Our Readers Respond on Unionization

Couple of great comments to the post on Harpers.  Gabriel Rossman reminds us of a classic work:

Our hostess writes "We tend to think about labor disputes as attempts to divide the spoils of success: unions form when there are excess profits that they can divert to workers. " 
It's probably worth remembering that the subtitle to Hirschman's Exit, Voice, and Loyalty was "Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States"

Meanwhile, I am chastised for my simplistic characterization by reader Mickey Zellberg:

"We tend to think about labor disputes as attempts to divide the spoils of success: unions form when there are excess profits that they can divert to workers"

The only people who think this have no experience with actually working conditions in the real, low-paid wage world. The Harper's people unionized because their management were assholes. This happens all the time.

I once worked at the famous Strand Bookstore in New York City. The workers there had unionised and made little more than minimum wage under their contract. They had a crappy little health plan. The main point of unionizing for them was that it enabled them to say "F You" to the boss.

And this is borne out in many studies of unions, which show that "lack of respect" was the main motivation.

DougJ says I'm being too triumphal:

The Atlantic isn't exactly an economic powerhouse either. 

I do think that my post came off as more critical of Harper's than I meant it to.  Whatever the rights of the dispute between management and staff (I'll have more on that tomorrow), I don't think the problem with Harper's is that they're too left wing, or in some other way not enough like The Atlantic.  I mean what I say: it's really hard to make money in this business. I have a very keen appreciation of how much hard work by how many people it took to get The Atlantic to profitability, including a lot of amazing talent on both the editorial and the business side.  There's nothing I can point to and say "Harper's should have done that" because there were thousands of that's, many of which wouldn't have been appropriate to a very different magazine.  And anyway, if there's one thing that covering business has taught me, it's that even the most well-deserved success involves luck: some unexpected movement in markets, the death of a key player, or other contingencies too numerous to name, can undo even the best laid plans.

Nor was I saying Harper's is a bad magazine; only that I've stopped reading it.  It's very expensive, and it seems to have lost some of its urgency (for me, at least) since Bush left office.  It's not a comment on the magazine's politics or quality; only on my taste, and budget.  Most political magazines flourish when they're in opposition, languish when their guy wins.  Maybe you could question the decision to be overtly political, which made them vulnerable to this cycle, but I'm certainly not going to question it; only the owners and staff can rightly decide what a magazine is for.

So I wasn't trying to throw stones.  The labor disputes have me sad and puzzled about what's happening to one of America's great journalistic institutions.  No criticism implied of anything except the belief, which I know to be false, that my magazine is lying about our success.