We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Unions really do make it hard to like them sometimes

Unlike some free marketeers, I do not have a visceral loathing of trade unions, although I can understand why some people do dislike them. With very large businesses, such as say, ICI or GM, it probably saves a lot of time and bother to negotiate pay and conditions through a union and its representatives.

So long as they do not try to form monopolies and freeze non-union members out of a company via a ‘closed shop’ or expect to be free of the ordinary tort liabilities of the Common Law, I think unions are often beneficial. They can provide services to their members like insurance or other benefits, help members with specific disputes, and occasionally their strikes for better pay and conditions do in fact help workers in vulnerable situations, such as where there are few other sources of work and an employer has a de-facto monopoly negotiation power – although such cases are pretty rare and do not last long in a properly free and efficient market place.

There is debate on whether employers really do have a structural upper hand in negotiating pay with employees and whether unions do anything useful to ‘correct’ that supposed imbalance. The economist W. Hutt was a notable skeptic on how much of an advantage employers actually have, if at all. Anyway, even if there is not a significant structural imbalance between the negotiating freedom of labour and employers, unions can smooth the pay negotiation path at times.

So there you have it. A member of the Samizdata writing crew, that band of capitalist oppressors, says that unions can be a force for good.

And then, as Stephen Pollard notes, the NUJ reminds us of why so many folk dislike unions and their antics. Sigh.

44 comments to Unions really do make it hard to like them sometimes

  • Sam Duncan

    I tend to agree. Unions are not necessarily a bad thing. If they were more like the RAC (for want of a better analogy) and less like the SWP, they might actually be a good thing.

    The NUJ’s response to the Alan Johnston affair is, frankly, bizzarre. An Arab terrorist group kidnaps one of their members and they vote to boycott its enemy? Truly, leftists will twist themselves into the most convoluted of knots to defend their world-view.

    On a side note, I also find it interesting how little coverage this story received until the last week or so. Does anyone doubt that, had Johnston been working in Iraq, it would have been on the front pages from day one?

  • Jonathan,

    What is wrong, in principle, with a closed-shop? Unless violence and intimidation are used, if a union manages to convince an employer, via collective bargaining, not to employ non-union staff, then surely fair enough. Of course if violence and intimidation are used, the individuals involved should be prosecuted severely.

    As for unions using their members’ subs for political campaigns, I am against it and think that members of unions should fight against it.

  • Johnathan

    Charles, I can hardly imagine a case where a closed shop would ever be formed with the willing acceptance of the employer, although I suppose some firms might sign up to avoid any hassle. But nearly any employer might want to leave open the door for non-union members. Once a closed shop is formed, the fossilisation of a business soon follows.

    I suppose some firms might accept a closed shop but they would have to be pretty dumb.

  • RAB

    Definition of an Office Union rep.

    The person who spends 8 hours a day engaged in activity completely unrelated to your actual business.

  • RobtE

    Charles –

    You ask what is wrong about a closed shop. My test for any idea, which may or may not be valid, is to ask what it means for me, as an individual.

    As an employee, I am in effect a sole trader. I trade my labour (if a labourer) or the product of my mind (if a ‘knowledge worker’) to an employer for an agreed price and under certain agreed conditions. I, as a sole trader, am free to negotiate an employment contract with any employer who is damn fool enough to employ me. Provided the potential employer and I can agree the terms of my employment, I am free to sell my services where and when I wish.

    A closed shop, however, removes that freedom to trade. A body who is not the employer is able effectively to dictate to me where and under what terms I may contract my services. If I choose not to join a union, which I almost certainly would do, I am prevented from entering into a contract for the sale of my labour with an employer.

    That is a restraint of free trade and why I object to it.

  • As for unions using their members’ subs for political campaigns, I am against it and think that members of unions should fight against it.

    As long as union members understand that is where their membership fees are going when they join, I do not see that as a problem.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    That is a restraint of free trade and why I object to it.

    Hmm. Suppose a couple of companies agreed only to buy or sell to each other and to no-one else. Suppose this deal involved no act of coercion, nothing underhand. Other firms outside the deal might argue they were being “frozen” out, but that hardly seems to be a loss of freedom. In a closed shop deal, yes, some individuals might get frozen out, but then they could, instead, sell their labour elsewhere, and presumably other firms would be only too happy to deal.

    That is why closed shops do not last all that long because employers realise they could lose talented people who refuse to be dragooned into a union, and that explains why unions have traditionally used intimidatory tactics to enforce the closed shop. Closed shops are labour cartels and like other cartels, disintigrate unless the state props them up.

  • As long as union members understand that is where their membership fees are going when they join, I do not see that as a problem.

    Perry,

    I should have made myself clearer. When I said “I’m against” it, I meant I would not want join any union that did it. In my view, a union is for collective bargaining, not for fighting whatever political campaign is fashionable with the leadership.

  • RAB

    That is why closed shops do not last all that long

    Whisper this softly around the Law society
    and the Bar Council.
    They appear not to have heard!

  • RAB:

    They are propped up by the state.

  • Jack Maturin

    Show me a single union that thinks they lack the ‘right’ to strike, enforced by a coercive state, and agrees that an employer should be able to sack contract-breaking strikers immediately and replace these contract breakers with others more willing to work, or even better, to sue them for damages and breach of contract, and I’ll dust down my copy of ‘Das Kapital’ and start preaching the virtues of the labour theory of value, immediately, and why unions are a force for good in society. Until then, can we have the old Samizdata back please, you know, the one which has an Arthur Scargill dartboard in its office festooned with outrageous slings and arrows.

    You’ll be saying Gordon Brown’s theft of my pension was good for me, next.

  • Paul Marks

    The fraternal or “friendly society” functions of unions (providing insurance for old age, medical cover, or disabled benefits, or legal represtation during disutes…..) must be clearly seperated in ones mind from the “strike threat system” (as that old East End by W.H. Hutt called it).

    Please remember a strike is NOT “we do not like your wages and conditions so we are going off to work for someone else, or for ourselves”.

    A strike is “we are not going to work, and if you try and get anyone else in we will stop them”.

    This is what the “picket line” (a military term) is all about, and it is why “peaceful picketing” is a contradiction in terms.

    Unions have also gone much further than a bunch of thugs (pickets) obstructing the entrance to a place of business.

    In the United States beatings and even car bombs have not been unknown. Indeed the mineworkers union (or a secret society which was really part of it) used to blow up whole mines in order to kill non union miners.

    “But collective bargaining does not have to be based on threats”.

    Well what is it based on then? “Pay us more or we will resign” – fair enough, but this is not the normal practice.

    The normal practice is “do X, or we will stop working – and prevent any new workers from working”.

    That is the real point of a “strike”.

    And that sort of organized crime tactic can not be tolerated.

  • Johanthan

    Jack, calm down. Yes, a lot of workers believe in what you say they believe, which is why, in reality, many unions deserve the abuse that comes their way. I am saying that this does not have to be how they behave. I am saying that unions can be a useful force, and it is a shame that they get messed up in stupid politics.

    And if an article by me occasionally upsets people’s assumptions about what Samizdata should offer, well that’s too bad. This is not and never has been a predictable blog.

  • Paul,

    Peaceful picketing is certainly not a contradiction in terms. Whose rights have been assailed if one set of people stand outside a company and make a verbal protest to anyone entering that company? They should not be allowed to obstruct a right of way or threaten acts of violence, but insults and ostracisation fall under the rights of free speech and free association.

    Jack,

    The unfortunate fact that unions in the 20th Century have been intimately tied to the movement to implement state socialism, does not make the concept of collective bargaining for labour anti-liberty. In fact, I am sure that any truly free society would have trade unions. I think that it is a sad state of affairs that the trade union movement in Britain has been utterly discredited in the minds of right-thinking people by scum like Scargill.

  • spruance

    Well, I started to boycott the BBC a while ago and sold my shortwave receiver.

  • Brendan Halfweeg

    I agree, so long as unions are subject to the same laws that govern other corporate bodies, there is no philosophical reason against them. In fact, to prevent unions, you’d have to ban them, and that would be philosophically at odds with a free and open society.

    The problem becomes when unions adopt quasi-state like authority, monopolising force and violence in the workplace. In addition, there is a body of economic literature that demonstrates the uneconomic basis for closed shops and extreme demarcation. The fact that these still remain is largely due to the malign influence of the state in legislating for rent seekers, be it licensing requirements or other excluding regulation.

    Without intimidation, regulation and legislation, there would probably be a multitude of unions and societies, both negotiating on behalf of members, ensuring minimum skill requirements of members and providing benefits to members.

  • The NUJ is about as reasonable as the NUS and this sort of disgraceful behaviour is merely par for the course. Unions are trying to make themeselves relevant and doing things that get them press like this is par for the course. I can’t think any union I like nor would care to be part of.

  • Julian Taylor

    As long as union members understand that is where their membership fees are going when they join, I do not see that as a problem.

    Try an authoritarian union like BECTU which publishes no accounts, none that I’ve ever seen anyway despite asking, so thus will not tell you where your “union fees” are going (Tony Blair’s new house I presume). I feel we still have far too many ‘closed shop’ unions like Equity, NUJ and the various teachers’ ones for unions, in this country anyway, to be seen as a power for good above and beyond individual mediation cases.

    I have always had suspicions that most companies afflicted by the presence of unions in their midst deliberately downgraded any employee payrise just so that they could get past the bit of having to deal with the union rep more quickly, so what was the point of union representation anyway?

  • the other rob

    I stopped attending meetings of my NUJ branch when they passed a resolution stating that political campaigning should have a higher priority than looking after the pay & conditions of the members. I said it then and I’ll say it now – WTF?!!

  • I do not see how any free marketeer could object in principle to trades unions.

    They were originally banned, be it noted, under the Combination Acts … in those days parliament seems to have legislated from first principles and what parliament sought to address in those statutes was the exact nature that inheres to trades unions: freedom to associate or, to use their early 19th century terminology, freedom to ‘combine’.

  • R C Dean

    So long as they do not try to form monopolies and freeze non-union members out of a company via a ‘closed shop’ or expect to be free of the ordinary tort liabilities of the Common Law, I think unions are often beneficial.

    Are there such unions?

  • Paul Marks

    Charles Pooter:

    A “picket line” is a military term. Pickets are not there to engage in philosophical discussions. As for “verbal protests” I suppose you mean shouting abuse (“scabs”, “we know where you live”, and so on) – that happens, but it is not going to be enough to win a strike (there has to be something more than a bit of name calling in order to win).

    As that old East End boy W.H. Hutt never tired of pointing out – that is not what the “strike threat system” is about.

    Nor is it anything to do with the “20th century” – unions were just as violent in the 19th century.

    Nor, to be fair, is it anything to do with “socialism”. Non socialist unions have often been just as violent (American history is full of such examples – although “social historians” are only interested in the counter, defensive, violence of employers and others trying to protect workplaces and people trying to work).

    The strike threat system is an example of extortion “do this or we go on strike, and smash the heads in of any new workers you get to work here”, as such it is an example of organized crime.

    Indeed the lines between unions and formal organized crime organizations are often quite vague.

    A strike that was not backed up by force, or the threat of it, would be pointless – one would simply hire new people.

    Of course “pay us more (or change the conditions here) or we resign” is quite different. And where people have skills that are in demand it can be quite effective.

  • Jack Maturin

    > Jack, calm down.

    Perfectly calm here, old boy. Well, not about the disgraceful Royal Navy-like collapse of England’s Sambuca tourists in the Caribbean, but otherwise perfectly calm.

    > Yes, a lot of workers believe in what you say
    > they believe, which is why, in reality, many
    > unions deserve the abuse that comes their way.

    Well, you lost me there about halfway through that sentence, so I can’t comment. My head’s full of Taylor series and binomial theorems at the moment, so the language parsing part of my brain is struggling a bit today. Apologies.

    > I am saying that this does not have to be how
    > they behave.

    Yes, but it is always how they behave, isn’t it, always ultimately using or threatening to use violence to coerce others, either directly, or via their friends in the state. To me, if it looks like a coercive duck, walks like a coercive duck, and quacks like a coercive duck, then duck before the concrete breeze block hits the front of your car.

    > I am saying that unions can be a useful force,

    Yes, free associations of free people are useful. I must be in at least ten such groups myself, but once again Jonathan, show me a single union that lacks an ultimate belief in the use of force (as eloquently described by Mr Marks) to get its way, and I will show you why the wealth of the western world is entirely down to the beneficial interventionist influence of unions and their friends in politics, and why it is nothing to do with capitalism.

    > and it is a shame that they get messed up in
    > stupid politics.

    But the very purpose of unions is to get involved in politics (if you define politics as “social relations involving authority or power”). To say unions should avoid being involved in politics is to say that cricketers should avoid getting involved with batting or bowling. (Well, obviously in the case of the England shower, we would have to extend that to “drinking Sambucas”, too. What a shower.)

    > And if an article by me occasionally upsets
    > people’s assumptions about what Samizdata
    > should offer, well that’s too bad.

    There’s such a thing as pushing the envelope, I agree. But saying that unions are a force for good may perhaps be a little more like placing a live hand grenade within said envelope.

    > This is not and never has been a predictable blog.

    The only assumption I make about Samizdata is that it’s not Crooked Timber. But it comes awfully close to breaking even that one when it starts working out a ‘Third Way’ for unions. Free associations. Yes. Trade Unions. No. (Except given caveats below.)

    > The unfortunate fact that unions in the 20th
    > Century have been intimately tied to the
    > movement to implement state socialism, does
    > not make the concept of collective bargaining
    > for labour anti-liberty.

    Hey, no problem there. And if the highly-paid geniuses working for Maturin Corps want to collectively bargain with me to change the contracts I signed with each of them individually, in good faith, to provide them with regular payments of cash up front for work to help me on a speculative business proposal which might not pay off for some time, on which I’m risking my personal life savings, and then when I sack the lot of them for daring to do so I expect you’ll fully back my right to do so.

    > In fact, I am sure that any truly free society
    > would have trade unions.

    Yes, and evil capitalist employers like me who honour contracts, but who sack any employees breaking contracts and who sue successfully for damages on such broken contracts, thereby making all said unions limit their tendencies to otherwise threaten force against said capitalists.

    > I think that it is a sad state of affairs that the
    > trade union movement in Britain has been
    > utterly discredited in the minds of
    > right-thinking people by scum like Scargill.

    But they’re all the same. Yes, there’s a normal distribution, with His Scargillness on end, and the Victualling Association of Bumble-Bee Keepers on the other. But they all believe in the use of force or the threat of force to get their way. And many of them don’t just believe in it, but have actually used force many times over to get their way, to the detriment of all of the rest of us. (God alone knows why British Airways, for instance, haven’t sacked most of their miserable moaning minions many times over, except of course they’re all ‘protected’ by employment law and can strike with seeming impunity, causing people like me never to fly with BA unless there is no other alternative, thereby wrecking the investment returns of BA’s shareholders.)

    The trade union movement in Britain, aided by its friends in the Fabian movement, has done nothing but drag this country down for the last 100 or more years.

    The sooner they lose all of their special legal privileges, the better for all of us, and especially for the poor saps who join unions in the misguided belief that without them they would be chained to their looms in sweatshops, earning starvation wages.

    Beware the Karl Marx meme. It sure is a strong one.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Well, not about the disgraceful Royal Navy-like collapse of England’s Sambuca tourists in the Caribbean, but otherwise perfectly calm.

    I am not calm about that either, Jack!

    To me, if it looks like a coercive duck, walks like a coercive duck, and quacks like a coercive duck, then duck before the concrete breeze block hits the front of your car.

    No, some unions are perfectly capable of operating without intimidating non-members. These examples of course do not make the news.

    The only assumption I make about Samizdata is that it’s not Crooked Timber. But it comes awfully close to breaking even that one when it starts working out a ‘Third Way’ for unions. Free associations. Yes. Trade Unions. No. (Except given caveats below.)

    That’s fighting talk – third way? I think you are projecting, as psychologists say. You support free associations. Er, that is what a union that does not enjoy the privileges of the 1906 Trades Dispute Act is, a free association. By definition, I am not in favour of a coercive association. There is nothing in my comment to say otherwise.

    But they’re all the same. Yes, there’s a normal distribution, with His Scargillness on end, and the Victualling Association of Bumble-Bee Keepers on the other. But they all believe in the use of force or the threat of force to get their way.

    Really? Would an association of anyone necessarily support intimidation? That is a big assertion you are making.

    The trade union movement in Britain, aided by its friends in the Fabian movement, has done nothing but drag this country down for the last 100 or more years.

    A sweeping statement. I can accept that the unions that exploited their civil immunities did a lot of damage, but it is simply absurd to suggest that they contributed nothing positive to their members, either. Like I said, had unions not enjoyed such privileges, there would still be room for them to operate and people would still want to form associations.

    After all, if we want to scrap the Welfare State and encourage people to be more self reliant, then associations of various sorts are going to fill the gaps, providing workplace insurance, sickness cover, and so on. It makes sense that people should join and form groups through the workplace.

  • Paul Marks

    Quite so Johnathan, but this is nothing to do with “collective bargaining” (what unions are about).

    C.B. is about trying to increase wages and conditions over what the market (i.e. supply and demand) would produce.

    This leads to unemployment being higher than it otherwise would be – or people being forced into marginal activities (rather than better paying jobs) in order to improve the wages and conditions of union members.

    A union that does not seek to get a strangle hold on the supply of labour to a business is not “doing its job” (that is what unions and the strike threat system are for).

    Of course, in the end, wages and conditions for union members are actually lower than they would be if the union had never existed (or they are just unemployed) as such actions, sooner or later, undermine the industry concerned.

    All this is basic economics, found in Ludwig Von Mises’ “Human Action” and many other places.

  • Paul Marks,

    A “picket line” is a military term.

    Irrelevant. So are “battle”, “war”, “minefield”, etc, but these are used in non-violent contexts all the time. It is called metaphor.

    Lets change the question and get down to brass tacks Paul. In your ideal society, what laws, besides the common law preventions against force and fraud, would you have to control trade unions or their activities?

  • Jack Maturin

    Well, with no sport on the telly other than Michael Vaughan trying to get sacked rather than resigning so he can claim compen-pay-shun, I suppose I must once again walk unto the breach.

    > No, some unions are perfectly capable of operating
    > without intimidating non-members. These
    > examples of course do not make the news.

    All unions use intimidation, if not against members, then against employers, shareholders, and consumers. (Though usually against non-members too, if they can get away with it.)

    > That’s fighting talk – third way?

    Just call it as I see, Mr P.

    > I think you are projecting, as psychologists say.

    And what you are doing is triangulating. Extreme Opinion #1: All unions are evil. Extreme Opinion #2: All unions are wonderful. Middle Opinion #3: There’s something to be said for both points of view. I believe that’s commonly known as ‘The Third Way’.

    > You support free associations. Er, that is what
    > a union that does not enjoy the privileges of
    > the 1906 Trades Dispute Act is, a free association.
    > By definition, I am not in favour of a coercive
    > association. There is nothing in my comment to
    > say otherwise.

    Shall I quote you back to you?

    and occasionally their strikes for better pay and conditions do in fact help workers in vulnerable situations

    So let me get this right. You’re in favour of people being able to walk away from their labour contracts and yet prevent their previous employers from being able to employ others more willing to work, and then later, when their previous employer becomes desperate for labour services, being able to force them to take these strikers back on with conditions they otherwise wouldn’t have agreed to? So what part of Common Law would that be? It seems like the law of the playground bully, to me.

    Can you imagine an analogous situation: I go to Tesco and see a tin of beans at 50 pence. I walk to the till with my 50 pence and the tin of beans. At the till, the manager of the store says the beans are now 60 pence, as the brothers think I’m rich enough to afford it. I refuse to pay, put the beans down, and walk to my car to go to Asda to buy beans there at 45 pence. But no, I’m not allowed to. If I want beans, I must purchase them from Tesco and I must pay whatever Tesco finally agree to let me buy them for, after a protracted tussle in the beans aisle. Essentially I have two choices. I can either go without beans or I must pay whatever Tesco demand, even though Asda are desperate for me to buy beans from them at 45 pence a pop, a price I’m willing to pay. If I’m in France, I can’t even refuse to have the beans. I must buy them, at whatever price is demanded, or risk jail. (Obviously, this means I get on a train and then base my French business in Ashgate in Kent, to avoid such nonsense, but let’s not push the analogy too far! :-)

    Why does swapping the beans for labour services make ‘striking’ all right?

    although such cases are pretty rare and do not last long in a properly free and efficient market place

    Can you provide us with such a case? No, really, I’m all ears. The state has cocked up most things in our lives, and I can theoretically conceive of a situation (such as the recent one on Battlestar Galactica), when state-enforced conscription could possibly create a mutinous ‘strike-like’ condition, and obviously I’m all in favour of tax strikes, but if you could provide us with an example of a ‘fair strike’ to back up your case, I think we could progress the discussion. Before you do so, my guess is that it will in some way involve the government (e.g. nurses striking in the NHS for ‘fair’ pay, against their monopoly government employer), but otherwise I’m stumped?

    > Really? Would an association of anyone
    > necessarily support intimidation?

    Well, if my association of bumble-bee keepers refused to gather honey unless I paid a “fair trade” price they nominated, and also petitioned in Parliament for laws to be passed banning the importation of “foreign” honey or raising large tariffs on it, or even petitioned for a subsidy for “British” honey, ‘to maintain a necessary way of life’, then, yes, they could necessarily support intimidation.

    As I think I’ve said several times now, I’m all for free associations of free people, but rather than get involved in a dictionary-based semantic argument about what the word ‘union’ means, I think most of us know what it means. And that is an organisation which will, as an ultimate fallback position, sanction the use of strikes (something you agree with), and the use of force to make other people do what they want, usually creating an imposed cost upon these other people.

    > A sweeping statement.

    As a former closed shop member of USDAW, I’m a whizz with a broom.

    > I can accept that the unions that exploited their
    > civil immunities did a lot of damage, but it is
    > simply absurd to suggest that they
    > contributed nothing positive to their
    > members, either.

    One of my favourite socialist books is ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ in which the union movement seeks to protect poor workers from placing all of their (labour value) wealth into the hands of the evil capitalists. Whereas in fact, all union members have done over the last 100 years is fill the pockets of trades union officials and sponsored Labour MPs, who have then drowned the rest of us in a blitzkrieg of employment laws which have wrecked the wealth-generating capacity of this country.

    Ok, so yes, perhaps tactically trades unions have benefitted many of their members in the short-term, for instance by pointing them at the right compen-pay-shun forms, in the case of industrial accidents, but in the strategic long-term they have made everyone in this country much poorer than they otherwise would have been, especially anyone ever unemployed or in relative poverty. (Hence, why when Her Madge-esty reined unions in a bit, in the 1980s, the subsequent explosive torrent of wealth was enough even to fund the recent NHS excesses of that fat fool, Gordon Brown.)

    Trade Unions are nothing but the dreadful reincarnation of medieval guilds, which held the western world back for centuries, until broken by the Fairs of Champagne, the ports of Antwerp and Amsterdam, and the Italian Renaissance.

    If we want to move forward these guilds must be broken by subjecting them to the same free market laws that the rest of us labour under. For a Samizdatista to adopt a different position is a disappointment.

  • Jack Maturin and Paul Marks,

    The emphasis on declared strikes and exclusion of scabs is part of a labor model largely created by the Wagner Act in this country. And Wagner, remember, was passed largely under the influence of employers who wanted to put organized labor under a regime of contract enforced by union bureaucrats and the NLRB.

    Before then, organized labor followed a model focused on direct action within the workplace as much as striking. And such “direct action” by no means requires aggression as a libertarian would define it. There is virtually no devisable contract that can define, ex ante, such things as slowdowns, working-to-rule, or open mouth sabotage. The employment contract is an incomplete contract, because its terms cannot be exhaustively defined ex ante, and have to be made up as they go along; but monitoring and agency problems seriously hamper the enforceability of any items management unilaterally adds to the contract. In the end “a proper day’s work” is established exactly the same way as “a proper day’s pay”–by the relative bargaining power of the employer and employee in the contested terrain of the workplace. And the bargaining power implicit in workers’ abilities to decide how to do their jobs, without any need for aggression or property destruction, gives them a firm grip on the bosses’ short hairs if they get mad enough to use it. By the way, I don’t expect much in the way of moral squeamishness about these facts of life in a libertarian movement that includes Walter Block’s defense of blackmailers and voluntary slavery contracts.

    Strikes themselves don’t, by any means, require forcible exclusion of scabs. A minority of workers walking out of a plant is sufficient, if reinforced by similar minorities participating in sympathy and boycott strikes up and down the production chain from raw materials suppliers to retailers, and including transport workers refusing to carry scab cargo. All these things are outlawed by Taft-Hartley. And the mandatory “cooling-off periods” and arbitration imposed by Taft-Hartley were specifically designed to prevent transport workers from turning local industrial disputes into general strikes.

    Rothbard, by the way, was upset enough about workers voluntarily honoring picket lines to wring his hands about it–a glaring exception to the usual Austrian respect for demonstrated preference, whatever it is. So that in itself suggests that cultural attitudes among workers may be sufficient to make a strike successful, without the use of force. Saying, as a dogmatic assertion, that strikes can only succeed when backed up by forcible exclusion of scabs, is as idiotic as saying that consumer boycotts can’t hurt companies based on purely voluntary participation.

    Here’s my counter-challenge: show me an employer who doesn’t believe in the ultimate use of force (as eloquently described by Taft-Hartley) to get his own way.

    It’s interesting, btw, that you mention the employment contract. Here in the U.S., the ideal situation as most employers is “at-will” employment, sans contract, which prevails in the so-called right-to-work state. The contractual regime under Wagner was passed because employers were begging for contracts to stabilize the workplace and relegate labor disputes entirely to declared strikes. And when labor had been broken by Taft-Hartley, it was employers who decided they didn’t need contracts to protect them after all. Which leads me to another challenge: Support the repeal of Wagner, Taft-Hartley, and legislation prohibiting transport worker strikes. Let the unions and employers fight it out entirely through voluntary association and non-violent action, including the power of employers to fire workers without hindrance and the de facto power of workers over their work process on the job. My guess is that it’s the employers who will be begging for contracts again, and whining about the good old days under the NLRB.

  • Paul Marks

    Charles Pooter.

    I would have no special laws at all Charles.

    Like Barry Goldwater I do not support special laws making unions have secret ballots (or ballots at all) to elect their leaders. If unions where not given special powers (by various statutes) how they organised their internal affairs would be of no interest.

    But, ditto, I do not support employers being forced to hire union labour (or labour that is paid “prevailing wages and conditions” which is the other dodge).

    If a employer wants a “Yellow Dog” contract (i.e. I will only hire you if you are non union and stay nonunion) that should be allowed.

    And if he wants to hire ONLY union labour – that should (in a market where there were no special laws) be allowed to.

    If someone does not like any of the above – then work for someone else (or work for yourself).

    Wages vastly increased and conditions vastly improved in the United States before unions were of any importance at all.

    So the idea that wages will not go up or conditions will not improve without unions is simply false.

    The only case I can see for “special laws” is to counter balance other special laws.

    For example, if an employer is not allowed to fire someone for joining a union (and they are not), then someone should not be fired for refusing to join a union.

    In short in a world where there are Wagner Act type things, then there is a case for “right to work laws” as well.

    But ideally there should be NEITHER – no special laws on either side.

    In British terms this mean taking things back to the position before the Act of 1875 (the Act of 1906 built on the Act of 1875). It is no accident that British heavy industry starts to get “behind the times” after these Acts come in. First example, the British textile industry unions were not bad people, but they wanted everything to stay the same (they did not like the idea of new machines that might change things), so the industry started to gradually fall behind. It was only with the tough conditions after the First World War that things became obvious – but the writing was on the wall from the late 19th century onwards.

    Unions should be legal (i.e. Combination Acts, repealed in 1824, were wrong), but they should not be allowed to obstruct private property (what you call “picketing”), or use other violence or the threat of it against either employers or employees. Let them have their “peaceful protests” or their own property (indeed let them set fires and plant bombs – if they are only going to destroy their own property).

    Of course, if this were the case, unions would be of little importance.

    Friendly societies (what Americans call fraternities), however, might well be of very great importance.

  • Paul Marks

    Kevin Carson:

    If saying “you are fired, get off my property” is the “ultimate use of force”, please explain why wages vastly increased and conditions vastly improved before unions were of any importance at all. Economic progress (in this case the improvment of wages and conditions) is nothing to do with unions – indeed, in the long term, union actions make overall wages and conditions lower than they would otherwise have been (by undermining industries).

    If a man has a contract – saying “I will only be fired if I do such and such or do not do such and such” and saying “I will be paid so and so amount of money, and will have these conditions or work…..” and his employer violates the contract – then (yes) the courts should take that employer to the cleaners.

    But if an employer has not violated a contract, then it is no business of the government.

    Say I employed you to look after my garden (I am not a green fingered person) and I paid you X amount of money to do so.

    Then one day I say “Mr Carson, I have decided to get someone else to do it” or “I have decided to do the work myself” (that is what I normally do by the way, I am no good – but I do not have the money to often get someone in) you have NOTHING to complain about.

    The garden is not “yours” because you work at it (the labour theory of value is false).

    I have paid you to do a job, and I have decided I do not want you to do that any more – so sling your hook.

    “But employers use government forces to clear people from their property”

    And you object to this?

    O.K. let government forces not be used, but then let not employers be taxed (in any way) either.

    If they have to clear people from their own property (with gun and billy club), there is no reason to have a government at all.

    “I want workers cooperatives” (syndicalism).

    O.K. – have them.

    Unions have billions of Dollars – they could invest this money in creating workers cooperatives.

    Go ahead, nothing is stopping you. Other than the knowledge (in the back of your mind) that these worker coops would tend to go bust.

    “But it is not fair that some people (who are no better than me) inherit vast vast factories and I was born with nothing”.

    Same here Mr Carson (I do not even own the house and garden – I rent them), I was born with nothing and I will die with nothing.

    Life is not “fair” and “fairness” is nothing to do with justice (which is to each his own – not to each what he “should” have) – live with it.

    If you choose not to live with it that is fine (suicide is not violation of the nonaggression principle), but do not touch one scrap of what belongs to someone else.

  • Jack Maturin

    Goodness gracious, a man who writes even longer posts than yours truly! Crikey. We should both be jailed immediately for taking up too much carbon footprint, or something. And so to the shield wall once more…

    > And Wagner, remember, was passed largely
    > under the influence of employers who wanted to
    > put organized labor under a regime of
    > contract enforced by union bureaucrats and
    > the NLRB.

    Remember? I’m afraid I have absolutely no knowledge of the US Wagner Labor Relations Act, because 1). I’m only up to book II, in Rothbard’s ‘Conceived in Liberty’ (but I’m trying real hard, Ringo, to read it faster, and 2). Because Americans refuse to spell ‘Labour’ correctly. But just guessing, I’m assuming this was some kind of Roosevelt-inspired nonsense? If so, I’d be pretty confident placing a bet that these employers and union bureaucrats you’re talking about were all FDR cronies, along the lines of Wesley Mouch, Fred Kinnan, and James Taggart, in Atlas Shrugged, and part of the fascist state complex Roosevelt created.

    I can’t imagine many Ellis Wyatts, Hank Reardens, or John Galts wanting to be senior looters within the corporatist FDR state.

    > There is virtually no devisable contract that can
    > define, ex ante, such things as slowdowns,
    > working-to-rule, or open mouth sabotage.

    Yes there is, and here it is. “Work for me, to my satisfaction, and for every day I don’t fire you, I’ll give you a gold dollar. If I like you, I may increase this pay rate, but only if you have the balls to come and ask me. If you don’t ever like it, then sod off and get a job somewhere else or start your own business – though I won’t pay you for any labour you have done on the day you walk out, as compensation for my lack of an opportunity to hire anyone else that day, and I’ll decide whether I ever re-employ you in the future if you come crawling back. I can fire you anytime I like for whatever reason, which I don’t have to explain to you or anyone else. However, if I do fire you, your severance pay will be one gold dollar to pay for the day I fire you on, in compensation for you having lost a day’s opportunity to work for someone else, which is only fair. Deal or no deal?”

    Aside from all the legal mumbo jumbo that the British government inveigles into everything, and the monetary figures and notice periods, this is how I operate in the Maturin world, whether offering or accepting contracts. It’s also a damn sight better and much more fun than being a miserable go-slow malcontent in a nationalised industry arguing the toss over obscure points of state employment paper law.

    > By the way, I don’t expect much in the way of
    > moral squeamishness

    No moral squeamishness this end. I do as good a job as I can possibly manage for my clients and I expect my contractors to do as hard a job as they possibly can for me. If my clients fire me, that’s my problem. If I fire my contractors, that’s their problem. If I can live working with the contract above, why does everyone else find it so hard? I suspect because the Karl Marx meme has so thoroughly infected all of our brains, with most of us thinking the world owes us a living, that we recoil from someone having the right to reject us if they don’t want or like us, for whatever reason.

    > …Taft-Hartley…

    Sorry. Don’t know the details of the Taft-Hartley Act. Don’t particularly care, either. As America slides ever further into national socialism, what can one expect but more and more anti-freedom horrors as the almost inevitable US military dictatorship moulds itself from the ashes of the American Revolution. And if you think I’m being cavalier with the details of American legislation, I promise to read up on the Taft-Hartley Act if you can explain a single British Employment Act of the last fifty years. There’s plenty of them. Pick any one.

    > Here’s my counter-challenge: show me an
    > employer who doesn’t believe in the ultimate
    > use of force to get his own way.

    Well, err…, me. I never force anyone to do anything. If my contractors don’t like what I want them to do, they have a choice. Walk. Or do it. If they walk, I bid them adieu (and sometimes even au revoir), and then deal with the headache of either replacing them (which is a pain) or doing their allocated work myself (which is a real pain). If they do it, I pay them, and sometimes, if they’re lucky, thank them for their efforts, usually with a large G’n’T at the hostelry of their choice. It’s simple, really. Aside from all the employment law nonsense I have to deal with. Now, once again, please show me a single union that repudiates the ultimate use of force in its actions? Is it that hard to name one? Does such an organisation exist? There must be one counter-example, surely?

    > My guess is that it’s the employers who will
    > be begging for contracts again, and whining
    > about the good old days under the NLRB.

    Well, I’ll have to take your word for it, because the swamp of Washington DC politics makes me fall asleep even faster than Westminster politics.

    Poor old Jefferson though, up there in meme heaven, must be wondering what he did so wrong to have helped create such a country. Yes, it was clever of Hamilton’s constitutionalists to have got Mr. J. out the country, while they rail-roaded the Constitution past a bemused population, but what a mess you must be in if large corporate employers are begging for yet more putrid bureaucratic laws to protect themselves from the stagnant mass of even earlier bureaucratic laws.

    I think I’m beginning to side with the Jeremy Clarkson school of thought on the US, as it drowns in an ocean of paper money and paper laws. Never go there; because the chances of having your entire life savings sued away, for having stepped on the wrong crack on the wrong pavement, simply aren’t worth the risk.

    Though San Francisco is nice.

    *****

    (editor’s note: please use the push-button formatting we provide. Use blockquotes, not > to quote back text as this is not an e-mail)

  • Johnathan

    All unions use intimidation, if not against members, then against employers, shareholders, and consumers. (Though usually against non-members too, if they can get away with it.)

    Rubbish. Another sweeping statement.

    And what you are doing is triangulating. Extreme Opinion #1: All unions are evil. Extreme Opinion #2: All unions are wonderful. Middle Opinion #3: There’s something to be said for both points of view. I believe that’s commonly known as ‘The Third Way’.

    I plead guilty. Obviously taking a nuanced view makes me a devotee of the “Third Way”. Like I said, you seem to be one of those people who like their ideas nice and simple.

    As I think I’ve said several times now, I’m all for free associations of free people, but rather than get involved in a dictionary-based semantic argument about what the word ‘union’ means, I think most of us know what it means.

    Just because “most of us” — ie, you — think that unions are by, definition, aggressive bodies, it does not mean they are.

    One of my favourite socialist books is ‘The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ in which the union movement seeks to protect poor workers from placing all of their (labour value) wealth into the hands of the evil capitalists. Whereas in fact, all union members have done over the last 100 years is fill the pockets of trades union officials and sponsored Labour MPs, who have then drowned the rest of us in a blitzkrieg of employment laws which have wrecked the wealth-generating capacity of this country.

    Another sweeping statement. You like making them, don’t you?

    Ok, so yes, perhaps tactically trades unions have benefitted many of their members in the short-term, for instance by pointing them at the right compen-pay-shun forms, in the case of industrial accidents, but in the strategic long-term they have made everyone in this country much poorer than they otherwise would have been, especially anyone ever unemployed or in relative poverty.

    Not just tactically. And you could at least spell compensation properly, assuming you are trying to be sarcastic.

    As for whether they have made people poorer than otherwise, I do agree that the closed shop has had that effect, inasmuch as it was successfully enforced with the aid of the state. Without such aid, the closed shop, like all cartels, breaks down.

    Trade unions also ate small babies, apparently.

    If we want to move forward these guilds must be broken by subjecting them to the same free market laws that the rest of us labour under.

    All that is necessary is for unions to lose all civil immunities from tort. For that matter, there is a case for changing the limited liability laws of corporations as well. That is the ultimate free market position. I wonder if you want to go down that road, though, Jack.

    If you are disappointed that I do not share your cartoonish hatred of work-place associations, that is not my problem.

  • Jack Maturin

    > Rubbish. Another sweeping statement.

    Come on, Jonathan? How about some examples of unions who do not, have not, and will not use intimidation as an ultimate weapon?

    > you seem to be one of those people who like
    > their ideas nice and simple.

    That’s why I like to occasionally read Samizdata. However, I prefer to think of it as deducing ethical actions from axiomatic ideological principles, such as “initiating the use of force and thereby coercively imposing costs upon others is wrong”. Your more sophisticated belief in the principle that unions have the right to strike is too far above my head for me to comprehend, unfortunately, and driven by deeper wisdom than I currently possess. I therefore bow down to your mightier knowledge and experience. Though I do profess, it’s not usually a view I would have previously associated with one calling themselves a libertarian. But we live and learn.

    > Just because “most of us” — ie, you — think that
    > unions are by, definition, aggressive bodies, it does > not mean they are.

    One does tire of repeating oneself, but please name a single union which does not ultimately believe in the use of force to get its way against others? Really, I want you to. I would be intrigued, and I would be forced to recalibrate my position, something I am always keen to do in the face of incontrovertible evidence.

    > Another sweeping statement. You like making them,
    > don’t you?

    Just as you, Jonathan, enjoy saying that ‘you like sweeping statements’, rather than actually replying to any of them with counter-examples undermining my position and forcing me, if that’s not too bold an expression, to come round to your way of thinking.

    > And you could at least spell compensation properly,
    > assuming you are trying to be sarcastic.

    Went to a state skool, Jonathan. What can you do?

    > As for whether they have made people poorer than
    > otherwise, I do agree that the closed shop has had
    > that effect,

    Well, it’s nice to agree on something, at last. Excellent.

    > Trade unions also ate small babies, apparently.

    Well, they tried to, but they failed to agree on the demarcation lines as to who got which bits of the bodies. So it had to go to Congress, who are still deliberating.

    > For that matter, there is a case for changing the
    > limited liability laws of corporations as well.
    > That is the ultimate free market position. I wonder if
    > you want to go down that road, though, Jack.

    Ah, well, now, there, you see, steady on. That’s transgressing on my state privileged position, that is, and we can’t be having that now, can we? If you keep on in this “let’s scrap limited liability” mould, I shall have my lawyers onto your case quicker than you can say, “having his cake and eating it”.

    Seriously though, of course I am happy to go down that road. Yes, it would mean I would have to increase my corporate liability insurance payments, but under a free legal system and fully free non-state society, there are going to have to be some costs paid to compenshate for the otherwise spectacular gains. And don’t even mention about how having a 100% reserve gold currency worldwide would put about 90% of the City of London out of work immediately, completely shutting the foreign exchanges, and how abolishing the Westminster government would wipe out about 50% of all the other jobs in London overnight, also completely wrecking the fixed income bond market. Crivens.

    All of those large-salaried London people would have to start working for a living instead, rather than feasting off the state’s carrion. And we haven’t even talked about how the accountancy anti-macro-parasite profession would be whittled down to about 2% of its current size, or how a free body of law, with all of this government paper rubbish burned, would remove the need for around 95% of the lawyers. All highly speculative, of course. But you know me, with the sweeping statements. Certainly beats sweeping pavements. However, I would rather do that again, and pay it as my personal penance, if the reward was a society with the government off our backs.

    Though obviously, we would retain that one wee scrap of paper on the limited liability front, purely for old time’s sake you understand! :-)

  • Seriously though, of course I am happy to go down that road. Yes, it would mean I would have to increase my corporate liability insurance payments, but under a free legal system and fully free non-state society, there are going to have to be some costs paid to compenshate for the otherwise spectacular gains. And don’t even mention about how having a 100% reserve gold currency worldwide would put about 90% of the City of London out of work immediately, completely shutting the foreign exchanges, and how abolishing the Westminster government would wipe out about 50% of all the other jobs in London overnight, also completely wrecking the fixed income bond market. Crivens.

    All of those large-salaried London people would have to start working for a living instead, rather than feasting off the state’s carrion. And we haven’t even talked about how the accountancy anti-macro-parasite profession would be whittled down to about 2% of its current size, or how a free body of law, with all of this government paper rubbish burned, would remove the need for around 95% of the lawyers. All highly speculative, of course. But you know me, with the sweeping statements. Certainly beats sweeping pavements. However, I would rather do that again, and pay it as my personal penance, if the reward was a society with the government off our backs.

    Sounds great, you’ll still have to deal with unions though.

  • Paul Marks,

    I’m trying to figure out what little man in your head you’re responding to because, despite the fact that your comment is addressed to me, it has nothing to do with anything I said. I specifically referred the “ultimate use of force” to the Taft-Hartley act, which criminalizes sympathy and boycott strikes. How, exactly, does a government prohibition of strikes translate into “get off my property”?

    Jack Maturin,

    It’s hard for me to imagine John Galt or Hank Rearden in Corporate America at all. James Taggart ought to fit right in, though.

    As for your model contract, it appears you didn’t pay much attention to what I wrote. “Do what I say to my satisfaction” is not an ex ante specification of job performance. It is exactly what I meant by an open-ended, or incomplete, contract. And verifying whether an individual worker’s job is done to the management’s satisfaction, or whether the worker’s level of effort is sufficient, is far easier said than done in the context of a hierarchical, bureaucratic corporation. That’s what’s meant by the terms “agency problems” and “monitoring costs.” Your model contract (“Do what I say or else”) would be an excellent one for (say) a covenant between God Almighty and mankind. For a party who lacks omniscience and omnipotence, however, it is less satisfactory.

  • Jack Maturin


    Sounds great, you’ll still have to deal with unions though.

    Well I don’t have to now, not in my line of business, so why would I in a freer future? Ok, so maybe other people will have to deal with free associations of free people, but that will be their problem. But what a nice problem it will be to have, living in a free society, compared to the horrors of employment legislation here in the UK at the current time.

    Here’s the golden rules of running a small business here:

    1). Don’t employ any women capable of giving birth.
    2). Don’t employ anyone who could use race legislation against you.
    3). Don’t employ (or at least try to avoid the worst cases of) employing anyone who could use EU Human Rights legislation against you.
    4). Don’t get caught running rules 1), 2), or 3), otherwise you will go to jail

    Obviously it’s far easier to just not employ anyone at all, and join the Barmy Army following the England cricket team (if you’ve got the gelt), but after the recent Caribbean fiasco, even that’s less appealing than it used to be.

    (By the way, there’s a lovely semi-occultation of the Moon and Venus tonight. Get out now and see it before it disappears.)


    It’s hard for me to imagine John Galt or Hank Rearden in Corporate America at all. James Taggart ought to fit right in, though.

    Well, yes, you’re probably right. It’s probably very hard to survive otherwise as a businessman in a country with so many laws, lawyers, and special political interests, though I’m sure many try to live with as little state interference as possible, Gawd Bless ‘em.


    As for your model contract, it appears you didn’t pay much attention to what I wrote. “Do what I say to my satisfaction” is not an ex ante specification of job performance…

    Well, as I said, it’s the one I work to, give or take a lot of legalese stuff my accountant makes me put in. And quite often I simply work to a handshake without any paper at all – though that stupid Sarbanes-Oxley Act is starting to make that a thing of the past, even in Britain, and even amongst trusted circles of friends you’ve been working with for years. So thank you, state, for wrecking my social relations with yet more intrusive legislation. Well done.

  • Paul Marks

    When did I mention the Taft-Hartley Act Mr Carson?

    However, if you want to talk about T-H, fine.

    This Act was passed to partly counter balance such prounion laws as the Wagner Act (employers like Henry Ford would have astonished to learn that this Act was passed to please them – although I hold no brief for Henry Ford, he was a government road and credit money man).

    I would have just repealed the pro union laws – i.e. put the United States back under the law of contract, as it was before the “Progressives” came along.

    However, (contrary to Milton Friedman) I can see the point of “counter balancing regulations”, “right to work States” (where a man can not be fired for not joining a union) counter balance pro union laws this way.

    I would not “counter balance” (I would just get rid of the prounion laws), but things like T-H are second best.

    As for sym strikes and boy strikes.

    If a man does not turn up to work (in defiance of his contract) he has resigned (period). I do not care what sort of “strike” he thinks he is on. And if a union organizes trouble (common law violating stuff) then that union’s funds should be open to legal action.

    As for corporate people being cowards – perhaps they are (although this is not relevant).

    But Frick offers a good example, he once wrote a long financial report to Carnegie from hospital – in the report he did not mention that he was in hospital or what he was there for. He took a bullet smashing a picket line.

    In a world where government did not defend property the old skills (such as being able to defend one’s property) would have to be relearned.

    Corporate cowards would have to hire other men to do their fighting for them. But it is hard to see shareholders have much confidence in people who just hid under their desks.

    Perhaps we would see the return of the owner-manager.

    Which we would anyway without the various regulations, and such things as “progressive” income tax, death tax, and capital gains tax.

    Remember a government that refuses to protect property certainly has no claim to tax.

    I notice that you did not reply to my point about wages and conditions vastly improving before unions were of any importance at all.

    Nor did you reply to the point that economic law showing that unions CAN NOT improve the wages and working conditions of people overall in the long term (over what they otherwise would be), indeed that the union system means that wages and conditions will, in the end, be worse than they otherwise would have been (for those people who still have a job at all).

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Seriously though, of course I am happy to go down that road. Yes, it would mean I would have to increase my corporate liability insurance payments, but under a free legal system and fully free non-state society, there are going to have to be some costs paid to compenshate for the otherwise spectacular gains. And don’t even mention about how having a 100% reserve gold currency worldwide would put about 90% of the City of London out of work immediately, completely shutting the foreign exchanges, and how abolishing the Westminster government would wipe out about 50% of all the other jobs in London overnight, also completely wrecking the fixed income bond market. Crivens.

    You have a point there, Jack. Come to that, if we vastly cut and simplified the tax code, it would put 50% of the accountancy profession out of work as well. I am not a strict “gold bug” but I do think that the system of fiat currencies we have now fuels some of the manic forex trading in London.

    Your more sophisticated belief in the principle that unions have the right to strike is too far above my head for me to comprehend, unfortunately, and driven by deeper wisdom than I currently possess.

    No need to be sarcastic. I did not say that unions have the “right to strike” – since there could be plenty of cases where a union signs a no-strike deal with a firm, for instance. Stripped of legal immunities, many unions would not, in practice, be able to strike.

    Really, I want you to. I would be intrigued, and I would be forced to recalibrate my position, something I am always keen to do in the face of incontrovertible evidence.

    Okay, here’s an example. In the early 1980s, the EADT newspaper group in Suffolk and Essex got rid of its old hot-metal printing technology and switched to modern printing. The unions that were in the printing field were happy to co-operate and let the firm shed 10% of its staff in exchange for a training package to give those members a chance to learn other media-related skills. There was no strike, no bolshiness, nada, zip. The staff were better off; the firm made money — it is still very much in business – and there was none of the violence and confrontation we had between Murdoch and the violent print unions of the late 80s.

    Your whole argument seems to be predicated on the assumption that unions are, by definition, violent and intimidatory. But I think we both agree Jack that unions should not have civil immunities, and therefore without such immunities, they would not be able to coerce anyone or threaten anyone. Of course many unions may want such immunities but they should not get them.

    Of course, in practice, many unions have behaved very badly and justify some of your ire. But I will state that you do seem rather blind to the need for workplace associations particularly in a world where there is no welfare state. Unions are likely to become more, not less important if we get rid of the welfare state. That is something I will leave you to think about and see what you say on that.

    Sorry if some of my comments came over a bit rough but you do have an annoying line in sarcasm, which is a shame since I don’t think we actually disagree all that much.

  • Jack Maturin

    Apologies for the late reply, Mr P. Alas, some buggers in the Barbican wanted their money’s worth (BTW, if you’re ever in that part of the world, the “People’s Choice” cafe is hard to beat, just up from the “Shakespeare” pub).


    Okay, here’s an example. In the early 1980s, the EADT newspaper group in Suffolk and Essex got rid of its old hot-metal printing technology and switched to modern printing…

    Blimey. I can’t even remember what I was doing in the early 1980s, never mind the EADT newspaper group in Suffolk. Ok, sounds good. My position is thus re-calibrated, at least so far as this union goes. Let’s hope it bodes well for the future, in which they all have their special legal privileges removed.


    Your whole argument seems to be predicated on the assumption that unions are, by definition, violent and intimidatory.

    Well, possibly, but most of it was on your statement that ‘and occasionally their strikes for better pay and conditions do in fact help workers in vulnerable situations’ – you should, IMHO, be more careful what you say, and mention such factual examples as the EADT one above, in the initial post – to head off opposition at the pass. Your role as a Samizdatista is a precious and important one. And if you’re going to get grief from fellow travellers like me, for such off-the-cuff initially unsubstantiated statements, our enemies are, in the words of Daniel Craig, going to skewer you should they feel the need. One does of course sympathize and let’s thank the Lord that saloon bar pontificators such as myself are not Samizdatistas. My propensity to sweep everything up into grandiose black and white statements would see me skewered on a daily basis. It’s much easier to criticize, from my position, than to put forward the original idea, in your position. But please be careful out there. We have a world to save and we must be consistent. Especially our shield bearers, such as yourself.


    But I will state that you do seem rather blind to the need for workplace associations particularly in a world where there is no welfare state…Unions are likely to become more, not less important if we get rid of the welfare state.

    Well, of course, Hoppe would push a much greater role for insurance companies in Hoppe World, rather than unions/workplace associations. And Neal Stephenson, in novels such as Snow Crash, would suggest voluntary trans-national micro-state membership. Perhaps even Hoppe’s insurance companies and Stephenson’s Snow Crash voluntary micro-states would in some way combine? Who knows. Let’s just free the world and see what happens! Plus, it’s late. Let’s just leave Insurance companies versus micro-states versus voluntary associations for another day.

    Please keep up the good work. And now it must be time for a rather large gin and tonic. And possibly even some dancing girls and a pedalo or three. Cheers!

  • Paul Marks

    Well the comment count says there have been further comments after my one of 0110, on April 20th – however I can not see them (no matter what I do).

    So, perhaps, this further comment will make them appear. If not then I apologize for not replying if any points have been made in reply to me, I can not respond to what I can not see.

  • Paul Marks

    Good the comments have appeared.

    There seems to be a measure of agreement about (although Mr Carson may yet return, if anyone wants an examination of one example of his work I put one on as a comment to “submit material” section of the Libertarian Alliance blog five months ago – last time I checked it was still there).

    On anarchism/anarcho-capitalism I will not comment here.

    As for unions not always been violent or issuring threats – quite so.

    I have no problem with a Friendly Society (what the Americans used to call a “Fraternity” before this word started to be only used for student group) calling themseleves a “Union” if that is what they want to do -as long as they do not try what W.H. Hutt called the “strike threat system”.

    Again, I repeat that I also have no problem with people saying “pay me more and change my conditions of work or I quit” (or a group of people doing that). My only objection is if there is then a threat (spoken or unspoken, but acted on) to prevent new people working in the enterprise concerned.

  • Paul,

    Just a quick point:

    Without wanting to sound like Bill Clinton, it depends what you mean by “prevent”. The threat of social ostracisation or regularly being called a “scab bastard” or being barred from their local pub would be enough to prevent many ununionised workers from taking jobs…

  • A quick comment.

    Someone complained that unions don’t publish accounts. Actually they do – check out the Certification Officer website. All unions fill in an annual return which you can download from that website.

    PS why does anyone bother talking about anarchism with any seriousness? it’s never been close to happening in any society in the past and it’s never going to happen in the future.