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 😉

Apr 092008
 

From the New York Times

March 17, 2008, 3:10 pm

That Falling Crane . . . By the Numbers
By The Editorial Board

A crane fell at a construction site on the East Side of Manhattan on Saturday, leaving death and destruction in its wake. The accident gave urban dwellers, who often have a gallows humor about walking underneath large cranes and elaborate scaffolding, one more thing to be worried about.

A few data points:

Height of the crane: 22 stories
Weight of the crane “collar”: 12,000 lbs. (est.)
Number of people killed: 7
Number injured: 24
Number of buildings crushed into rubble: 1
Number of buildings evacuted: 17
Explanations for how this could happen: 0 (so far)

Of course, that was written just a few days after the crane collapsed. Since then we have had several explanations, though no definitive answer (if one is even possible). But my concern doesn’t lie in determining the cause or even the responsible party. I’ll gladly leave that to the victims and the investigators they choose to employ. Instead, I’d like to point out that this is exactly the type of incident that people use as an argument for government. These people claim that we need government bureaucracies to protect us from such incidents. Well, we had all kinds of governments checks in place and this disaster still occurred. Let’s take a look at the layers of government that failed to protect us from this incident-

From ABC News on March 20, 2008-

A New York City crane inspector has been arrested for allegedly falsifying paperwork to show that on the same day a caller complained of unsafe conditions at the Manhattan work site where a crane later collapsed and killed seven on East 51street, he investigated and found no evidence of unsafe conditions.

The inspector, instead of going to the site, allegedly faked the paperwork to indicate that he did investigate the complaint, city officials said.

After initially stating he had conducted an inspection, he later admitted to investigators that he had not, officials said.

Edward Marquette, 46, has been arrested and arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on felony charges of falsifying records and filing a false report. The $52,283-a-year city employee faces up to four years in prison.

In other words, we pay this guy more than $50k/year to keep us safe and he simply ignores that job and fills out paperwork claiming he has completed it. After all, there aren’t that many accidents anyway, so why bother actually going out and doing the inspections? The experts on the construction site are not only better qualified but more motivated to keep things safe as it’s their lives and dollars at risk. Sounds like a pretty good use of $50,000 in stolen tax money, doesn’t it? Not to mention all of the non-salary expenses involved in running his office.

But wait, there’s more! From NewsDay on April 3, 2008-

A state employee has been removed from his job after investigators found he helped about 200 unqualified crane operators get certified in New York State between 1985 and 2000, according to an inspector general report.

The crane operators all failed a required practical exam, but were certified anyway by a state Department of Labor employee, Frank Fazzio, who was also on the Crane Operating Examining Board. Fazzio, investigators said, even issued himself a bogus certificate.

Fazzio has been suspended from his $82,000-a-year job, and the state suspended the licenses of 197 crane operators in November. Since then, 75 of those operators have re-taken their certification test and 38 passed.

[…]

The inspector general’s office found that state labor officials were notified about 42 improperly issued crane certificates in 2004, but failed to act. Also, investigators found that the agency’s testing controls were poor, noting that board members grade exams and decide appeals of their own decisions.

So the taxpayers are spending $82k/year so that someone who isn’t qualified to operate a crane can certify that 200 other people can operate a crane, despite the fact that they can’t. Brilliant!  Thank God the government is their to protect us from such tragedies!

By now, you’re no doubt wondering what system could be more effective than government at protecting us from such disasters.  The answer is a fairly simple one: the free market.  In today’s world every construction company carries tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars worth of liability insurance to protect their businesses in case of just such an accident.  One of the requirements of receiving that insurance is that the construction company gets all of the proper government inspections and permits.

Remove government from the picture and those insurance companies are still going to want inspections.  However, instead of counting on the government monopoly inspectors they’ll use a private inspection company.  That company will be sure to actually do the inspections (as opposed to simply filling out a form claiming its been done) because should it come out that no inspection was done, they will be held liable both personally and as a business.  Unlike the government inspector who will not be paying a dime to those damaged by his laziness and ineptitude or the government (who will just steal more money from the citizenry as it has no funds of its own.).  With an open market in construction inspection companies would be forced to stand on their prior history of th ework rather than simply being used becuase they’re part of the government.