Aug 272008
 

It’s been a very busy summer and I’ve allowed myself to get off track here at Philaahzophy, essentially ignoring the fight for freedom that I started on its pages.  However, with Labor Day being celebrated this coming Monday here in the United States I thought it was about time I revisited a topic I promised to further expound upon all the way back in November 2007 in a post titled Reason #1,872 To Detest Striking Workers.  That post was the first to generate a revocation of my “anarchist credentials” (as if such a thing could possibly exist!) by fairly well known anarchist blogger FSK of FSK’s Guide To Reality, who managed to both defend and attack labor unions simultaneously within his comment.

The labor and anarchy movements have long been associated despite the diametrical opposition of their end goals.  This association is most likely a result of the early anarchist writer Mikhail Bakunin who wasn’t an anarchist at all as he had no desire to live without government.  Rather he wanted merely to replace the existing government under which he toiled with another one.  I’ve always been very open with y’all about my ignorance of the actual writings of historical anarchists such as Bakunin, so please comment and correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding of Bakunin’s philosophy is best summed up in Per Bylund’s essay The Statist Mindset of Anarchists

The Russian anarcho-communist Mikhail Bakunin does just this in his writings: he proposes abolishing the state for the sake of stopping its capital exploitation of labor. This is fine by me and should be fine by any anarchist, but he goes on: post-state society will be based on labor workers’ ownership of the means of production. Furthermore, the stateless society will be organized in local labor unions that come together in regional labor unions, national labor unions, and – at the top – one single, global labor union federation.

In no way, shape or form is what Bakunin desires either freedom or anarchy.  The masses are still controlled by the few.  The only differences being the names on the doors and the new government’s (supposed) focus on the benefits of the workers rather than those of the owners.  Of course, the United States government was (supposedly) founded upon the principles laid out in the Bill of Rights, and look how few of those actually remain untainted.  But, I’m getting off track here…

The point I was trying to make is simply that, historically, anarchists and labor activists have been linked.  However, it’s time that those who truly believe in a world without government learn to back away from this association and see labor unions for what they really are.  We do seem to be moving in that direction in general, but many still hold to the old associations.  Even FSK seems to have finally come to terms with this reality as in a recent post he stated-

In the early 20th century, there were 2 big unions competing for members, the AFL-CIO and the Wobblies. The AFL-CIO lobbied for official State recognition (along with the bad guys). The leaders of the AFL-CIO became State agents rather than true workers’ advocates.

That last sentence is the key, and it can easily be expanded to cover 99% of existing trade unions.  Even worse is that the state is the first weapon in the labor union’s arsenal to be wielded against employers and workers alike.  Worse still is that the ultimate dream of the labor unions is to completely replace the existing state, allowing them to force their will on 100% of the people 100% of the time.

Even the upcoming holiday itself, Labor Day, is a result of the pull the labor movement has with the state.  The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union.  Less than a dozen years later Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary a labor union is “[a]n organization of wage earners formed for the purpose of serving the members’ interests with respect to wages and working conditions”.  What, you may be asking yourself, is so terrible about that?  Nothing at all.  In fact, I have no doubt that in a functioning market anarchy there would be labor unions (and trade unions) galore.  The problem comes from the laws that existing labor unions have had passed to protect their position at the cost of the employers’ and workers’ freedom.  For example-

U.S. Code
TITLE 29 > CHAPTER 7 > SUBCHAPTER II

§ 158. Unfair labor practices

(a) Unfair labor practices by employer
It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer—

(5) to refuse to bargain collectively with the representatives of his employees, subject to the provisions of section 159 (a) of this title.

In other words, the labor unions got the US Congress to pass a law requiring that employers negotiate with unions.  This is a clear violation of the employer’s natural right of association and interference with how he runs his business.  Under current law should an employer refuse to negotiate with a labor union he will face the violence of the state.  In a market anarchy an employer who refuses to collectively bargain would merely lose his workforce.

For those of you cheering about the unions putting a boot on “the man’s” neck, let’s not forget that the labor unions have still have a free boot which they wasted no time placing on the workers necks-

U.S. Code

TITLE 29 > CHAPTER 7 > SUBCHAPTER II

§ 159. Representatives and elections

(a) Exclusive representatives; employees’ adjustment of grievances directly with employer
Representatives designated or selected for the purposes of collective bargaining by the majority of the employees in a unit appropriate for such purposes, shall be the exclusive representatives of all the employees in such unit for the purposes of collective bargaining in respect to rates of pay, wages, hours of employment, or other conditions of employment: Provided, That any individual employee or a group of employees shall have the right at any time to present grievances to their employer and to have such grievances adjusted, without the intervention of the bargaining representative, as long as the adjustment is not inconsistent with the terms of a collective-bargaining contract or agreement then in effect: Provided further, That the bargaining representative has been given opportunity to be present at such adjustment.

Assuming I’m interpreting the legalese correctly, “any individual employee or a group of employees” is free to forgo the collective bargaining process and strike their own deal with management as long as it winds up being the same deal the union received and a union rep is present during the negotiation. Does that actually sound like freedom to you?

Let’s put all of this into some real world terms and see how these things play out…

…first under current law…

  • Joe runs a construction company, building houses, and pays his 100 carpenters $10 per hour plus benefits.
  • 51 of Joe’s carpenters vote to form a union (or join an existing one) and demand that Joe raise their pay to $50 per hour plus benefits.
  • Joe refuses to even discuss such a ridiculous salary as he knows that he cannot afford more than the current wages.
  • The same 51 carpenters vote to go “on strike” refusing to work and intimidate both the other 49 carpenters and any replacement workers willing to work for $10 per hour into not working for Joe either.
  • Joe calls the police to stop the intimidation, but is told that under Federal labor law his workers have that right and arrest Joe for refusing to negotiate.
  • Joe gets fined by the federal government for violating their rules against “unfair labor practices”.
  • Unable to pay the fine because he has no workers to generate income Joe goes to jail.
  • All 100 of Joe’s former employees are now unemployed
  • 50 go on unemployment, earning half their pay and then welfare to support their families. 25 go to work for Sam’s, a union shop, at $12 per hour, and 25 others drift into other fields or move to another location.
  • Upon his release from jail Joe can’t afford to start another business so seeks work as a carpenter st Sam’s.
  • Sam tells Joe he can’t hire him because he already has a surplus of union workers since Joe went out of business.
  • Joe offers to work for only $10 per hour without benefits and Sam agrees that he can afford that.
  • The union finds out about it, complains to the federal government, and Joe gets fired because Sam doesn’t want to lose his business as well.

…now in a market anarchy…

  • Joe runs a construction company, building houses, and pays his 100 carpenters $10 per hour plus benefits.
  • 51 of Joe’s carpenters vote to form a union (or join an existing one) and demand that Joe raise their pay to $50 per hour plus benefits.
  • Joe refuses to even discuss such a ridiculous salary as he knows that he cannot afford more than the current wages, puts out a “help wanted” sign and offers to cut final paychecks.
  • 25 of Joe’s carpenters quit, 60 simply return to work, and 15 come back to the table with a lower offer.
  • Joe replaces the 25 workers who quit, offering whatever salary is necessary to get new carpenters to sign on.
  • Some of those who quit find other jobs with Sam, some return to working for Joe, and others drift into other fields or move to another location.

Which situation would you rather have?  As either the emplyer or the worker I’d rather have the latter.

The only thing a person truly owns is his own body and, therefore his own labor.  All other possessions come as a result of those first two possessions.  If a person isn’t free to market his labor as he sees fit, then he no longer owns that labor and is, therefore, no longer a free man.  It’s simple really.

Is it fair that someone else is willing to do your job (just as effectively) for a lower cost.  Maybe, or maybe not.  But it’s right that they be allowed to do so.  We’re all taught from a young age that life isn’t fair.  Why, then do we (as a people) insist on trying to force others into acting in a manner that we deem fair?  Coercion clearly isn’t fair, so its results can never be truly fair either.

Happy Labor Day 😉

  2 Responses to “Labor Unions And Freedom Don’t Mix”

  1. […] slow summer (at least as far as I’m concerned), Aahz is back with a Labor Day post, titled Labor Unions and Freedom Don’t Mix. Is it fair that someone else is willing to do your job (just as effectively) for a lower cost. […]

  2. You are aware, aren’t you,

    1. … that those same labor laws which provide privileges to NLRB-recognized unions by forcing employers into collective-bargaining also heavily regulate the methods that NLRB-recognized unions can adopt, and the goals that they can achieve? That, for example, under Taft-Hartley, legally-recognized unions are forbidden from striking except under a limited range of government-approved conditions, that they are legally prohibited from establishing union hiring halls or freely negotiating a closed shop contract with employers, that in many states (under so-called “right to work” laws) they are legally prohibited from freely negotiating a union shop contract with employers, that they are legally prohibited from promoting secondary boycotts or engaging in secondary strikes (i.e. boycotts or strikes against a company for doing business with a second company workers have a grievance with; this prohibition effectively bans general strikes and mandates union scabbing), that strikes can be (and have been) broken by the arbitrary fiat of the President of the United States, etc., etc., etc.? In fact, while some factions of the labor movement (especially the AFL and the nascent CIO) actively lobbied for the Wagner Act and the system of state patronage that it created, other, more radical factions of the labor movement were stridently opposed to it, arguing (correctly) that Roosevelt’s plan was an effort to subsidize bureaucratic conservative unionism, and thus to capture and domesticate the labor movement. And predicting (accurately) that the practical consequences of the NLRB system would be to substantially hamstring the labor movement, and to benefit only a few fatcat union bosses, at the expense of rank-and-file workers.

    2. … that for about half of its history (from the founding of the Knights of Labor in 1869 up to the Wagner Act in 1935), the American labor movement operated in a political and legal environment where it had no government recognition, no government privileges, and in fact was repeatedly, violently attacked by injunction-wielding judges, by the police, the military, by the U.S. Marshalls, by President Woodrow Wilson and Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer and a young J. Edgar Hoover, by state militias, private “security” companies, and mobs? That radical unions like the IWW nevertheless managed to organize hundreds of thousands of workers in spite of this unrelenting violence and to win, without any use of government privilege, substantial victories in towns like Lawrence, Massachusetts and Spokane, Washington? I conclude that labor unions can be quite effective when based on free association and without government privilege.

    If the conclusion you’re trying to urge here is just that the NLRB and the AFL-CIO are statist, well, sure. Who denies that? Certainly not the NLRB or the AFL-CIO, who candidly declare their allegiance to a big, interventionist government; and certainly not pro-union anarchists, either, who generally refer to establishment unionism as “labor fakirs” deserving nothing but scorn, and advocate for radical unions organized along quite different lines, and with quite different aims.

    If, on the other hand, you’re trying to establish some more general conclusion, like (say) “Labor Unions and Freedom Don’t Mix,” or that “the state is the first weapon in the labor union’s arsenal to be wielded against employers and workers alike,” or that “the ultimate dream of the labor unions is to completely replace the existing state, allowing them to force their will on 100% of the people 100% of the time,” i.e., a claim about what labor unions per se do and want, rather than what a temporarily triumphant, government-subsidized faction within the labor movement does and wants, but which other, competing factions within the labor movement have repeatedly condemned, then I can’t say you’ve offered much by way of convincing evidence for that conclusion.

    As for Bakunin and his followers, I certainly have my disagreements with Bakuninist collectivism. (That’s why I’m an individualist, or a mutualist, rather than a collectivist.) But you’re distorting their position. Bakunin’s idea of federated labor unions is not a replacement state. He believed that the best arrangement for society was a federated structure of workers’ and community associations. But he also believed in an absolute right to dissociate from any union or other association that one did not want to participate in or cooperate with. Thus: “[W]ithout certain absolutely essential conditions the practical realization of freedom will be forever impossible. These conditions are: […] The internal reorganization of each country on the basis of the absolute freedom of individuals, of the productive associations, and of the communes. Necessity of recognizing the right of secession: every individual, every association, every commune, every region, every nation has the absolute right to self-determination, to associate or not to associate, to ally themselves with whomever they wish and repudiate their alliances without regard to so-called historic rights or the convenience of their neighbors.” (Revolutionary Catechism, 1866). Etc. Bakunin’s problems, such as they are, lie elsewhere. May I gently suggest that, if you want to find out Mikhail Bakunin’s views, you might be better off reading works by Mikhail Bakunin, rather than summaries of those works by Per Bylund?

    As for Joe and his workers, I certainly agree that Joe should not be forced by the government (or by any form of violence) to engage in collective bargaining with the striking workers. However, I think you’re walloping on a strawman, as far as the worker’s demands go (do you know of any strike, even under the existing statist labor bureaucracy, in which workers demanded a 400% wage increase?); and I think you’re also pretty severely overestimating the ease of replacing 25%-40% of the workers on the shop floor all at once, especially if you’re trying to accomplish this without offering substantially higher wages or improved conditions. In real-world labor struggle, being in a position where you can get 25% or more of the workforce ready to just walk off the job often puts you in a very good position for getting substantial concessions from the boss.

  3. Welcome Rad Geek! Just took a quick glimpse at your site and liked what I saw. I’ll be spending more time there soon and just may get a chance to visit your A-cafe next time I’m in Vegas – LOVE the flyers, BTW.

    On to the discussion (please don’t take offense at my summaries/characterizations of your statements – they’re for brevity’s sake only 🙂

    1) Summary: The government limits the unions as well…

    Yes, I’m aware of that. What’s your point? Just because someone else suffers under the government’s heel doesn’t mean they also want genuine freedom. But getting rid of the government will solve both of our problems in this regard 🙂

    2)Summary: Unions weren’t always government stooges/thugs…

    Again, agreed 100% When I have this discussion in person I regularly state that unions started out on the right foot. However, once they found access to government power, they took it. Hence, the problem is government. Remove the stick and the carrot is the only motivator 🙂

    3) “If the conclusion you’re trying to urge here is just that the NLRB and the AFL-CIO are statist, well, sure. Who denies that?”

    That’s the conclusion I reached and MANY people deny it, on a regular basis (ie. follow the linked post and read FSK’s comments). I’m glad to see you’re not one of them.

    However…

    You may trivialize the AFL-CIO and their recent spin-off as “a temporarily triumphant, government-subsidized faction within the labor movement”, but they represent more than 90% of union workers in the United States and are what most people think of when one utters the phrase ‘labor union’. I don’t write for the anarchist/libertarian intellectuals, but for the common man who still thinks the words anarchy and chaos are inextricably intertwined.

    4) “As for Bakunin and his followers, … But you’re distorting their position.”

    A possibility I was very open about possibly occurring. I’ve never read Bakunin, but the quote I supplied seemed to jibe with what I’ve heard others say about his philosophy. Yuor statement, “But he also believed in an absolute right to dissociate from any union or other association that one did not want to participate in or cooperate with.” is a good one. Thanx for the brief education.

    As for – “May I gently suggest that, if you want to find out Mikhail Bakunin’s views, you might be better off reading works by Mikhail Bakunin, rather than summaries of those works by Per Bylund?” The ‘problem’ is that I DON’T have any desire to find out Bakunin’s views. He’s dead and can no longer oppress me OR assist in the current fight for freedom 🙂 I’m more interested in the views of those around me who can affect the freedom for myself and my family. Bakunin was only cited here as brief, anecdotal history to get the ball rolling, and because many anarchists I have known parade him out every Labor Day.

    5) “As for Joe and his workers,… I think you’re walloping on a strawman, as far as the worker’s demands go…”

    ABSOLUTELY! In fact I was intentionally over exaggerating for effect. It doesn’t matter how ‘reasonable’ the demands are if they’re being forced upon someone.

    THAT is the ultimate point: coercion is bad whether it’s state sponsored or labor union sponsored. Just because smoking tobacco IS harmful, doesn’t mean it’s okay for someone to put a gun to our heads to stop us (for example).

  4. […] presents Labor Unions And Freedom Don?t Mix posted at Philaahzophy, saying, “So-called anarchist union activists just want to replace one […]

  5. […] presents Labor Unions And Freedom Don?t Mix posted at Philaahzophy, saying, “So-called anarchist union activists just want to replace one […]

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