I am often called to, for my opposition to labor unions, and labor unions for government employees in particular. Labor unions are necessary, I am told, because they protect “workers” from the unfair practices of “capitalists”. But that’s not really true, is it? Those protections are all Federal law and have nothing to do with unions. Besides, not all of them are really “protections”–what about people who WANT to work more than 40 hours per week, but can’t–because of labor union interference? What about the long-standing tradition of children helping their parents in family-run businesses–once a way to teach responsiblity and keep interest in the family business, but now a “child-labor” issue?
But here’s the real harm that labor unions do: they create a false divide between ‘labor’ and ‘management’, and use it to extort money from ‘labor’. Once upon a time, trades operated in what were known as ‘guilds’. One entered the guild as an ‘apprentice’, who did the majority of busy work, with the objective of eventually becoming skilled enough to earn the rank of ‘journeyman’–a recognized craftsman who could generally work where and when he liked. With both diligence and talent, some eventually became ‘masters’, and ran their own shops. While these categories were all separate, there was no ‘apprentice class’ in which one would expect to spend their entire lives. The concept was one of progression through improvement.
Enter socialism, and the ‘labor union’ (didn’t know unions were socialist? Oh, yes.). Suddenly, we have a ‘labor class’ and a ‘management class’, and people increasingly expect to spend their entire careers in entry-level positions, taking on no additional responsibility, and yet to still have regular pay raises and benefits simply because they have stayed in place for a long time. In fact, in many places (such as the federal GS system), getting promoted can actually reduce your income–and that’s without even figuring in the income ‘tax’ (read: ‘penalty for working’).
In a free society, as the United States of America was created to be, exploitation of workers would result in the death of business. Free workers can always find employment elsewhere, or simply go into business for themselves. Instead, we have a society based on the labor-union ideal that promotions and pay raises should be based on how long you have worked somewhere, instead of how hard and how well you work. A society where unproductive workers are protected by ‘collective’ bargaining with productive workers–who cannot opt out because union membership is often required for employment at all (how ‘free’ is that?). And a society where fear of being ‘exploited’ by the person who has actually hired you and is paying you to work, is used to actually exploit you out of 25% of your earnings, which then go almost entirely either to union bosses (who produce nothing), or politicians who keep unions in power.
Do I think that we should return to a guild system? Certainly not. But we do need to get rid of labor unions, and the ‘us versus them’ mentality inherent in their existence. Or, at least get rid of compulsory membership, and put the same onus of ‘negotiating in good faith’ on the unions as has been put on the actual companies for which they work. As a free American, I protect myself. Certainly, if there were an instance in which I needed someone else’s protection, it would not look anything like a labor union.