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.