Kant and Workers’ Rights The subject of workers’ rights has been a major concern since the early times of the 18th century. Some of the earliest unions were formed by craftsmen, such as cabinet makers and carpenters who were among early settlers in America. Initially, their struggle included better payments to help sustain themselves and sometimes, their families. Economically speaking, they applied themselves to their craft and believed they were not receiving suitable living wages. They were working in environments in which they sometimes felt unsafe.
Workers also believed they invested many hours as well as being undercompensated. Many people felt they could be unjustly fired without notice. These same workers wanted a chance to speak at the same negotiating levels of managers allowing them to bargain for wages, benefits and better work environments. In that way, managers would not have to address grievances on an employee by employee basis. Being a part of organized groups such as these gave workers a sense of release without worry from lay offs and wage or benefit cuts.
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They developed long-term employment relationships between the company and employee. Not all early formed unions were successful. Even still, the concept of this type of organization which placed demands on employers would prevail. There were, though, disadvantages to the formation of unions. These organized groups would sometimes prevent more qualified workers from getting the jobs and less proficient workers were protected from layoffs or being fired, which decreased new positions openings. Unions also affected prices of the products.
Because union workers were traditionally paid a higher salary and more competitive benefits, this additional expense was passed on to the consumer. Some argue that organized unions made the country less competitive since non-union companies in other countries could pay workers far less and therefore charge less for their product. I believe Kant would have carefully considered each side of the Workers’ Rights debate before determining who he felt was acting upon their morals. In the article entitled “Trade Unionism,” by Anton Pannekoek, unions were originally formed ecause workers believed they were being treated unjustly.
They felt they were being treated poorly being manipulated into working longer hours for low wages in order to satisfy the need of the capitalist. Many were afraid to lose their Jobs if they did not perform as told. Kant believed it abusive to use people in ways outside of their choice. He also believed actions are not considered moral if ordered to be done by someone with authority. Capitalist have the capacity to exercise power over their workers. They may even believe the employees should carry out their duties because hey are morally obligated, as paid individuals, to do so.
As I continued to read Pannekoeks piece, I began to realize workers were acting on hypothetical imperatives; that is, the actions were based on what ought to be done in order to obtain what they wanted. In a sense, organized unions were little corporations themselves complete with leaders and spokespersons who acted on behalf of the union workers. The trade unions were very similar to the large companies who employed the workers, who belonged to these unions. Although the leaders, most ften, had come from the working ranks, they evolved into the mediators between company and workers.
They were not motivated to do so by natural interest. Their function was to negotiate on behalf of the workers, but there wouldn’t be unions if not for the company themselves. Since their function did not include the working class as well, Kant’s categorical imperative is denied. Analyzing Groundwork and more specifically, studying the Kingdom of Ends’ concept, helped me to determine how Kant might have reacted to the union workers whose sole purpose for protest as that of personal gain as opposed to acting out of a sense of duty.
When workers began their protest, the motive for action was based strictly on their personal needs, their own gain and not for the entire working class. Kant says actions are unrelated to morality goodness if you expect to benefit from the action, even if others are benefitting as well. The workers were not acting because it was the right thing to do for the right reason. The motive of wanting better wages and shorter work hours, as well as Job security all challenge Kant’s principle of good will.