This Land Is Their Land


Those whose images of Southern California are still influenced by our strong local history of brutally won "industrial freedom" may be surprised to learn that L.A. is bucking national trends by becoming an increasingly unionized town, riddled with various strikes. Public sector bus mechanics have been walking picket lines for a month, screwing over 500,000 working class commuters and making street traffic roughly 37 percent worse. More popularly, 70,000 big-chain supermarket employees have been on a combo strike/lockout since Oct. 11, introducing tens of thousands to the yuppie-hippie delights of Trader Joe's.

For a random case study in how unions are muscling out non-union competitors, at taxpayer expense and via political influence, this Michael Hiltzik column in the L.A. Times is interesting. The punchline: the non-union shop summarily fired was a subcontracted janitorial firm who for the last eight years have been servicing the capitalists over at UCLA's Anderson School.

NEXT: Gaydar Love

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  1. Kevin: Interesting. I had never considered that an employer would actually prefer a shop clause. If the employers wants the requirement, it seems they are best allowed to do so.

    The union makes a contract to be the exclusive supplier of labor for a given shop. If I already work there, and don’t want to join the union, I’ll have to find other work. If I apply for the open spot, I know that membership is a contractual condition of employment.

    Logically, it soods good. There’s still something wrong, somewhere, in a system that prevents me from being hired for whatever (non-union) wage I’m willing to work for. Must have to do with the exclusive/monoply nature of the contract?

  2. I suspect the anonymous poster of 12:13 p.m. is being sarcastic. I certainly hope so.

    The government should not be involved one way or the other in employment contracts, whether by mandating collective bargaining or by prohibiting closed shops. The NLRA should be repealed, and let the chips fall where they may.

    As for “public sector” unions, they should not exist at all.

  3. Kevin and Mark, you run into problems when you consider government work with shop clauses. Teachers and school administrators come to mind. That’s a government position requiring membership into the teachers union or the admin. union. Now you have governmental hiring practices that discriminate on the basis of association. What do you say?

  4. As I recall, the US loses far more work days per capita to strikes than France does. In fact, of the OECD, France is the least unionized country in that organization. And on a per-capita basis, American labor strikes two and half times more than French labor does.

  5. Unions may be libertarian “free associations” in theory, but the practice is much uglier. Setting aside the pervasive and seemingly unstoppable organized crime presence and corruption in unions, the basic union tactic is profoundly unlibertarian.

    Picket lines are all about, at a minimum, intimidating potential replacement workers with the threat of violence. All too often, unions resort to real violence to disrupt freedom of contract between employers and replacement workers. Libertarians tend to be opposed to initiating or threatening force.

    Union law in the US is also profoundly unlibertarian. It amounts to a series of restrictions on employer’s rights to free speech, free association, and contract, while giving unions a series of exemptions from various criminal and anti-trust laws.

  6. Unions will only be libertarian the day that they allow more than one union to represent the same class of workers at an employer. It’s either in the union or out of it, I can’t start up my own new union and poach members from the other union if I want to.

  7. I agree with R.C. Dean, more or less.

    In principle, there is nothing wrong with a group of people saying “We have formed an association to sell our services, and we will use the market power of large numbers to improve our bargaining position.” It’s no different from, say, ManPower getting a large share in the temp market, or various health care corporations hiring lots of doctors so they get a larger market share. It isn’t much fun for consumers, but in a free market the suppliers have the right to organize and negotiate exclusive contracts, and a union is just suppliers of labor organizing.

    As for the notion that it’s unlibertarian for union membership to be a condition of employment: Suppose I ran a computer business and had a whole bunch of IT and tech support personnel working for me. Suppose I went to various firms and said “We’ll do your IT and tech support, on the condition that you sign an exclusive contract.” And I offer them a deal that persuades the firms to use my services. So then somebody goes to one of these firms and says “Hey, I can do tech support.” And the firm says “That’s nice, but you’ll have to get hired by thoreau’s computer services firm before you can work here.”

    Nobody here would object, because I would be a business owner with people working for me, and I negotiated a contract. But if I were a plumber, and I was acting as the agent for a bunch of other plumbers because of my negotiating skills, people here would get all upset that I negotiated a contract saying “All plumbers who want to work at such-and-such company have to join thoreau’s association of plumbers.”

    In practice, of course, unions are often aided by coercive laws, and I’m not about to defend that. And sometimes they are aided by the mafia or they engage in violence and vandalism, and I’m not about to defend that.

    So I defend the principle behind unions, or at least one of the possible principles behind unions, but I don’t defend all of the practices.

  8. I’m still stuck on Kevin’s point, if the employer contracts with a shop clause.

    If it was a contract to be an exclusive supplier of widgets, not people, it makes perfect sense (to have guaranteed supply, price stability, etc.).

    Aha!? — The union usually makes a contract with multiple employers, not just one. As a worker, I can’t just go to another shop and punch in, I am still bound by the union. Either legally or illicitly, I am forbidden from practicing my trade outside the union.

    Thanks for the help, all.

  9. by what right does the union contract for ALL employees at a given shop? (Other than threats involving baseball bats to the anti-union workers’ cars)

  10. Seriously-

    The union has NO right to negotiate for all employees at that shop (or at least it shouldn’t, I have no clue what the labor laws actually say, but just because it’s a law doesn’t mean it’s good). But a union has a right to say “We will offer you our services on the condition that you only hire from our union.” And the employer can take the deal and fire the non-union workers, or it can say “thanks, but no thanks.”

    I know, some people are freaking out about my statement. But what if I was the CEO of a company selling some brand of snack food. And I made a deal with a store that I would sell them my snack food at a discount (which they then turn around and sell to customers at a markup) if they don’t sell any food made by my competitors. Nobody here would freak out if the store said to other food companies “We’ve decided to sell thoreau’s snacks, which means that under the terms of the contract we’ll have to stop buying from you guys.” (Assume that this doesn’t conflict with the terms of pre-existing contracts with other food manufacturers.)

    So if it’s OK for a business selling products to say “we want an exclusive contract”, and if it’s OK for a company that hires service personnel (e.g. the tech support people in my previoust post) to negotiate an exclusive contract, why is it not OK for a bunch of truck drivers to get together, form an association, and negotiate an exclusive contract?

    Is the free market only there for the benefit of business owners, or is it there for the benefit of all parties to a transaction?

  11. thoreau: But the whole thing is irrational! Game theory would prove that SOMEONE would go behind their fellow workers and make their own deal.

    If they couldn’t then their labor must be a commodity, which means anyone in the fricking world could move in and make their own deal individually (since any laborer would be as good as another). Which is why they need to indimate both their employers and (more importantly) FELLOW WORKERS with threats of violence.

    OK maybe in theory Unions have a right to exist in the mystical “free market”. But in practice they are THUGS!

  12. thoreau: But the whole thing is irrational! Game theory would prove that SOMEONE would go behind their fellow workers and make their own deal.

    If they couldn’t then their labor must be a commodity, which means anyone in the fricking world could move in and make their own deal individually (since any laborer would be as good as another). Which is why they need to indimate both their employers and (more importantly) FELLOW WORKERS with threats of violence.

    OK maybe in theory Unions have a right to exist in the mystical “free market”. But in practice they are THUGS!

  13. Where in my posts have I ever defended violence by union members (or anybody else)?

    I’m not saying unions will flourish and dominate the labor market in a pure capitalist libertopia. I’m saying that I don’t like a lot of the criticisms leveled at union workers on these boards. Want to criticize violence? Go for it. Labor laws that restrict the ability of one or more parties to bargain? Bash away.

    But a lot of people seem to think that exclusive contracts are “unfair” in principle, even if they were (hypothetically) negotiated voluntarily. Libertarians whining that a freely negotiated contract would still be “unfair”? That’s a new one. Seems more like a bias for the business owner and against the employees. Me, I’m a fan of the free market, which means that I don’t play favorites among the various parties to a transaction. The employers trading money for labor and the employees trading labor for money are both just people engaging in a transaction, and as long as they both agree to it voluntarily there’s no sense in saying “that was unfair” for either side.

  14. RC and Seriously, your opposition to violence is commendable. I look forward to your posts about Pinkertons.

  15. who said that I am defending the Pinkertons? But if you occupied my factory I would kick your ass out! Or likewise if I made my own deal and you threated to beat me as a “scab” be prepared for a fight!

    thoreau is playing with defintions -! He is saying that unions are defined as “groups of individual workers freely contracting with an employer” when in both theory and in practice the labor movement has been based on VIOLENCE by some workers against managment/ownership and OTHER WORKERS! The bias is for some workers violently oppressing other workers from freely contacting!

    The proper definition of these types of groups is THUGS!

  16. But a lot of people seem to think that exclusive contracts are “unfair” in principle, even if they were (hypothetically) negotiated voluntarily.

    I got no problem with that. Unfortunately, I doubt anyone could point to an actual exclusive contract with a union that was entered into voluntarily. It may be a hypothetical possibility, but I doubt it has happened.

    I look forward to your posts about Pinkertons.

    I hereby place myself of record as decrying violence initiated by owners as well as that initiated by unions.

    Having said that, it is my experience that, in recent years, the unions are the source of the overwhelming majority of labor-related violence and miscellaneous other malfeasance. It is also my contention that business owners do not rely on intimidation or the kinds of protective special legislation that are essential to the survival of unions. Look at the footage of any strike – it is union members screaming at people, beating on their cars, etc. The business owners do not engage in anything of the kind with respect to union members.

    Regardless of the theoretical possibilities of free association and exclusive contracting, in reality I do not believe a union cannot survive without engaging in activities that would be illegal for anyone else.

  17. Throughout history, capital has used violence to get its way just as much, if not more, than labor. It is silly to single out unions for introducing violence into the equation, silly and dishonest.

    That’s a lot of exclaimation points you got there. You’re going to start swearing at me now, aren’t you?

  18. Seriously-

    So, just so we’re clear, if an employer negotiated an exclusive contract with some agency providing workers (be it a union demanding that the employer only hire its members or a corporation that provides tech support personnel or whatever) and there was (hypothetically) no violence and the negotiation was not hampered by various laws, would you say it’s “unfair”?

    An aspiring employee can still get a job. He just has to either sign a union membership card or apply to the company providing temps/tech support/whatever.

    I’m not suggesting that all union contracts were accomplished by these free market methods. I just want to ask a question of principles (and principles are the things that we libertarians care about above all else, it often seems).

  19. As I recall, the US loses far more work days per capita to strikes than France does

    Um, ok. Do you have a reference for that?

  20. I’m afraid R.C.’s completely wrong. Parroting right-wing propaganda is not always the route to the truth. Check out this link for more on the ludicrousness of the union corruption canard.

    Notwithstanding its lack of importance as an issue, the Bush administration has imposed one of the most severe regulatory attacks against unions. Link here. I’ll note I haven’t read anything in Reason about this.

    As for R.C.’s law points, unions have a minimal antitrust exemption, which happens to be shared exactly equally by employers. There is no exemption from any criminal law that I am aware of (although NRO for some reason thinks there is), and I practice labor law all day long as a union lawyer. Far from living in some law-free zone, unions are very heavily regulated and the law favors employers, not unions. When was the last time you heard an employers organization calling for the repeal of the NLRA?

  21. RC: Pragmatically the Union could threaten the owners with destruction of his factory or assets. but would that get the Union higher wages???!

    No, the whole point of organzied labor is to intimidate non-union workers, which gives the Union a violence-propped monopoly of labor to deal against the owner.

  22. thoreau: such an agency would be fair, but it wouldn’t be what we mean by “union”

    joe: capitalists do not require violence to deal. “organized labor” does and it is mainly directed a labor (non-union workers). see above and address my points!

    john q missed the whole essenece of unionism, it isn’t workers vs. capitalists, it is worker vs. worker.

  23. R.C. Dean doubts that exclusive contracts could be negotiated in the real world without violence, threats of violence, and/or government regulations favoring the union.

    What if a temp agency negotiated an exclusive contract with a company? I don’t know if it happens much, but it seems very plausible.

    What if a single radiology practice negotiated with a large hospital so that all radiology services at that hospital will be handled by that single medical group? I’m pretty sure that such things have happened. (I’m not a doctor, but many of my relatives are, and I’m pretty sure one of them is working in such an arrangement. I’ll have to ask him.)

    What if a privately owned office building negotiated an exclusive contract with, say, Pinkerton, so that all of the security personnel at that building are from Pinkerton? I’m pretty sure that has happened.

    I guess exclusive contracts for labor happen all the time. But for some reason people here get upset if the people negotiating the contracts are themselves ordinary employees rather than executives. If the executive of Manpower negotiates an exclusive contract for temp workers, people here have no problem. But if the negotiator is himself a temp worker people here tend to be upset. Sounds suspiciously like class warfare in reverse…

  24. john q missed the whole essenece of unionism, it isn’t workers vs. capitalists, it is worker vs. worker.

    Right, that’s what workers tell me all the time while they’re trying to organize unions. Not.

    You’ve made a theoretical point, but that’s it. Organizing a labor union brings workers rewards far beyond any increased ability to exclude those willing to work for less.

  25. Seriously, do a little reading. There are hundreds of examples of anti-worker violence instigated by businessowners. Battle of the Overpass? Chicago riots?

    The established facts of history prove your predictive theory of how capitalists behave to be wrong.

    Which is not to single out capitalists, merely to point out the uselessness of assailing either side as uniquely prone to violence.

  26. Oops, don’t forgot you can’t say anything bad about France when the Merde-ovingian is around. It will only result in an avalanche of statistics, whether true or not, that back up what merdie already believes.

  27. thoreau: if we define a group by its behavior what you describe is still not a union! Unions are groups of workers that monopolize the labor of an employer! They do this by threats to other workers — strikes, pickets, threatening scabs!

    john q — hearsay isn’t a reasoned argument! and the fact is that organized labor unfairly shits on other workers.

    joe – citing your sacred “left mythology” is not an argument either. you still have to show how violence is necessary for a capitalist. and this is all besides the point since the main thread of unionism not dependant on the behavior of capitalists as it is on (unjust!) behavior of some workers toward another.

  28. john q — hearsay isn’t a reasoned argument! and the fact is that organized labor unfairly shits on other workers.

    What are you talking about? And while we’re on the subject of stength of reasoning, what kind of argument is this?: “the fact is that organized labor shits on other workers.” You’ve got me convinced. 😉

  29. Ok I think Seriously may have been kicked in the teeth by a union boss or something. That aside, is there actually anything to my earlier comment about discrimination of association in regard to union contracts with government jobs?

    Regarding thoreau’s points, it seems as though he’s asking us to concede that there is nothing inherently illegal about unions in theory, to which I must respond, “Duh. They would have been ruled as such a long time ago if there was.” What is primarily seen as the vice of unions IMO is the normalization of benefits and production caused by collectivism, their barrier to entry, their anti-business rhetoric and practices (understandably so), and their perceived use of violence.

    On the barrier to entry point, and I believe it was brought up earlier, I have some vague notion that it is illegal to form multiple unions for the same labor category. I’m not an expert, but if that’s the case, then that seems like a pretty big problem. Again, I guess hypothetically, this isn’t necessary, but “even communism works in theory”, right?

  30. But I don’t believe violence IS necessary for capitalists, merely that some of them have practiced it in order to sqeeze a little bit more money out of an operation, or to defend some misguided sense of principle. Carnegie, for example, got the government to send in National Guardsmen to bail himself out of labor problems, because of his deep seated commitment to rugged individualism.

    Mythology. I guess that now means “documented historical episodes that tend to refute what I want to believe.”

    You ended one of your comments with “…but in practice they are THUGS!” in order to demonstrate that, whatever the theory of how unions operate, when the rubber hits the road, they employ violence. Well, whatever your theory of how capitalism operates, when the rubber hit the road in the 19th and early 20th century, they used violence as well – until they were prevented from doing so by the government. Once again, I’m not advancing some Marxist theory of all capitalism being based on violence, just punching a few holes in your union/managment black/white Satan/Angel theory.

  31. Hmm.

    I was once a member of the Teamsters. Not by choice, but in order to do the work I had to be a member (although it was some sort of temporary membership, I don’t think I would have been able to vote in the union).

    As Seriousl posted, hearsay isn’t much of an argument, but I know plenty of workers who joined unions because they had no choice, not because they wanted to be part of a union.

  32. I swear I’m not trying to get on joe’s case specifically, but workers are just as capitalistic as business owners. In the case of labor, the worker is the supplier and the business owner is the consumer.

    Not all labor unions behave as guilds. Some (many?) unions are in effect a cartel of suppliers. Whether one thinks of that as unlibertarian or not doesn’t matter as much as one’s stance regarding cartels of suppliers. If the automakers organized a cartel, how is that any different from auto workers forming a cartel?

    I suppose one could argue that there is a supply of “jobs” and a supply of “labor”, but the supply of jobs is dictated by the demand for the output of the business.

  33. Regarding thoreau’s points, it seems as though he’s asking us to concede that there is nothing inherently illegal about unions in theory

    Obviously they’re not illegal. I’m saying there’s nothing anti-market about them (in theory), just as it isn’t anti-market for Pinkerton to negotiate an exclusive contract to handle all security duties at a mall or office building or whatever. Pinkerton, Manpower, and UAW are all suppliers of labor, and they provide that labor via exclusive contracts.

    Of course, the tactics used by those 3 groups may differ, but the point is that there’s nothing anti-market about exclusive contracts. That’s all.

    Once again, there is nothing anti-market about exclusive contracts. The anti-market aspect only comes in if they are obtained by coercive or violent means. So complain all you want about their tactics. But I can’t stand when people say “It’s unfair that people negotiate exclusive contracts.” And I saw a few posts to that effect.

    That’s my only point. There’s nothing anti-market about exclusive contracts if the contracts are negotiated voluntarily.

  34. I think Russ nailed it. If workers can collude on wage negotiations, why can’t employers?

  35. Mark Fox,

    FWIW, I’m in the I.W.W., which is officially opposed to exclusive representation, dues checkoffs, or closed shops. The Wobs attempt “minority unionism” in a lot of shops where there is no local certified. “Two-card” Wobblies also tend to have trouble with the leadership of establishment locals. In fact, many AFL-CIO unions have rules excluding from office members who also have membership in any other union–a policy obviously designed to prevent radical IWW caucuses from developing in mainstream unions.

    My main objection to the right to work laws, beyond interference with contract as such, is that they compel locals to represent scabs who don’t pay dues. I’d greatly prefer they be able to either assess fees for service for scabs who come for help, demand payment of dues from then on, or refuse service. But I don’t like the idea of the closed shop, because it means people who hate the union and are scabs at heart are able to vote on contracts.


    The federal government actually has a “right to work” law covering most federal employees.

    Regarding all the posts which have brought up the issue of labor violence, I think this quote from Benjamin Tucker is on the mark:

    “….It is not enough, however true, to say that, ‘if a man has labor to sell, he must find some one with money to buy it’; it is necessary to add the much more important truth that, if a man has labor to sell, he has a right to a free market in which to sell it, – a market in which no one shall be prevented by restrictive laws from honestly obtaining the money to buy it. If the man with labor to sell has not this free market, then his liberty is violated and his property virtually taken from him. Now, such a market has constantly been denied, not only to the laborers at Homestead, but to the laborers of the entire civilized world. And the men who have denied it are the Andrew Carnegies. Capitalists of whom this Pittsburgh forge-master is a typical representative have placed and kept upon the statute-books all sorts of prohibitions and taxes (of which the customs tariff is among the least harmful) designed to limit and effective in limiting the number of bidders for the labor of those who have labor to sell….

    “….Let Carnegie, Dana & Co. first see to it that every law in violation of equal liberty is removed from the statute-books. if, after that, any laborers shall interfere with the rights of their employers, or shall use force upon inoffensive ‘scabs,’ or shall attack their employers’ watchmen, whether these be Pinkerton detectives, sheriff’s deputies, or the State militia, I pledge myself that, as an Anarchist and in consequence of my Anarchistic faith, I will be among the first to volunteer as a member of a force to repress these disturbers of order and, if necessary, sweep them from the earth. But while these invasive laws remain, I must view every forcible conflict that arises as the consequence of an original violation of liberty on the part of the employing classes, and, if any sweeping is done, may the laborers hold the broom! Still, while my sympathies thus go with the under dog, I shall never cease to proclaim my conviction that the annihilation of neither party can secure justice, and that the only effective sweeping will be that which clears from the statute-book every restriction of the freedom of the market….”

    “The Lesson of Homestead,” Liberty, July 23, 1892, in Instead of a Book pp. 454-55.

  36. joe: the fact that some capitalists have used violence does not disprove that unions are inherently violent thugs that push out other workers through force.

    thoreau: i agree that there isn’t anything anti-market about exclusive contracts. my point is that it is irrational for ALL workers to sign such a contract instead of pursuing their own deal, hence unions can only exist by stopping this through coercion.

  37. Tucker summarized: “some people are violent thugs and it is wrong, so in response act like a violent thug…”

    no wonder nobody reads his BS!

  38. “joe: the fact that some capitalists have used violence does not disprove that unions are inherently violent thugs that push out other workers through force.”

    Agreed. Nor does the fact that some unionists have used violence against their employers’ agents prove that unions are inherently violent thugs that push out other works through force.

  39. joe: the fact that all unionized workers must rationally intimidate other workers in order to monopolize a labor supply is why unions are inhearnetly violent thugs that push out other workers through force. a monopolized labor supply, created by fear of violence by non-union workers, is the unions MOST IMPORTANT card.

    threating to blow up the factory or beating up company agents is just nihilistic terrorism that is actually counter-productive (biting the hand that feeds). i agree that partis the most attractive of the grand labor romantic mythology of noble workers fighting evil capitlaists!

    more exiting than the truth of screwing over some workers in the name of “workers solidarity!!” (which is at least rational, though disgustingly immoral!)

  40. Seriously-

    The significance of exclusive contracts is that you don’t need all of the workers to sign them. You just get the employer to sign it with one group of workers. The employer agrees to only hire members of that group. Other workers then join the union not out of fondness for the union, but because they want to work for a company that has already signed an exclusive contract and they decide that union membership is an acceptable tradeoff for that job.

    I freely acknowledge that unions as they are often constituted probably wouldn’t be able to get many such exclusive contracts without either violence or gov’t assistance via labor laws. One lesson for unions may come from the success of firms like Manpower, Pinkerton, and a whole host of other service firms. Service companies don’t just provide warm bodies. They generally train the warm bodies, they have their own payroll and HR departments so that the client firm won’t need to handle those matters, etc.

    If unions augmented their current roles (aggressive negotiators representing a large market share) with the role of service provider (by handling more functions so the employer doesn’t have to) they might be able to thrive without violence and/or gov’t intervention.

  41. Picket lines depend not on threats of violence, but on shame and PR. That’s why they yell, “Shame! Shame!” at the scabs. Now, of course you could dig up an example at variance with what I wrote above, and pass it off as exemplary. But then, I could dig up Timothy McVeigh as a stand in for all those who want a smaller federal government.

    I think the Union Terrorist that lives in your head must be a lot of fun to argue with, but you clearly have very little understanding of the subject, beyond what the anti-worker partisans tell you. Hint: the best source for information about sheep is not The Daily Wolf.

  42. thoreau: would they still be unions then? what you describe is an interesting business model, a service company that is mutally benificial for all parties.

    something tells me that it lacks the romantic mythology of being part of a “labor movement” that seems to drive these syndicates. the heart of unionism is a zero-sum game that pits violent groups of workers against hapless individual workers. that is the driving force of their existance.

  43. The day is fast approaching when the preservation instincts of unions will come to head with their ostensible goal of existing for the benefit of laborers.

    Shutting down California ports so as to prevent the docks from adopting the awesome 1980s technology of bar code scanners doesn’t help workers. Whining until you get tariffs that raise the price of steel on everyone else doesn’t help workers. Demanding more breaks and more insurance in a global economy doesn’t help workers. Doing the same in the face of machines that can entirely replace laborers once they become too expensive doesn’t help workers.

    They are sliding into irrelevance, and like the petulant child who is being ignored, occasionally have to make a scene.

    There is no problem with people choosing to form unions, but there is a problem with the government allowing contracts that discriminate based on union membership, but don’t allow contracts that discriminate based on any other criteria. The freedom of contract argument seems a bit out of place in the context of modern labor laws.

  44. picket lines exist to physically block “scabs” from entering the building, by clustering and throwing objects. that is violent force. But usually the threats were more veiled (busted car windows, whispered threats). I say “were” since unions are now backed by the State and pickets are mostly PR to force the State invervene.

    and I didn’t say unions were terrorists. nice try. I said some have acted that way in the past.

    And sorry but Unions are by their nature anti-worker. They are monopolies that exclude other workers.

    But keep that romanitc myth of the noble unions vs. evil capitalists alive joe! it is truly more noble than reality! And don’t even rationally consider my arguments, better to poop out what your 8th grade teachers-union history book told you while accusing me of non-thinking!

  45. Joe-

    I actually agree with you, the violence is (probably) overstated, at least nowadays. I now union members, and I’m witnessing the grocery strikes out here right now, and it seems like violence is a lot rarer than it was once upon a time. I just refer to it my posts because it’s easier to concede an ancillary point (where I could very well be wrong anyway) that somebody else is firmly convinced of.

    I suspect that somebody here will complain about the shame tactics used by unions. Um, what is so awful about people waving signs and saying “So-and-so is bad! Don’t go into this store!” if there’s no violence or threat of violence accompanying it?

    I doubt anybody here would complain if people protested outside a movie that really hammered on the issue of gun control. (I’ve seen a few such movies.) If gun owners stood outside a theater with signs saying “Gun control is bad! Don’t see this movie!” I doubt anybody here would get upset.

    So I sure hope nobody here gets bent out of shape over some grocery clerk with a sign saying “Albertson’s is bad! Don’t shop here!”

  46. thoreau: I was discussing this within rational behavior of the “free market” – not today were unions work through the State. No problem with “Shaming” (though it is irrational beviour doomed to fail) but don’t kid yourself, the violence is still its animating force.

  47. Far from living in some law-free zone, unions are very heavily regulated and the law favors employers, not unions.

    Oddly, the labor lawyers I work with all represent management, and are very clear thta labor law, especially as administered by the National Labor Relations Board, favors unions. I have never hear of a union calling for repeal of the NLRA either, so I don’t think any conclusions can be drawn from that.

    Labor law imposes very significant restrictions on the speech, associations, and contract rights of employers. I don’t think anyone can dispute that. Remove these restrictions, and unions would quickly wither away, because they cannot survive competition in an open labor marketplace.

    Labor law permits unions to lie in negotiations, and to engage in actions that amount to threats of violence. The notion that the antitrust exemption for unions is equally useful to employers is ludicrous; it may be written that way, but it sure doesn’t work that way in the real world.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that violence used to be worse than it is now, but many strikes become quite violent. Picket lines in high visibility areas (like grocery stores) may be relatively well-behaved, but people crossing picket lines in less-traveled industrial areas are routinely physically abused and threatened. I’ve seen the tapes, folks, and it ain’t “Pinkertons” smashing up people’s cars, hitting people with placards, stabbing and hitting, shooting, etc. Its the union.

    Its a shame, really, because voluntary worker’s associations could be a big part of the civil society treasured by libertarians. Modern labor unions, though, have very little to do with civil society.

  48. unions only exist due to the non application of the law against assault

    all picket lines are instances of assault, due to the historic and recent examples of brutal beatings, egg throwing, etc of people who cross them. therefore anyone who is picketing as part of a strike should serve time for a felony

    then, if the union doesn’t use physical coercion, and without government mandated closed shop agreements (most instance you must sign with the union over a certain vote, and then they represent everyone, and you must sign a closed shop agreement… not just 54% of people want you to fire 46% which you would then tell them all to screw off)

    but as it stands now: pinkertons, please bash all their skulls…

  49. hey-

    Saying that all picket lines are instances of assault due to historical context (even the modern day peaceful picket line in front of my local Albertson’s, where the picketers were chatting amiably with the store manager) is the sort of reasoning I’d expect from a leftist in a “sensitivity training workshop.”

    Condemn the violence, condemn the laws that intervene in employment decisions, but don’t suggest that the guy in front of Albertson’s chatting amiably with the store manager should be charged with a felony.

    (And yes, I know, the guy that I saw could be the isolated exception, but the point was to refute a ridiculous blanket assertion, and for that purpose exceptions are valid arguments.)

  50. R.C. Dean,

    Sweeney actually suggested several years back that unions might be better off if Congress repealed Wagner and Taft-Hartley, left Norris-Laguardia in place (to keep federal courts out of the picture altogether), and let labor and management fight it out mano a mano. I don’t know how seriously he meant it.

    But in the atmosphere of the last couple of decades, it is probably harder to get workers to agree, in cold blood, to take union cards and go through the years of punitive firings and appeals, than it was in the ’30s to simply walk into a factory full of pissed-off people and say “Down your tools!”


    Unions do a lot more than just exclude workers who are willing to accept lower rates of pay. A union contract also provides job security against “without cause” termination, and a grievance process. It’s a lot more pleasant on the job when you can’t just be arbitrarily fired by some asshole boss.

  51. Kevin-

    I can already anticipate the response to your statement about job security. “Who says you have a right to job security?”

    Answer: Nobody. You only have a right to what’s in your contract, and how good your contract is depends on how much market power you have. Market power is gained by being a strong competitor. Unions use numbers to be strong competitors. Just like large corporations often buy out other firms to remain large and be strong competitors.

    Anyway, I like your post Kevin, and I wanted to amplify on it.

  52. thoreau,

    Hell, even Bill Buckley said, in a Firing Line symposium on organized labor, that unions were necessary to an extent. Without them, he said, people would be fired the day before they qualified for retirement benefits, or something.

  53. “…there is a problem with the government allowing contracts that discriminate based on union membership, but don’t allow contracts that discriminate based on any other criteria.”

    Thanks, Jason. A contract with thoreau consulting is paid to thoreau, who then pays the workers. It is up to thoreau consulting to meet the employer’s staffing needs, or he’ll get replaced by Manpower. In the union arrangement, the employer directly pays only approved union workers. That seems similar to contracting to pay only Protestant males with biblical names, which is probably silly and certainly illegal.

  54. BTW Merovingian: Does the US suffer more lost work from strikes because we work more than the French in the first place? If a Frenchman struck during August, who would notice? 🙂

  55. In my opinion the problems arise when collective bargaining wields too much power. Take the case of the strike in the LA ports. A sound labor saving technology was not implemented because the unions would collectively strike due to lost union jobs. Keep in mind some of these people have a job that requires walking around and logging information on a form and getting paid in excess of 100K a year. All for a job that anyone of moderate capability could learn in hours.

    I anticipate I’ll get lots of argument on some of these points, but I’ll go ahead and make them somewhat unsubstantiated anyway for the sake of provoking discussion.

    In the past unions have been criticized for the cronyism that has allegedly been present. Born into a Union job and your set for life. If not good luck getting in.

    Kevin mentions getting fired prior to receipt of benefits. I won’t disagree that this is a real problem as I have an aunt that was a victim of this. I would argue however that laws and contracts would be a more appropriate solution than collective bargaining.

    As to the point of being fired because the boss is an asshole. I would contend that it’s more the case, that unions are responsible for forcing the continuation of the employment of lazy, drunk asshole employees than the former.


  56. Sounds like France.

  57. Hold the phones, old Corproate-Warmonger Mattie Welchie is calling out the pinkertons on the workers all in the name of the “free market”.

    Sorry Welcie, but unions are completely libertarian entities. Workers have a right to picket on store’s property and beat up scabs because these “capitalists” are really using the state to exploit labor.

  58. anon – What’s with diminuitizing both “Matt” and “Welch”? Just start speaking English recently? And what’s with the assertion that union-ies have the “right” to beat up the scabbies? Maybe they should also have the right to set scabbies on fire, and warm up chili over their smouldering corpses.

  59. anon: Unions are libertarian if membership is not a requirement of employment. And nobdy has a “right” to be on private property without the owner’s permission.

    I enjoy how the bus strike is saving MTA $20 million per month. It points to a solution for California’s budget shortfall.

  60. Mark Fox,

    So you’re saying the government should legally prohibit employers from negotiating a union shop clause in labor contracts? Sounds an awful lot like a right-to-work law, which is a government infringement of the freedom of contract.

  61. My image of SoCal is the TV and movie business, and that’s heavily unionized.

  62. Seriously, if a picket line actually physically blocked people from enterring a workplace, the people involved in that behavior would be arrested. In fact, the only time this tactic is used these days, to my knowledge, is in order to get some footage of people getting arrested on the nightly news.

    And your comment “and I didn’t say unions were terrorists. nice try. I said some have acted that way in the past.” is deeply dishonest, because you explicitly, in several of your posts above, waved the bloody shirt of beaten scabs to smear all unions as being founded on violence. Are you running away from that position now?

    hey sez “all picket lines are instances of assault, due to the historic and recent examples of brutal beatings, egg throwing, etc of people who cross them. therefore anyone who is picketing as part of a strike should serve time for a felony” and now I have to go get the spade and dig up McVeighs nasty carcass. You know, the historic and recent example of anti-big government terrorism.

  63. I would argue however that laws and contracts would be a more appropriate solution than collective bargaining.

    Most here would probably question the desirability of laws concerning economic matters.

    As for contracts, collective bargaining is a way to obtain a good contract.

  64. EMAIL:
    DATE: 02/27/2004 10:54:48
    Fashion exists for women with no taste, etiquette for people with no breeding.

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