The conservative case for unions

Fortunately, other models have emerged elsewhere in the world, models that can benefit both companies and labor. A well-known example, popular in Europe, is the so-called works council, which gives workers a voice in company affairs without triggering the fraught, complex process of creating a formal union. In Germany, unions can organize entire sectors, rather than particular companies, giving employers and workers incentives to cooperate in ways that improve industries’ competitive position.

Even more intriguing is the Ghent system, successful in Denmark and Sweden, under which unions administer government-funded unemployment benefits. Providing that safety net helps unions to shift their focus from protecting individual jobs to maintaining workers’ overall income security; this in turn allows employers more flexibility in hiring and firing.

In principle, unions could offer skills training that qualifies workers for better jobs, a role that individual employers are not always eager to fill (they might be training employees to go work somewhere else). Unions could act as employment agencies, matching workers with jobs. They could offer and manage health-insurance plans and benefits programs. They could administer wage insurance, thereby helping workers through disruptive job transitions.