Cooperatives and Unions, Probing Workers About Their Thoughts on Them

Until last month, I was client of a health insurance cooperative of doctors that made sure to propagate marketing material about what is a cooperative and its advantages. When I went to cancel my plan, I asked the women behind the counter if she were member of any workers union and if she and her work colleagues had any plans to ever make a strike. She joked about her colleagues saying they would make a strike on the holidays. She said “a real strike is unthinkable, after all, I work for a private company”.

I tried to probe if her knew anything about the widely disseminated financial statements of the company she worked for. It is on their website for anyone to see, the cooperative is very transparent. From what I could gather, she never read them. She knows how to answer financial questions related to the contracts of the clients and that is it.

If she wasn’t member of a workers union, maybe she had a stake on the cooperative? “Wrong,” – she told me – “only doctors are members”. “Too bad,” – I said – “they are at an ‘elite position’ while you and your colleagues are relegated to the second place”. With an air of resignation, she said “the world is how it is, it is not worth to fight against it”.

Early that day, while canceling one membership at an Internet Service Provider, I also asked the woman behind the counter if she was member of a union. She too wasn’t. To her, “the workers around here have no organization and they have to accept anything the employer is willing to pay”. I wished her good luck on her professional future when I left. It was an empty gesture as I am sure that if she and her colleagues continue on their current track, any amount of luck won’t be enough to help them have a better economic future.

During our conversation, both women had asked me why I mentioned the subject of union membership. “I just like to hear what people think about these subjects” – was my answer. I watched both of them look me in an approving manner, while internally I sighted, thinking that “they are open to a conversation, but their ways are pretty much set on stone, they can’t be compelled to act”.

After reading my fair share of economic text about unions and cooperatives, I think they are more necessary than ever for those who want to improve their share of the economic pie that they help produce. I am trying to devise ways to meet people that also share this idea and that are willing to act on it. Maybe I should start talking with the doctors and executives, not with their secretaries?

Until that opportunity arise, I will keep reading what the economists have to say. (On that note, David Friedman published recently a text about the logic behind why doctors make a cooperative among themselves and contract low skill people to low income positions. I highly recommend it to those interested on labor and bargaining economics.)

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Cover image is on public domain and was obtained here.

CC0 1.0 To the extent possible under law, Anderson N. Nunes has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to Cooperatives and Unions, Probing Workers About Their Thoughts on Them.

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