Forgotten Facts of American Labor History

Betcha you didn’t know several of the eye openers afforded by Tom Woods and the Campaign for Liberty. Juicy part:

The New Deal added the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, more commonly known as the Wagner Act, to the mix. It had once been the case that a worker who did not wish to join a union or pay its dues refrained from joining and was not obligated to pay dues. Thanks to the Wagner Act, that individual freedom disappeared. From then on, if a majority of workers in a given bargaining unit chose to unionize, then that union represented all the workers and could require them either to join or at least to pay dues.

The usual defense of such coercion is that since the Wagner Act called for a single certified bargaining agent to represent all workers in a given bargaining unit, it was only fair that all such workers be required to contribute something to the union. After all, it is argued, since all workers gain from the union’s activities on their behalf, it would be wrong for them not to contribute toward union expenses. This objection overlooks the real problem, which is the idea of having an exclusive bargaining agent in the first place.

If unions were content to bargain solely on behalf of their own members, then there would be no problem of non-members getting union benefits for free. If individuals were allowed to represent themselves and to enter into contracts with their employers on their own terms, those who wished to remain non-union would not be “free riding” on the benefits bestowed by labor unions, since the union would simply not bargain on their behalf. But federal labor law no longer guarantees workers this freedom.

(As a result of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 — which labor historians detest despite the mildness of its provisions, which did little to overturn settled labor law — states have the right to pass “right-to-work” laws, which prohibit unions from attempting to force union membership and dues on workers as the price for keeping their jobs.)

Once officially designated by a majority of workers as the exclusive bargaining agent for all workers, the union is never required to stand for re-election. Even after all the workers who originally voted for the union have died or retired, the union is simply assumed to have the support of a majority of workers. The new slate of workers has no say in the matter at all.

The Wagner Act also forced employers to bargain “in good faith” with unions that were established by a majority of workers. Whether an employer had complied with the vague instruction to bargain “in good faith” would be determined by the all-powerful National Labor Relations Board.

Moreover, the Wagner Act also interfered with employers’ freedom of speech by making it an “unfair labor practice” to attempt to influence their employees’ decision whether to unionize or not. Employers were required to permit union organizers — that is, total strangers — who did not work for them to use company property for the purpose of persuading employees to unionize.

Furthermore, the Wagner Act gave labor unions a degree of legal insulation afforded to no other group in society. The Act made labor unions immune to claims of vicarious responsibility. In plain English, that means that labor unions are not legally responsible for any violence their members might commit, even if union officials themselves order the violence.

All of these legislative measures made it much easier for labor unions to accomplish their goals. In order to fulfill their stated purpose of increasing the wages of their members, labor unions must restrict an employer’s access to alternative sources of labor. That is to say, nonunion workers who wish to seek employment on the terms offered by an employer whose firm is unionized must be prevented from doing so. Harvard University’s Edward Chamberlin once described the unique legal status that labor unions had been granted:

If A is bargaining with B over the sale of his house, and if A were given the privileges of a modern labor union, he would be able (1) to conspire with all other owners of houses not to make any alternative offer to B, using violence or the threat of violence if necessary to prevent them, (2) to deprive B himself of access to any alternative offers, (3) to surround the house of B and cut off all deliveries, including food (except by parcel post), (4) to stop all movement from B’s house, so that if he were for instance a doctor he could not sell his services and make a living, and (5) to institute a boycott of B’s business. All of these privileges, if he were capable of carrying them out, would no doubt strengthen A’s position. But they would not be regarded by anyone as part of “bargaining” — unless A were a labor union.

No wonder Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek once said, “We have now reached a state where [unions] have become uniquely privileged institutions to which the general rules of law do not apply.”

State sponsored fascism. 

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