the economist Adam Smith, describes the importance to society of good conditions for its workers. Smith writes:"No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable."


A good point. There some other points to take account before transcribing Smith’s clear sympathies to the situation of US Autoworkers in the 21st century.

Smith was writing about the 18th century condition of labourers which was a long way from that of US autoworkers, with their high rates of pay, plus health and pension benefits, and their legally recognised trade unions and other legal protections.

It is not for me to comment on how far the remuneration packages and other conditions enforced by strikes or the threat of strikes may have been contributory factors in the market conditions under which General Motors is embattled with their trade unions over its competitiveness with rival car makers across the world, most of which do not have the high labour costs and productivity levels of GM.

Second, with Smith’s sympathy of the labourers for their outcome in wages, job security and the cost of living, came a programme of other measures to do with natural liberty and competitiveness, with perfect freedom for labourers to change jobs and employers to change locations.

These may not fit in with the Autoworkers Union’s views on these things. Modern unions do not act in the interests of anyone other than their members, and this includes a disregard for the interests of other workers who choose not to belong to the Autoworkers’ Union, let alone much regard for the interests of the companies they work for, the shareholders and the customers who purchase their products, or who prefer the products of other auto-manufacturing companies.

Smith’s sympathy did not extend to the idea that employers (in his day mostly employing two or as much as ten workers, not 33,000 upwards). But Ronda and Michael Hauben’s contributions are appropriate antidotes to over exaggerating Smith’s total endorsement of the behaviours of ‘merchants and manufacturers’ and the wilder aspirations of those advocating laissez faire.

See Ronda Hauben’s full article at:

And Michael Hauben’s original article from which Ronda Hauben quotes at:


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