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“They like to fill out forms”

Boy, the Guardian‘s commenters are not happy with this offering: “The secret life of a trade union employee: I do little but the benefits are incredible”. My respects to the paper for printing it. For all its faults the Guardian does present a variety of opinion.

Many Libertarians and like-minded folk are reflexively against trade unions. I am not. I believe that any two people, or any two groups of people, should be free to come up with whatever deal suits them, and it is nobody else’s business to tell them they cannot operate under those conditions. A single union workplace? Fine, so long as you do not impose it by force or threats. (A comment from Laird below prompts me to add that perhaps the most common sort of imposition by force is the use of law. Neither employers nor unions need hire goons any more – they hire legislators instead.) Free competition between unions will in the long term raise the general standard, just as it does between companies or nations. If they are wise, trade unions will not simply compete to provide the highest wages or the best services for their members. They should also compete to promote the prosperity of the industries in which their members work. Militant trade unions have killed whole industries – ask the old men who used to be printers or dockers in the 1970’s – and smart workers know this. It looks like the anonymous writer of this piece is dimly aware that the union for which he or she works is beginning to pay the price for featherbedding:

There are disadvantages to these perks though, as nobody feels they can leave until they retire or are offered a fantastic redundancy package. Even that doesn’t work sometimes, as people realise they are on to such a good thing that they refuse the redundancy offer and stay here to do little more than open the post for the rest of their working lives, while still picking up the same salary.

As a result we have an ageing workforce with no fresh ideas. The activists are computer illiterate, preferring to print out emails instead of send them on electronically. I was once scoffed at for suggesting that we try to have a paperless office instead of killing rainforests. “We have too many old members. They like to fill out forms,” I was told.

58 comments to “They like to fill out forms”

  • Laird

    Natalie, I’m not “reflexively” against trade unions, either, but your limiting condition (“so long as you do not impose it by force or threats“) is simply farcical. At least in the US (and I’m sure in the UK, too) trade unions are strongly protected by law; “force or threats” is endemic to the system. Unless you’re in a “right-to-work” state, if a union organizes its workforce the company is forced to deal with it as the sole bargaining agent for all employees, who are in turn are required to join it (or pay the equivalent in fees). Employers are strictly limited in how they can deal with unionized employees, especially during strikes. Even in right-to-work states most of the federal rules still apply, and the National Relations Labor Board (which has jurisdiction over these matters) is heavily pro-union.

    The deck is heavily stacked against employers in unionized industries, which is why our old industrial areas (the “rust belt”) are doing so poorly: companies are leaving for the freer environment of (mostly southern) right-to-work states, if not moving overseas entirely. Auto manufacturers and other employers in old-line heavy industries in those states are saddled with absurdly high salary levels and ridiculous work rules which they are nearly powerless to change outside of bankruptcy. And of course the worst is the government employee and teachers unions. Their members are strongly protected by civil service laws, so the unions exist for no purpose other than to pressure politicians into higher wages and larger staffs. Such unions should be illegal.

    So yes, I agree that, in theory, “any two groups of people should be free to come up with whatever deal suits them“. The problem is, that isn’t the world we live in. And it won’t be until all the labor laws are abolished and employers and employees are truly free to negotiate deals that suit them. It’s just another libertarian fantasy.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Laird, I should have made it clearer that in my book “trade unions are strongly protected by law” is an example of imposing a deal by force and threats. I’ll update the wording.

  • Laird

    Natalie, I see your edit, but my comment still stands. All union shops are imposed by force and threats (they employ the power of government). That isn’t going to change any time soon, so your pipe dream of a freely-arrived-at agreement between labor and management remains just that.

  • Thailover

    I’m all for the right for employees to agree to walk out on an employer, but not to have their jobs then guaranteed to them when they return. And I don’t agree that employees should be able to sabotage, interrupt business any other way, block sidewalks, streets or gates, nor to attack or otherwise harass “scab” replacement workers. Union employees shouldn’t be able to do what I cannot do as a private individual without being arrested by the police.

    In short, I have no problem with unions with no teeth. But, alas there are no unions with no teeth just as there are no pink flying lammacorns. Unions, in order to be effective, RELY on thuggery, they rely on violence or the threat of violence. They rely on unjust laws that tie the hands of employers and give sanction to criminal activity.
    Union “bosses” are some of the lowest of the lowlife walking the planet. Technically speaking, I have no problem with the idea of unions as long as they’re just and fair, but that’s disingenuous, like saying I have no problem with pink lammacorns, as neither really exist.

    One thing unions are great at is causing said corporation to lose marketshare since labor cost is one of the greatest liabilities/costs a company has. In the US, in the mid 1040’s union jobs were nearly half the full-time jobs available. Today it’s less than 8%, with unions moving on to the public sector to higheway rob the taxpayers.

    Why? Because unions kill corporations. It’s as simple as that. And a recent example of this is Hostess, the maker of snack cakes. Unions drove them in the dirt even though there was a demand for the products in the general public, and instead of continuing to allow unions to bleed them dry as they circled the drain, the company folded, to the consternation of the union boss maggots. THEN the company reemerged from the grave….without a union. Most “brands” are not that fortunate.

  • Thailover

    Erp, rather “in the mid 1940’s”

  • Alisa

    Question is (an entirely hypothetical one, it seems) would unions actually continue to exist without the forceful involvement of the state? I know that the history of organized labor is complex (like all history, really), and there were at least some periods during the industrial revolution when governments actually interfered against the unions, and laws were passed limiting and even prohibiting their activities. I wonder if Paul Marks or anyone else could shed more light on the bigger historical picture.

  • Ellen

    My formative experience with unions came when I was a grad student, in the mid-sixties. Skipping the details, it was the job of the professors and grad students and employees to work together to design and make equipment. Making the equipment was an important part of the learning process.

    But graduate school was not unionized. And we had people from the electrical workers’ union constantly coming around, trying to catch us doing something they felt was their own. We had to keep all the shades down, and all the doors locked. Finally we had one of the workers join a union, to cast its blessings upon the whole enterprise.

    I’ve detested unions ever since.

  • It would be interesting to know which union it is.

    I’m guessing Unite.

  • Fraser Orr

    I’m with Natalie on this one. Although I agree that unions in their present form are using force of government, I think in principle that could have been a good thing. For highly fungible jobs, electricians and plumbers for example, having a union set a standard as a mark of competence, and as a defining of reasonable prices doesn’t seem a bad thing to me.

    I don’t even particularly object to the notion of trademark like law, such as saying you can’t call yourself a plumber unless you meet some standard defined by a standardized quality body such as a union, though it is certainly a power that has to be managed carefully. You know if black cabbies want to own the word “taxi” that is fine, as long as I can be an “Uber”. If they own the word they can own any poison the word has too.

    Where it breaks down is when polticial action makes it illegal to hire someone to fix your pipes even if he/she can’t call themselves a “plumber”.

    Where it also breaks down is where the job is not fungible. Teacher being the most obvious example that springs to my mind. The notion that teachers are paid based on a function of their years of service and educational level of attainment is just ridiculous to anyone who has ever actually had children in school.

    And at its root the basic problem is that nobody ever lead a union who wasn’t at least a socialist if not a full on communist. Arthur Scargill springs to mind.

    I think the idea of a benign union providing certification services and collective barganin is rather ruined by the evidence we see of what unions actually seem to do in practice, like dropping concrete blocks on the cars of people going to work for example.

  • Runcie Balspune

    so long as you do not impose it by force or threats.

    Yeah right, as long as people who use language like this numpty (via Guido) don’t get into power. You don’t always need muscle, legal or otherwise, the mere presence of someone, somewhere, willing to stir up opposition, with unmentioned consequence, is normally enough to keep the unwilling comrades in line.

    This is how unions have always operated, how you’d legislate or protect against it, I’m not sure though.

    One day, this kind of collective activism will be seen as just a step away from fascism, and it will fade away, but until then unions are here to stay.

    It all ties in with the union backed Corbyn and company, whilst there is joy at seeing the socialists losing their grip of ever seeing power, it does encourage the backward sort of thinking that libertarians like to dissuade from.

  • Alisa

    Fraser, I think that you may be mixing two different kinds of organizations, that should be made distinct: what you seem to be discussing are guilds, which exist for various professions that at least traditionally tend to be self-employed, whereas what the post seems to be discussing are labor union – and those operate within the employer-employee construct. Although to me the latter is just that – a construct (a political one at that), which I’d rather see abolished altogether, but as Laird says, this is the world in which we happen to live, which makes that distinction quite real and important.

  • Laird

    I was going to make the same comment on Fraser’s post, but Alisa beat me to it. So I’ll just second her remarks.

  • Dr. Toboggan

    “Free competition between unions…”

    Has there ever been such?

    As far as I can see, unions tend to combine their efforts. It’s the logical extension of the underlying logic of collective bargaining: if two workers can get a better deal than one, then what about a hundred? Or a thousand? Or a million?

    I don’t know whether the economic logic of unions demands that they agglomerate – i.e., that “free competition between unions” is theoretically possible – but the personality of the average real-life union member precludes it. Why should unions fight amongst themselves? That’s just what management wants us to do, brothers!

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Dr Toboggan, when I was a teacher long ago there appeared to be quite sharp competition between the NUT and NASUWT. In those days NASUWT was seen as the union for teachers who had got sick of the NUT’s continual self-defeating strikes, with the now almost forgotten Professional Association of Teachers as the option for teachers who refused to strike at all. I’ve lost touch with how they all compare now.

    By the by, I was amused to learn from the Wikipedia article on NASUWT how very politically incorrect its origins were:

    The origins of the NASUWT can be traced back to the formation of the National Association of Men Teachers (NAMT) in 1919. The Association was formed as a group within the National Union of Teachers (NUT) to promote the interests of male teachers. The group existed alongside others within the NUT such as the National Federation of Class Teachers, the National Association of Head Teachers and the National Federation of Women Teachers (later to become the National Union of Women Teachers).[3]

    The formation of the NAMT was in response to an NUT referendum the same year, approving the principle of equal pay. This major change in salary policy had been achieved whilst many male teachers were away serving in the army during the First World War.[4]

    A subsequent three-year campaign by the NAMT to further the interests of male teachers in the NUT saw its name changed in 1920 to the National Association of Schoolmasters (NAS) and finally resulted in secession of the NAS from the NUT in 1922. The secession came about indirectly following a decision at the NAS Conference that year to prohibit NAS members from continuing to also be members of the NUT after 31 December 1922.[5]

    The NAS aimed to recruit every schoolmaster into the NAS, to safeguard and promote the interests of male teachers, to ensure recognition of the social and economic responsibilities of male teachers, and to ensure the representation of schoolmasters on matters concerned with education with both the local education authorities (LEAs) and government. The NAS also maintained that all boys over the age of seven should be taught mainly by men and that schoolmasters should not serve under women heads.[6]

  • Alisa

    if two workers can get a better deal than one, then what about a hundred? Or a thousand? Or a million?

    Yes, if the underlying assumption is that labor unions exist to get better deals for their members – only they don’t. Rather, they exist to provide power and steady income for union organizers. Under this premise, bigger may still be better (not necessarily for ordinary union members, but for the organizers and the leaders), although probably not always.

  • TimR

    Going forward, unions are more and more of an anachronism. In their progress towards extinction they are now in the obstructional phase. Looking to the future, how do they pretend to represent the knowledge worker?

  • Mose

    Laird nailed it. My first job out of college was at a forced-unionization hospital in Portland, Oregon. The union was AFSCME, the largest donor to Obama’s campaign, and I was forced to contribute about $700 a year. Legally I was entitled to have a portion of my “Fair Share” dues given to a charity of AFSCME’s choice, but after a three year effort involving rejections, postage-only communications, dead letters, wrong addresses, and countless “we’re sorry, but this person is no longer in the position you seek to deal with” responses, I quit and left that miserable city for a rural hospital with no union. My wages are higher, my conscience is clear, and I am happier than ever.

    Aside from my experience with a political/trade union, it must also be remembered that in the case of government employee unions the employer is the taxpayer, not a private investor. In private industry, the union can only bankrupt the employer. In public sector unions, the sky is the limit. The taxpayer can always be squeezed harder, the national bank can always print more cash, and the nation can always be plunged deeper into debt-until the nation fails. The “employer” of a government employee is often a politician who is incentivised to side with the union, not the nation. Public sector unions are not fighting “greedy capitalists”, they fight the citizenry themselves, and should be outlawed.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    General comment: when any type of organisation gets into bed with government it frees it from the need to please people, and turns it evil.

  • Fraser Orr

    > Fraser, I think that you may be mixing two different kinds of organizations, that should be made distinct:

    They are separable, but they are often not separated, and in a sense the guild system has partly been absorbed into unionism. It is a plain fact that “union approved” is one of the selling points unions use. Not always by any means, but it an important component of the whole gestalt of unionism in the West. If we are dealing with the pragmatic reality of unions in contrast to the theoretical idea of unions (which seems to be the primary topic of discussion here) then this is surely relevant.

    The question is this: what benefits can unions offer, and this is surely one of them. In many of these trades people aspire to union membership because it confers on them the imprimatur of the union, not because they want to enter collective bargaining.

  • PhilB

    Look Guys, you need to understand Pournelles Iron Law of Bureacracy.

  • Laird

    Unions can also be as limiting to their members as they are to employers. An example:

    Many years ago I lived is a smallish city which was nonetheless large enough to have a professional symphony orchestra. They were all required to be unionized (the Musicians Union is a part of the AFL-CIO; go figure). Its members were absolutely prohibited from volunteering their time and playing for free with community groups; they always had to receive union scale, and they couldn’t even be paid if others in the group were volunteers. I performed (as a volunteer) with one such community group (I play French horn), so of course we never had any of the symphony musicians playing with us. But one year the orchestra decided to perform the Mahler 1st Symphony, which is scored for 8 horns but they only had 5. So they scrounged around for the extra 3 players, and asked me to be one of them. I was delighted to be able to play one of my favorite pieces with professional quality musicians and jumped at the chance. But first I had to join the union (for that one performance). I would gladly have played for free, but that’s not allowed. So I joined, and my initiation fee plus the dues almost equaled the total pay I received. The union basically got all of my pay. I didn’t much care (frankly, I was amused), but the point is that all those fine musicians were prohibited from donating their talents to the community in a non-profit setting which didn’t even compete with the orchestra. Sad, really.

  • Mary Contrary

    To the Americans rounding on Nathalie, since the Thatcher reforms of the mid-1980s, the U.K. has been what you call a “right-to-work” nation; we call it “the abolition of the closed shop”.

    Not that British unions are particularly lovely here, nor are their officials particularly lovable heroes of the working classes. But neither are they the intrinsically evil denial of the right to association you describe. They once were, but not for a long time.

    On the other hand, unionising has pretty much disappeared except in the public sector, where (e.g.) Tube drivers have the power by strike to shut down a whole section of the economy to enforce their demands. I certainly don’t know a software or network engineer in a union (although some of the BT engineers that fix broken phone lines must be members of the Communications Workers’ Union, I suppose). But basically, TimR is right.

  • Alisa


    In many of these trades people aspire to union membership because it confers on them the imprimatur of the union, not because they want to enter collective bargaining.

    I am not familiar with that aspect of labor unions (as opposed to guilds) – can you offer an example?

  • Alisa


    Public sector unions are not fighting “greedy capitalists”, they fight the citizenry themselves, and should be outlawed.


  • Alisa


    when any type of organisation gets into bed with government it frees it from the need to please people, and turns it evil.

    Of course. But I think that the underlying assumption (correct or not) of some of the comments here is that unlike other types of organizations, labor unions simply would not exist outside the government bed, as they cannot please anyone other than their leaders – not for significantly extended periods.

  • Mary has it right regarding the UK. There are massive problems with over regulation in many sectors, but that is no longer down to unions for the most part, other than in a very few sectors.

  • Fraser Orr

    > can you offer an example?

    Sure. Electricians, plumbers, teamsters. Some aspects of their union membership work similar to guilds in the past, but they are unions today.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    The role of the state in unions is very pertinent. In Singapore, the ‘unions’ are essentially apparatus of the state, and collaborate with the private sector in what I personally feel is a fascist style arrangement.

    The most interesting part of it is that it works.

  • Public sector unions are not fighting “greedy capitalists”, they fight the citizenry themselves, and should be outlawed.

    Thanks, JFK.

  • A small anecdote. My sister is a freelance journalist and she once offered a piece to the Daily Telegraph, who declined it before running the piece anyway with no attribution or payment to her. She contacted the NUJ thinking this would be just the sort of thing Union membership could help with. Apparently not, they weren’t interested. They were, however, interested in getting their members to march in protest at Israel.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    You can tell things are bad for unions when they true to use health and safety to bolster union numbers. The Transport unions here in Australia tried to get laws passed in the interests of truckers safety, and the laws happened to favour the Transport unions in all respects! The laws were defeated, but the Leader of the Labor opposition has promised to bring them back if he gets into power. Union numbers have been dwindling in Australia for some time, so this was probably a desperate attempt to seem relevant.

  • Laird

    Fraser, I guess that’s another difference between Britain and America. Over here, the only plumbers, electricians, etc., who are unionized are those who work for large industrial corporations (such as an automobile manufacturing plant), or in the commercial construction trades (notably in New York), etc. “Pipefitters” are glorified plumbers who work in ship construction; they’re unionized. But the average plumber or electrician who fixes the broken water heater or installs a ceiling fan in your house isn’t unionized, although he is generally required to be licensed by the state. That’s basically a guild structure, not a union.

  • Fraser, I guess that’s another difference between Britain and America.

    I dunno, the trades in the UK have only fairly recently been required to have certification, and I think even now it is only for plumbers working with gas and electricians. Otherwise, from my experience growing up in Wales you were fortunate if the tradesman who turned up knew a tap from a wheelbarrow.

  • Runcie Balspune

    and should be outlawed.

    Therein lies the problem, can we only resort to a ban, what does the good libertarian do in the face of such a naked manifestation of collectivist tyranny?

    The recent Southern Rail dispute here in the UK is about who opens and closes doors on a train, the driver or the guard? The underlying reason is that for over 20 years we’ve had reliable and safe automated train services and we don’t actually need a driver or a guard, so the real motive of the disruption is job preservation at the expense of the commuter (drivers and guards are not exactly under-paid). Our dear leader-in-waiting has fully backed the union motive, and not largely because he is financed by them. Does Southern Rail need another “Wapping” moment?

  • James C

    To a certain extent I think that’s still largely true, even for the ones with a certification. Which is why over the last few years so many sites dedicated to giving a rating to your local tradesmen have gotten so popular – and you see the ones with a good rating advertising it on their vans.

  • Mose

    Runcie Balspune, your point is well taken. It would be intellectually consistent to investigate whether public sector unions could be rendered toothless merely by subjecting them to market forces.

    It’s just that I hate them so.

  • Jacob

    Unions exist and are active mainly in public sector workplaces or government owned enterprises. Unions active in the past in the private business sector have managed, over time, to bankrupt their employers, so, by a natural selection process, most businesses are not unionized. Of, course, the government cannot be bankrupted (or can it?) so it is in this sector that unions prosper, at the expense of the public. The Government participates in this scam by forcing (public) employees to pay their dues to unions. Unions would not exist at all, were it not for government ordered dues paid to them (and other gov. regulations).

    There is a symbiosis between government politicians and unions: governments sustain unions via the dues and other regulations, the unions gather the votes for politicians in power.

    So, we can sum up that Unions are a branch of politics and government, and are unrelated to employer-employee relations.

  • Alisa

    Runcie, if I understood him correctly, Mose’s suggestion to outlaw unions was only regarding government employees – a suggestion that should present no ideological problem to libertarians.

  • Alisa

    That’s basically a guild structure, not a union.

    Exactly, Laird, that is why I find Fraser’s comments so confusing – especially as I seem to recall that he lives in the US…

  • NickM

    “And at its root the basic problem is that nobody ever lead a union who wasn’t at least a socialist if not a full on communist. Arthur Scargill springs to mind.”

    Erm… Norman Tebbit was spokesman for BALPA (the civil aviation union) and yes, he once held the airlines’ balls to the angle-grinder – and won. Perhaps because flying a ‘plane is a genuine high-end skill and that cannot be said about trains (sorry Bob). True it was… in the days of steam but now it is holding a dead-man’s handle and opening doors. The likes of the RMT have made themselves an unnecessary evil.

    Slightly O/T here is an old interview with Tebbit –


    That is from the time of Maastricht. His prognostications are eariely spot on. Worth reading the whole thing.

  • Cal

    “Apparently not, they weren’t interested. They were, however, interested in getting their members to march in protest at Israel.”

    Sounds a lot like the union at my old Uni. They were useless at everything, with the exception of protests and action against Israel, for which they would spring into action with a remarkable vigour that you had never suspected existed.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    NickM, my goodness, yes, Tebbit was prescient in that William Leith interview from 1993:

    Stealthily at first, he moved the conversation towards Europe. Re-entering the ERM, he said, which Douglas Hurd has mooted, would be ‘a disaster’: ‘It’s rather like trying to fly a British Airways aircraft, not according to what’s on the instrument panel of that aeroplane, but according to what’s on the instrument panel of a Lufthansa flight, which is going in a different direction.’

    ‘So . . . what are your objections to Maastricht?’

    At this, Tebbit talked solidly for over 15 minutes, brooking no interruption. He was not, he said, simply anti-European. No, he was, in a more complicated way, pro-European. The trouble with Maastricht was that it would cause terrible economic problems for the countries on the fringe of the EC and, if this happened, ‘we will see the invasion of West Europe by people just . . . walking. Just moving. They will be what in Hong Kong are known as economic migrants – you know, when they throw the Vietnamese out of Hong Kong. And those economic migrants will move into Europe. The first place they’ll arrive will be Germany. They will probably there meet the economic migrants from . . . Greece.’

    He said, also, that a great divide would develop between countries within the EC, between the poorer countries and the richer ones like Britain, who would have to subsidise the poorer ones by raising taxes. It all sounded practical, self-interested, anti-idealistic, like an argument in favour of privatisation or against the welfare state. Why should we waste our money on these guys when they’d probably be better off fending for themselves in a proper competitive environment?

    This, so far, didn’t exactly sound like xenophobia; it sounded like the kind of pragmatic cynicism that often gets mistaken for xenophobia. It’s not quite that he doesn’t like Krauts and Dagoes; he just doesn’t want to rush into anything. And, on a personal level, he savours the controversy it causes when he says so.

    Of a post-Maastricht Europe, he said: ‘Those in the South would be saying: the miserable mean swine in the North, they’re rich and won’t give us anything, and we miserable mean swine in the North would be saying: it’s them in the South. Now that’s the recipe for a revolution.’

    (Emphasis added.)

  • Alisa

    Thanks so much for that link, Nick – I’m enjoying the article immensely. I knew nothing of Tebbit, in my ignorance – what a character. They truly don’t make them like that any more.

  • Runcie Balpsune

    If the only union activity of concern to libertarians is that of the public sector, and in a future Libertopia there will be no public sector, I don’t suppose it presents a problem. However, my concern is that of my example – union activity in a private industry. Whilst we could certainly allow companies to abolish union activity or sack strikers, the reality is different as it still poses a problem.

    In Libertopia, there may not be rail franchises, but even privately owned key industry components (like mass transit) could easily wreck the economy if the wrong people get a little too powerful, and mass sackings is not going to resolve or prevent the issue (perhaps long term, but the damage would be done), so what can be achieved to prevent this?

    Personal gun ownership in Libertopia would probably help strike breakers get to work.

  • AndrewWS

    Sounds a bit like working in the civil service, then. The benefits weren’t great, but very little real work was actually required, most of the people liked completing forms, and virtually none of them showed any evidence of a desire to leave.

  • NickM

    Not to rain on your parade but the union thugs would also have guns…

  • Not to rain on your parade but the union thugs would also have guns…

    Which means confrontations become less common but more deadly I imagine. It also probably forces whatever constitutes The Powers That Be (which will exist in *any* system) to get involved on one side or the other to prevent civil war.

  • Paul Marks

    Natalie – the problem is that union “Strike Threat System” (as W.H. Hutt called it) depends on government granted privileges.

    Take a “Picket Line” – why the MILITARY term “Picket Line”.

    Because it is a military thing – or a paramilitary thing.

    People do not have philosophical discussions on Picket Lines – the are about using force and fear to prevent “scabs” going to work.

    To say “I support collective bargaining as long as it is peaceful” is like saying “I support cats – as long as they bark”.

    Milton Friedman opposed “Right To Work” laws as you do.

    “If an employer wishes to have only union members as employees – that is a matter for voluntary agreement” was the Friedman line.

    That was an astonishingly “innocent” (read – absurd) position.

    Only a demented employer would voluntarily agree to such union power – such agreements are made under THREAT.

    “Collective bargaining” is really a Mafia like practice – causing long term unemployment and economic decline.

    It is no accident that manufacturing industry as declined in the States of the United States that are not “Right To Work” States.

    Yes these are government regulations – but they are a “counter balance” to the government regulations (such as “legal obstruction” “picketing”) which give artificial power to unions.

  • Rich Rostrom

    In the present US law, if a majority of employees in a workplace opt for union representation, that workplace becomes a “union shop”. All employees are required to pay dues to the union, and wages, benefits, and working conditions are established by contract between the employer and union.

    The employer is prohibited by law from hiring anyone who is not a union member, or having any of the unionized work done by a non-member. (Or a member of a different union; different occupations at a site may belong to different unions, and the unions may fight over whose members get to do what work.)

    This system was established to replace the previous system, where union allegiance was enforced by extra-legal intimidation. This could take many forms, from social disapproval to leg-breaking. Union success depended on “worker solidarity”. Where worker grievances were strong, unions had such support – but there was corresponding anger towards “scabs” and “blacklegs”, often breaking out into violence against “traitors”.

    (Violence was not a union monopoly. Many employers used hired muscle to drive off union organizers and intimidate employees.)

    Formal legal procedures for the establishment (or removal) and enforcement of a union shop greatly reduced the reasons for violence. It’s not a good system, but it was an improvement.

  • John B

    Trade unions distort the labour market by bargaining upward wages, insisting on grade and skill levels and other benefits, thereby excluding others whose skills are not worth the union bargained wage or do not have the right qualifications. (Hence the recent teaching union uproar over use of ‘non-qualified’ teachers in schools)

    By keeping people out of the labour market, they reduce competition and supply and thus drive up wages and benefits – the loser is the consumer who pays for it within the price they pay for goods and services.

    In a free market unions are not only not necessary but detrimental to consumers.

  • Dr. Toboggan


    I’m very surprised to learn that there are three separate teacher’s unions – even more so to find that the one I’ve heard of (NUT) has 300,000 members, about the same number as NASUWT! I suppose I’ve never heard of it because they don’t go on strike all the time.

    (And Voice, which never goes on strike at all, has only 20,000 members, which says something either about the effectiveness of strikes or the attitudes of people who join unions.)

    Here in Western Australia, I’d forgotten that there were two teacher’s unions, but if memory serves, one is for gov’t schools and one for private schools, so they don’t overlap.

    My main experience of unions has been the mighty CFMEU – the Construction, Forestry, Mining & Engineering Union – so you can see what I mean about unions melding together like the T-1000. What connection do these four industries have? Why only these four, why not fishing and farming and all sorts of other shit too?

    Still, I concede the point that competition between unions isn’t an impossible state of affairs. And I suppose that the CFMEU is in competition with the other unions too: like I said, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t represent workers from other industries as well, and perhaps they’ve tried, but the other unions have fended them off. They haven’t managed to lay claim to maritime workers, for instance; Aussie maritime worker’s unions ought to fit right in at the CFMEU, because they’re all basically criminal organisations.

    Update: I just checked the CFMEU wikipedia page, and learned two interesting things: 1, that it’s Energy, not Engineering, which means I’ve been saying it wrong for 15 years, and 2, the CFMEU actually is currently trying to merge with the Maritime Union of Australia!

  • Fraser Orr

    > Exactly, Laird, that is why I find Fraser’s comments so confusing – especially as I seem to recall that he lives in the US…

    Not sure why the “especially” here. It is a long time since I lived in the UK, so perhaps there is a difference in the structure. But these sorts of workers are unionized here in the USA. And for sure it has many of the features of a guild. I’m not really sure how to distinguish between the two words though, and I don’t want to get bogged down in one of those dueling dictionary type debates. But what matters are the properties of the structures. Both unions and guilds are organizations that are essentially tribal. If you are part of our tribe we will fight for you, if not we will attempt to crush you, in terms of collective bargaining, rent seeking, excluding others, defending each other “all for one, one for all” style, and seek legislative advantages. And we will fight against people who try to encroach on our territory through legislation, price fixing, advertising (true or false), secrecy, ganging up, thuggery and various other means, legal or illegal. And as I said, since this requires the elimination of internal competition it tends to work best in fungible situations. (Oh and BTW, one of the biggest benefits of union membership, esp. non employer based union membership, is health insurance risk pooling, something which the USA has utterly screwed up right now… don’t get me started on the mess that whole thing is in currently.)

    Those seem to be the essential properties of both. And it is why, from what I see, people who work in these trades seem to aspire to union membership because of these benefits it confers rather than necessarily for the one single one that unions seem most famous for — collective bargaining. But YMMV.

  • Alisa

    But these sorts of workers are unionized here in the USA.

    That is why ‘especially in the US’ – meaning that the way you describe the situation is contrary to what I know and what Laird says.

    My confusion is not semantic, it is substantive: sure, all these organizations are tribal, as you say, with all the related implications – but the post refers to a specific type of organizations, namely trade unions in the employer/employee context (with the title of the article linked in the post being “The secret life of a trade union employee: I do little but the benefits are incredible”). So I still don’t see how your original comment relates to that.

  • Thailover

    I’ve worked in the private sector and with unions (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) in Vegas. It was an eye opener. Those in the private sector, no matter how idiotic and entitled they feel, will admit when challenged that people by and large are paid what their work is worth and those who do more, i.e. generate more of what is valuable, are paid more. Those in the IBEW, at least in the 3 months I associated with them, were the most openly racist, sexist, homophobic son of a bitches I’ve ever met. It looks to me like the (what I would call socialist) environment draws the dregs of society like flies to rotten meat.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    There’s a new attempt by unions here in Australia to turn casual workers into full-time ones, by claiming they are victimised otherwise. How can the union know this? Many people might like the casual system, and the ability to set their own hours. But our unions are conditioned here to see everything as ‘exploitation’, unless its union business- then compulsory unionism is great!