A Brief Statement on Labor Unions

Originally published to The Political Spectrum in April 2011.

Wisconsin protest, Feb 2011. Photo by Justin Ormont.

Civil liberties were assaulted in Wisconsin with the union busting legislation that passed despite epic protests.  At this point the purpose of the bill, the organizations it targeted, and the motives for the assault are irrelevant.  The author will write analyze them in writing later on.  The purpose of this statement is to decry the great tragedy which occurred and spawned other tragedies in quick succession. Why would the ultraconservatives want to break the unions?  Their political camp and its motives more and more resemble the totalitarianism of State Socialism.  Capitalism with minimal regulation is vital to a free and prosperous economy, and labor unions are an essential mechanism in the labor world.  By no means should labor unions dominate industries, but they should merely influence them and be allowed to do so without the dead weight of government crushing civil liberties.

The late and great Senator Barry Goldwater wrote in his book The Conscience of a Conservative that labor unions and politics do not belong together at all and should not be combined.  He writes:

“I believe that unionism, kept within its proper and natural bounds, accomplishes a positive good for the country.  Unions can be an instrument for achieving economic justice for the working man.  Moreover, they are an alternative to, and thus discourage State Socialism.  Most important of all, they are an expression of freedom.  Trade unions properly conceived, is an expression of man’s inalienable right to associate with other men for the achievement of legitimate objectives.”

In that chapter, Goldwater denounces both big government intruding on the worker’s right to free association and the large unions with political power that begin to resemble a second government behemoth.  The only relationship labor unions should have with government is a symbiotic one in which the legislature sets the standards for what is illegal in the work place (via a law) while the unions decide what is unjust in the work place, and then they petition employers with their grievances.  If the result is unsatisfactory, policy is likely to change as union members—workers representing themselves and their own individual interests—take their grievances to the voting booth in the next election.  Government should not interfere with unions (unless a law is explicitly being broken) and unions should by no means get involved with politics.

Particular unions should be opposed when they begin to cripple the industry whose workers they represent.  It is fully acceptable to fight for workers to have a work day not unreasonably long, for livable wages, and certain benefits.  However, there is a certain point where the benefits need to end, such as wages that are too high, both for the skill level of the labor being paid for and the employer’s ability to pay.  While there are certainly big businesses and executives out there that truly are greedy and pay the absolute minimum they can get away with (such as the now bankrupt and lawsuit-plagued Hollywood Entertainment Corporation, host of Movie Gallery, Hollywood Video, and Game Crazy stores), most employers are reasonable employers and the wages they pay reflect both the skill level of the labor being hired and the amount that the employer is able to spend.

Senator Barry Goldwater. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko.

If a union pressures and strong arms a small business owner (or even a large corporation) to pay janitors and cashiers $15.00 an hour with full benefits, or for middle management secretaries to be paid $200,000 a year, then the business will be unreasonable burdened.  At this point an employer has three options: dramatically raise prices, hurting the clientele and customers; cut back many hours or even lay off workers; or simply go out of business because the cost of running a business are too high.  The latter hurts the economy, the employer, and the very workers the big union claims to represent, and by this time the union acts as a second government and the union leaders are bureaucrats, businessmen, and politicians all in
one.  Despite the behemoth nature of big unions, most unions are very productive organizations run by honorable people—workers themselves—that simply aim to boost the quality of life for workers without harming industry or the economy.

It is a travesty that big government steps in and violates the rights of citizens to freely associate and do business.  It is normal for Democrats and even Socialists to advocate government as a remedy for every ill, but for Republicans—the party of less government—to advocate government interference in matters where it does not yet belong (after all, no laws have been broken) is a travesty.  Another tragedy spawned by government violating the rights of Americans is that those who feel violated by the Republican Party flee to the Democratic Party—the party of more government—for solace.  Worse yet, some of the disgruntled Americans tune into the flawed Socialist/Communist “class consciousness” of oppressed labor and of class struggle (class warfare).

Again, these remarks are theoretical, and the author will analyze the circumstances of the Wisconsin debacle later.  In the meantime, let us as Americans take Barry Goldwater’s advice and not disrupt people’s political freedom, economic freedom, and freedom of association.  Government should only bother businesses when they break the law just like it should only bother unions when they break the law.  Also, just as “too-big-to-fail” businesses do in fact fail, large, saturated, and out-of-touch unions should be allowed to fail also—free of bureaucracy.

Wisconsin photo used via Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0. Goldwater photo is in the public domain.  Both were obtained from Wikimedia Commons.