January 26, 2012

“Right to Work” proponents argue that states see increased economic vitality and that the laws are vital to liberty. Opponents rejoin that unions are protective bulwarks and that weakening their influence means lower wages, more hazardous conditions, and removing the last remaining obstacle to industrial domination of civil society.

The moniker of “union-busting” or “anti-unionism” arises because when such prohibitions are enacted, they weaken labor’s contracting position. As a consequence, union power is often greatly diminished and the union inevitably disbands. The end result is no membership and therefore no union.

Without any unions, even weakened ones, there is little to prevent age-old indifference to workers from resurging. In an age of largely open borders coupled with “free trade” and unfettered corporate campaign contributions, they prevent such indifference from roaring in as never before. There are currently labor laws to defend against the more obvious abuses of old, but absent a unified voice (and consolidated money to make it heard), how long can it be before the legislative trickery used in New Hampshire and Indiana is employed to demolish these protections? Once gone, can they be resurrected?

It is one thing to decry unions’ overreach, but how many of us can openly compete with the grasping hand of a poor Chinese person or a slave worker in Haiti? In an overpopulated world of seven billion scrambling souls, many individuals will work for food and nothing else. Are Americans beyond the point of these concerns, or with the relentless influx of desperate Mexicans, Indians, and Arabs, are Americans at the tipping point?

There is good reason for the opinion it is fundamentally unfair to extract union dues from unwilling participants. In this, almost all “reasonable people” agree, and I find myself wholeheartedly agreeing with the majority—which always gives me good reason to worry.

Still, it is questionable why a recognized union is forced by law to negotiate on behalf of even those workers who choose not to join. Freedom from being forced to join is no more noble than freedom from being forced to represent.

Frankly, I do not favor unions. Too often they are overly restrictive, irrational in their demands, and corrupt in their leadership. I dislike “professional associations” (the store-bought name for unions) even more. These are almost universally created to exclude otherwise capable people who refuse or cannot afford to jump through the “officially sanctioned” series of hoops. This is often coupled with the sanctimonious smirk that such organizations are for the public’s protection rather than an extortive method of artificially raising fees for a variety of services. Thus, no one should mistake me for a labor advocate in the traditional sense.

Yet this country largely seems to be uniting behind the belief that unionism as an organized lobby is anachronistic and serves no good purpose in modern society. This notion seems particularly ill-timed. As the economic crisis in which America finds itself becomes more apparent, the realization breaks that those “good jobs” gone overseas are never “coming back,” and those positions which remain will be ever more contested, leading to lower wages and higher sacrifices. As we may be moments from a very rude awakening, perhaps this is not the best hour to assess whether the nation needs to de-legislate the one effective counterbalance to corporatism.

This is all too reminiscent of the “housing bubble.” It was obvious a crash was imminent when Congress became frantic to immediately alter a theretofore largely unchanged 200-year-old bankruptcy law. That urgent “reform” was the canary in the coal mine indicating that soon millions would be unable to pay their mortgages. The present legislation is apt to preface another break in our social contract.

One price of liberty is eternal vigilance. So too the price of decency. It may be that some potential abuses go unrecognized and unrealized only because we have been protected from them for so long. We should not be too eager to revert to laissez-faire capitalism. There are times when restrictions against which one would personally rebel actually serve the greater good.

This current mania of dismantling durable protections is one such movement I cannot in good conscience join. Long experience should have taught us by now that society is far better safeguarded in even the most mediocre law than when abandoned to the whims of ostensibly good intentions.



Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!