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Useless Unions

October 24, 2011

The battle of conservatives to transform America has drawn increasingly savage fire from organized labor. Like so many relics of leftist power, labor unions spin wild tales of an awful past in order to justify their continued special status in our nation. In much the same way, so-called Civil Rights leaders view our past as pure, vile racism which it will take five hundred years to eradicate. Feminists see misogyny in everything conservatives propose, except when we defend the reputation of Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin. Environmentalists, whose roots were in the honorable Conservation movement of a century ago, now deify dirt, water, feral animals and force us to also genuflect at the altars of this false pantheon.

Leftism, without labor, is a menagerie of distasteful exhibits in a carnival freak show. Labor unions, however, profess to champion ordinary working families. Most conservative unhappiness of late has been with public employees unions, which have been toxic for state budgets and taxpayers. The image remains of industrial labor unions which have helped those folks who make America run. In particular, the right of unions to compel with a 51% vote of the workers at a shop or organize has been seen as vital to improvement of the lot of workers in America.

That is not true. Unions are granted by law the right to “bargain” on behalf of workers who do not want to be part of the union in states which are not right to work states. These unions assess dues, which are overwhelmingly used for political purposes. These workers serve a much meaner and rougher boss than their nominal employer: union overlords.

Workers in right to work states are free to form unions, to negotiate with employers and to strike. These unions, however, cannot compel workers who do not agree with the union to be bound by union contracts, to strike when unions want to strike, or to pay union dues. These sorts of unions – purely voluntary and without the legal power to coerce their members – are as legitimate as any other private association.

Liberty has sweet fruits. Unemployment in the 22 right to work states is lower than in the 28 states that do not grant individual employees the right to work without joining a union. Business in those free states can choose rationally how to use workers not bound by union contracts. In a fast-changing, information and technology driven economy, that ability to respond quickly to an evolving business climate is vital.

In the 28 states without right to work, employers are not free to lay off workers when the rational need for workers is low, so the fact that unemployment is actually higher in those states masks the fact that the employment rate of economically needed workers in right to work states is even higher than in the 28 states which allow union contracts which demand that unproductive workers remain on the payroll. Beyond that, union bosses are just another layer of bureaucracy which must be fed from the labors of genuinely productive people. These bureaucrats, like all bureaucrats, must invent work to do and that, in turn, creates more work in businesses and in labor relations lawyers to represent business.

Worse, these union bureaucrats must constantly stoke the myths of employer oppression. They must be closet socialists and latent Marxists. If the market rewards employers who use employees efficiently, fairly and honorably and if it punishes employers who treat employees like medieval serfs, then the whole rationale for having unions tumbles like a deck of cards. Of course, the argument for exploited workers is pure hokum in America. People are free to quit jobs when they want and take better jobs when they want. People are free to move to regions with greener pastures. People are also free to create their own businesses or to work as contract labor for firms.

No one in America ever made a man work in a coal mine or in a steel mill. The worker chose that because, on balance, that seemed the best work for him. Savvy employers like Henry Ford paid his workers very high wages with the conscious intention that this would enable them to buy his Model T (and they did.) Businesses like Bell Telephone, Pillsbury and Sears introduced profit sharing in the early part of the last century and today almost one quarter of all workers participate in these sorts of plans. The path up the corporate ladder has allowed people from very humble backgrounds to reach the pinnacle of the business world. The relationship between employers and employees in American business history has been symbiotic, not exploitive.

Unraveling the sappy and dull thinking of Marx and his embittered disciples really undoes leftism itself. Useless unions would have no rationale for existence except the lust for power of its bosses. Take unions out of politics and all that remains is the gaggle of dirt worshippers, unbalanced feminists and civil rights straw bosses.

That is why Republicans, not just in the presidential race but particularly in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania, should make right to work a top priority. Conventional political wisdom once urged Republicans to simply ignore unions. The vicious battles against modest reforms in Wisconsin prove that ignoring union power is both wrongheaded and unnecessary. Unions lose political fights, when the fights are head-on and not glancing. Ending forced union membership as a condition of employment would provide a transfusion of enterprise to business in America, it would demonstrate the dangerous folly of socialism, and it would remove the corrupting power of union armies in American elections.

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Copyright ©2011 Bruce Walker

Bruce Walker is a long-time conservative writer whose work is published regularly at popular conservative sites such as American Thinker.