Labor Union Myths
By Bob Hubbard (Martialtalk 12-19-2008)
Ask anyone. Without the Union, American’s would labor long hours, make barely subsistence wages, and be at the perpetual mercy of their employers. We -need- unions to combine our strength against these tyrants, to protect our rights, earn living wages and have the free time to enjoy the fruits of our labors.
At least, that’s the myth.
But what is the truth?
Lets take a trip together.
The Date: July 6th, 1896.
The Place: Homestead, Pennsylvania.
The Event: [[Homestead Strike|Carnegie Steel Company Labor Strike]].
On this day, striking workers who were members of the between the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers and the Carnegie Steel Company waged battle, leaving 10 men dead, and countless injured, requiring the intervention of the state militia to settle. A monument in the town bears the following inscription:
“ERECTED BY THE MEMBERS OF THE STEEL WORKERS ORGANIZATION COMMITTEE LOCAL UNIONS IN MEMORY OF THE IRON AND STEEL WORKERS WHO WERE KILLED IN HOMESTEAD, PA., ON JULY 6, 1892, WHILE STRIKING AGAINST THE CARNEGIE STEEL COMPANY IN DEFENSE OF THEIR AMERICAN RIGHTS”
The irony here is that the strikers were themselves violating the rights of others.
As the strike built momentum, strike leaders effectively took control of the town. Peoples movement was restricted, non-union workers were assaulted, and run out of town, the press was censored, and private property was seized and destroyed. So much for protecting American Rights.
In the early days of the 20th Century, the courts ruled against the Unions, restricting them, like anyone else from interfering with peoples right to shop where they wanted to, trespassing on an employers private property, and interfering with the operation of the business. This had been spelled out a century earlier in the case of People vs Fisher (1835) that ruled that people could work where they wanted to and a business could set it’s prices as it wished.
This started changing in 1932 when President Hoover signed the [[Norris-LaGuardia Act]]. This stopped the requirement that an employee cease union activity aas an employment condition, and exempted labor unions from prosecution under the Sherman Antitrust Act. This resulted in stripping employers of protection from strikers violence.
President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” in 1935 added the “Wagner Act” to the mix. Prior to this, a worker who didn’t wish to join the Union or pay dues was free to do so. Thanks to the Wagner Act, this freedom was removed from the American Worker. This resulted in a policy of “exclusive representation”, denying workers the ability to represent themselves. President Roosevelt himself opposed such a dangerous system the year prior while working to avoid a United Auto Workers strike, settling it with a more fair system of proportional representation where the UAW would represent it’s members and non-union employees could make their own arrangements. He stated that this was the only way to be compatible with the American commitment to Liberty. Unfortunately, this commitment wouldn’t last. Today the United States and Canada allow this unfair system, while other countries work on the principle that individuals should be able to conduct their own private affairs and act in their own best interests. Relying on a third party that one didn’t choose is a violation of their right of freedom to contract. Once a Union is designated by workers, it is almost impossible to remove at a later date.
The Wagner Act forced employers to negotiate in “Good Faith” with the unions. On the surface, this sounds good. However what “Good Faith” is and if it was done is up to the National Labor Relations Board. They would be the sole determinant. An added condition of the Wagner Act prevents an employer from using their right of free speech to “influence” employees decisions to unionize and allow non-employees (Union Reps) access to their private property for the purpose of persuading employees to unionize.
The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 attempted to return some amount of freedom to employers, but since anything an employer might say could be seen as interfering, this didn’t work in practice. Consider the case of NLRB v Gissel Packing Co, Inc in 1969. When the employer reminded the employees that past union actions had resulted in previous plant closings, the employees voted against unionizing. The US Supreme Court overruled the employees and imposed the union on the company anyway.
Further, the Wagner Act allows strikers to use picket lines to prevent the employer from operating, by preventing temp workers from access as well as stopping deliveries and customers while protecting them from penalty. Employers can be forced to rehire violent strikers as a result.
Of course, American’s today are more than happy to throw away freedoms especially when told they are in their own “best interest”. They believe that if we didn’t have Unions, that wages would never rise, and that employers would walk all over them. The evidence however shows a different picture. If labor is truly exploited and paid under value, we can expect that non union employers in labor intensive industries would pay bare minimum. But no evidence exists to prove this. In WNY there are two main supermarket chains, Wegmans who is non-union, and another which is a union shop. Wegmans has been constantly voted one of the best places in the country to work over the last decade, has an excellent benefits package, great loyalty from it’s employees and pays well above the minimum wage. The union shop and is regularly at the opposite end of the list, and pays as close to minimum as it can. In fact, it is often more profitable for a worker to work at the non-unionized fast food chains than the non-union supermarket chain.
Workers in the 19th century were often forced to accept substandard employment, this is true. Today however, the average worker has a potential employment range and increased mobility allowing them a much greater opportunity and strength than their 19th century counterpart. A worker with alternatives, has the power today, a fact made well by Charles Baird.
The University of California’s Charles Baird explains:
This idea, that workers without unions will inherently have a disadvantage in bargaining power relative to employers, is the basis for most individuals’ support of unionism and is picked up again in the Wagner Act. But that disadvantage is a hoary myth. A worker’s bargaining power depends on the worker’s alternatives. If a worker either works for Employer A or does not work (i.e., if Employer A is a monopsonist), the worker has little bargaining power. If the worker has several employment alternatives, he has strong bargaining power. There may have been instances of monopsony or oligopsony in the 19th century, but…they were short-lived. Monopsony has not been a significant factor in the American labor market since the introduction and widespread use of the automobile.
The myth that without labor unions have helped the American Worker is false. The reality is that the changes in American Labor Law since the 1930’s have eroded the rights of workers and employers both. Today Unions stand in the way of business, risking the very existences of those they claim to represent and want to defend. Perhaps we wouldn’t be standing at the demise of America’s three largest automakers, if workers were free to represent themselves and save their companies.
33 Questions about American History -Thomas E. Woods Jr.
Politically Incorrect guide to American history – Thomas E. Woods Jr
Bob Hubbard is the CEO of SilverStar WebDesigns Inc, a web design and hosting company specializing in martial arts sites, as well as an administrator on the popular martial arts communities MartialTalk.com, Kenpotalk.com and FMATalk.com. He is also a respected professional photographer specializing in martial arts event, nature and portrait photography. His martial arts photography can be found there as well as at his martial arts photography web site, martialphotos.com. He may be reached through these sites.
Copyright © 2008 – Bob Hubbard – All Rights Reserved