I understand why government backed unions, laws against 'strike breaking', etc. make little economic sense (and can be considered immoral). But what about this: what if workers in a factory simply get together to bargain collectively with the managment as a matter of efficiency, or because they feel that it is in their interest? Note that the employer STILL has the right to fire the lot, and that he may employ 'strike breakers'. What I'm talking about is simply this: the workers or employees get together, organize, and try to get a better deal collectivel. They save money from volunatry contributions, etc, and when it comes hard to hard, they just do what unions do, except they are not allowed to prevent others from entering the factory. But, they would be free to exchange information, share tips and tricks, maybe even publish wage levels, etc.
I don't see how that would be a problem from either an economic or moral point of view. Again, all this is based on the assumption that neither side is allowed to use violence. Strikers can't picket (or at least not block access), employers can't bust up assemblies on private property (though they may, of course, forbid agitation on their own premises).
What the union can do is thraeten a collective walk-out should their demands not be met. That can be very painful to the employer, but... hell, that's just life. Suppliers and Customers do that kind of stuff all the time, find reasons not to keep their end of the deal and renegotiate.
People have every right to associate with others to collectively bargain as long as they are not using force, so yes, unions in that sense are A-OK. This has also been extensively discussed here, in many articles, blogs and books available here.
Thank you, and apologies for asking what is most likely a dead horse. I just tossed it off between readings, just to clarify. I was sure it was covered under the right to association. :)
It is no problem at all.
How do you guys feel about the history of Unions in the United States. Without a doubt they sometimes were oppressed by the state but the history is a little more nuanced. For instance alot of the time they had injunctions thrown at them, it had to do with them trying to persuade workers who signed "yellow dog" contracts to violate their contract and join them. The Common law at the time viewed that as a conspiracy to break contractual obligations and hence the unions would be given a restraining order from the workers on the employer's behalf. Actually this bit of common law still stands for other non labor contracts. Other times the court injunctions had to do with curbing the violence that would spread after a strike but this was rare.
I would think this simply supports the contention of those who see the State as the problem: the companies were using their political access to engage in what was effectively a business transaction. There is no inherent obligation to honor contracts -- there is merely the wisdom of honoring contracts, because if you do not, your chances for 'repeat business'. So, one could possibly argue that the companies should have simply kept a list of workers who 'break' their contract and not employ them in the future... if that were possible. Contract can be renegotiated, there is no reason I could think of why they should not be renegotiated once circumstances change, whatever they may be. What probably should not be possible is to change the contract retroactively, that is: try to get a retroactive wage increase, the way it often happens when people sue under the equal pay for equal work concept and demand back-wages they were not entitled to under the terms of their original contract. But - that's simply my intuitive reaction to this. Maybe I'm missing something here.
Oh, and employers getting restraining orders to prevent workers meeting with union activists, that just sounds incompatible with a free market system, at least to me it does. The workers own themselves, they are not chattel -- and I think it is not possible under 'natural law' to become chattel, is it? So, the employers had no justification to do what they did, other than that they could and had the backing of the state to do so.
Again, that's my intuitive reaction to this.
We also have to view this from the highly mistaken assumption of many workers that they have property rights in "Their" jobs. They need to realize it is the EMPLOYERS job. When they have received enumeration at the end of the week for their forty hours, the employer has fulfilled his ENTIRE obligation to them. It is when the State steps in and creates additional obligations, that we have problems.
I think the worker has a property right to his 'labour', which I understand to be a combination of his personal time and his skills. He offers this on the market, and comes to an agreement with a buyer of his labour. As long as he is renumerated for his labour as agreed, everything should be fine, but I think there is nothing that should prohibit him from renegotiating the price of his labour not yet supplied. I hope I don't sound too Marxist here when I say labour, I simply can't think of a better term for it. So, the employer buys the labour offered by the worker/employee at a price agreed. If at any point in time the worker/employee wants to negotiate a new contract, I don't see any moral problem with that. Of course, the employer can refuse the new offer, and he may even refuse to buy any more labour from the worker. The latter has no right to demand to be paid for labour not yet provide -- he has no right to be employed. I think this is where the unions go wrong, they think the employer is obligated to pay the worker regardless of the labour provided. Unless the contract between the worker and the employer specifies a continuation of pay when no labour is provided, no such obligation exists.
Again, I'm putting this out simply for discussion and for my own better understanding. Any criticism is welcome, I'm new to this.
Provided they do not employ coercive means, unions are fine - workers should be free to try and bargain for higher wages, and employers free not to associate with those who belong to unions.
Dietwald, there is nothing inherently Marxist about the word labour - in fact, it predates Marxism by quite a long span of time, both in political economy and philosophy, so don't worry about being misunderstood.