Like most people, I simply saw unions as an arbitrarily good or bad thing without giving the topic much further thought. This essay by Beaver provides an in-depth analysis on why unions are needed, why they go bad and subsequently end up loathed, and ultimately how they work and how they could be fixed. Some of his analysis ends up disturbing because they brush upon bigger, more alarming trends that are going on in society:
Before I begin, let me dispel any possible ambiguity by stating that I am talking about worker unions. This might sound unnecessary, but many people who post here do not have english as their native language and may see the word “union” as meaning something else. On to the topic itself.
In an ideal world, unions would not be necessary. But this is far from an ideal world.
It would be absurd to expect the lone common worker to be capable of facing his employer alone on any issue. The employer has much greater resources at his disposal and without proper regulations, has nothing stopping him from abusing these resources to simply crush any demand coming his way, legitimate or not. His relationship to his employees becomes one of pseudo-slavery: Though the employees can quit at any time, they do so at the cost of their revenue, and thus of their food, clothing and housing. The only difference between such an individual and a slave is that he gets to pick his master, and even then that is a presumptuous assumption: He does not always have another master to pick.
And thus worker unions appear. The workers unite and work together to make demands of the employer. Alone they are weak, but united they possess the resources they need to force an otherwise uncaring superior to bend to their demands. Some however question the legitimacy of unions, and point to the flaws which have shown themselves in this system in recent decades. Let us examine this further.
A common claim, especially among libertarians, is that worker unions are pointless. Supposedly, if the worker is unsatisfied with his lot, he can simply go to another employer. This supposedly creates a system where employers must compete for employees and only those offering proper wages and working conditions are able to retain their employees. I am tempted to not even give such drivel the honor of a retort, but I am forced to. Too many people have fallen for these idealistic lies, and thus I must explain why such a system is but a pipe dream.
First of all, this implies that labor is a limited resource. It is not. Labor is widely available, and in fact, the opposite is true: Jobs are the limiting factor. Jobs are in limited supply, especially in today’s economy. A man cannot merely leave his bread-winner for another one. He is far from guaranteed to find another one, especially if he is uneducated. So already, we see that the libertarian dream of employers having to compete for employees is but this, a dream. Rather, it is potential employees competing for jobs. And when your choice is between a low wage job with poor work conditions and homelessness and starvation, it is not a choice, it becomes an obligation. Though what I just said would suffice to bring down the libertarian myth of unions’ uselessness, I am not done.
Another aspect that people must remember is that workers sometimes do not have the luxury of picking. Maybe they live in a small town with only one big factory. Or maybe they don’t have a car and there’s no public transport where they live. It matters little. The truth is that to many people, there is only one possible employer, and moving is not an option available to them, nor is subsistence farming.
And if it wasn’t enough, we also have to consider the truth of employer collusion. Employers will collude to keep their wages and working conditions similar. They have nothing to gain by competing for employees, and a lot to gain by agreeing to all offer the same miserable wages and working conditions. Thus, the idea that they will compete for workers is further proven wrong.
However, this does not mean unions are perfect. Far from it.
One issue which unions face constantly is corruption, and anyone who’s had to deal with them knows of it. But the issue itself is merely the same which faces every organization: Dysfunctional individuals seek power over others to the detriment of the organization itself. The same answers to the corruption of bureaucracy can be applied to the corruption of unions: Oversight, a proper system for choosing leaders and harsh punishment for corruption. Yet it is not the main issue which unions face today.
No, beyond corruption, unions face a much harsher reality: Impotence. Unions will organize protests, strikes, pressure means, etc. And all of these will fail, because in the end they don’t matter. Protests and pressure means don’t accomplish anything and strikes are pointless if the state declares it illegal, starts sending police officers to arrest strikers and people go back to work out of fear when they see their colleagues being fired or having their pension funds cut.
Strangely, to understand what a union must do to obtain what the workers deserve, one must look at the corrupt. Why do corrupt unions get so much money? Why do they manage to get such high wages and social benefits that the businesses are forced to close down after a few years? Because they don’t hesitate to use violence. They will ruthlessly attack their opponents, destroy the employers’ goods, sabotage his installations, etc. When police forces are brought in to intervene, they face heavy opposition. When the strike is declared illegal and people are fired and pensions are cut, all the employer sees is further attacks, more sabotage, more destruction.
And there is the answer. The reason why unions are seen with such loathing nowadays is because the corrupt ones cause destruction while obtaining very little for the average worker while the righteous ones refuse to use the means necessary to obtain what their members have a right to. All we see are either criminal organizations which eventually cause the business to become unprofitable and close down, costing everyone their jobs, or impotent organizations which don’t accomplish anything.
It is time to change that.
As explained, unions are necessary to protect workers from predatory practices from employers. However, due to either corruption or incompetence, modern unions are failing at this purpose. In both cases however, we can see a common cause. The corruption is not purged or they refuse to engage in violence. In both cases, the one problem which unions face is an improper use of violence.
Members of corrupt unions hesitate to use violence to purge the corrupt from their organization, while impotent unions hesitate to use violence to obtain what their workers have a legitimate right to. In both cases, it is a problem of upstanding, honest, righteous people refusing to engage in violence to achieve what is right. The only ones willing to use violence are the corrupt, the dysfunctional.
This reinforces my belief that a society where citizens are not taught the proper use of violence is one which is doomed to fail. The present state of unions is a perfect example of it. Thus it is my belief that while unions are not only necessary, but are a boon to the people, being their defenders, that they will never achieve their goals until the righteous find the will to do what needs to be done.
The failure of unions is a failure of the will of the just.
Original screen cap: