Do Libertarians hold Double Standards when it comes to Unions?by Don Lacey on Sep. 15, 2012, under AZ Politics, Critical Thinking, Economics, Ethics, Freethought, Government, History, Libertarianism, Question of the Day!, Reason, Sanity, That's Life!
Here is another opinion piece from Jim Wilson. This would be a good time to remind the reader that the opinions expressed in this blog belong to the authors, in this case Jim Wilson, and don’t represent the official positions of FreeThought Arizona or necessarily the opinions of other members of FreeThought Arizona:
In conversations with my libertarian friends, I sometimes ask: “Is a positive thing that bosses can make demands of their employees during that apply to their time outside of work? For example, is a positive development that some bosses forbid their employees from using tobacco products even when not on the job? ”
A consistent libertarian would have to say yes, which they typically do. They tell me “people should be able to do anything with their property they like, so long as doing so does not interfere with the property rights of others.” Apparently, this extends into the personal arena. Any consistent free marketer is forced to conclude that bosses should be free to ask employees do whatever crazy thing they want, and fire them for not doing so.
Many libertarians and quite a few conservatives will agree that bosses should be free to make employees wear silly uniforms, get tested for drugs, or refuse service to people of different ethnicities. This is usually accompanied with arguments that the market penalizes firms that practice these kinds of policies with loss of business. Whether the market would do this and to what extent it would is highly debatable, but it is consistent with the view that people should be free to do business or refuse business with whomever they choose, on their own terms. I am of the opinion that the government has done a lot to artificially shift the balance of power from employers to employees and that many of the existing limits placed on the power of employers are actually a good thing.
However, if we assume the more typical libertarian position that there should be no restriction on the power of employers then I find that many libertarians are guilty of a huge inconsistency. Many of the people who argue for nearly unrestricted powers for bosses absolutely believe that they should never be allowed to require their employees join a labor union. It is a huge double standard to support so-called “right to work” laws and yet think the bosses should be free to ask nearly anything else of their employees.
The normal response when challenged is to say, “Voluntary union membership is fine, but involuntary unions should be outlawed.” In other contexts they argue that “no one forces you to work for your boss.” In other words, doing what is required in any private sector job is a voluntary act whether it be taking out trash or cooking hamburgers. This in itself is somewhat debatable as many people do their jobs out of economic necessity and really don’t have much say in the options given to them. But if we assume, for the sake of argument, that all private sector jobs are completely voluntary then how can we say that being asked to join a union is any different than any other workplace demand?
Many would argue that bosses or property owners may not want closed shops and that unions force it on them. This may be true, but certainly somewhere there is a potential boss that wants a union-only shop. From a free market perspective shouldn’t he be allowed to open one? Are peaceful negotiations between individuals and their employees the state’s business?
I don’t like the idea of the closed shops. I would prefer organized labor not use that technique. Being made to pay dues as a condition of employment does not appeal to me. At the same time, I do not like the government telling individuals how they can negotiate with their employees or how their business must be organized. I would prefer complete government neutrality towards labor activism. That is, government should neither actively promote nor disrupt union activity.
The laws that gave labor unions legal recognition came with a heavy price for the unions. The Taft-Hartley amendments to the Wagoner act, for example, largely forbid organized labor from using the tactics that got the act passed in the first place. These tactics include “wild cat” strikes, secondary boycotts, and sympathy strikes and boycotts (strikes by laborers in one firm or industry in support of strikers in another). Furthermore, the new amendments required laborers to give notice 80 days before strikes and other forms of bargaining activity. The current regimes require a majority of workers to form a legally recognized union as opposed to unrecognized non-majority unions and this rule greatly reduces effectiveness.
The labor movement emerged out of the free market, without any government assistance or recognition. Its greatest success came before it was encumbered with state recognition and the laws that came with it. A consistent libertarian should drop any anti-organized labor prejudices and realize that empowered work force can be part of the free market and can even out the distribution of power in the economy.