Column: Recovering from labor
On Labor Day, did you celebrate workers? More likely, you made it a day of rest.
Fine. It’s good to have a choice.
I didn’t have a choice about joining a union when I was hired by CBS and then ABC. They told me that if I wanted to work, I had to pay dues to AFTRA (the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists). “I’m not an ‘artist’!” I complained. “I don’t want to pay a middleman, and I don’t want some actor setting my working conditions.”
“Too bad,” was the answer. “This is a union shop.”
Today, 28 states no longer force workers to join unions. Last year, the Supreme Court declared that unions forcing government workers to pay dues is unconstitutional. After that, hundreds of thousands of workers stopped paying union dues. Good. Unions tend to be enemies of workplace innovation and individual choice.
Also, some of their leaders are thieves. Last week, the FBI raided homes of United Auto Workers leaders.
The investigation, begun by the Obama administration, suggests Fiat Chrysler Automobiles paid union leaders millions in bribes to stay “fat, dumb and happy,” as prosecutors put it, instead of protecting union members’ interests.
Yet, this week, Elizabeth Warren (now the clear Democratic presidential frontrunner), said that “more than ever, America needs a strong labor movement.”
This is a popular argument, fueled by the media’s bashing of President Donald Trump and anyone else who supports markets. A recent Gallup poll found labor unions now have a 64% favorability rating — the highest in 16 years.
Warren went on to say that America needs unions because “the playing field today is tilted against working families.”
That’s utter nonsense. The playing field is better for working families today because the animal spirits of capitalism create more wealth and opportunities in spite of unions.
Of course, unions were once needed. More than 100 years ago, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company got the National Guard to send men with machine guns into tents occupied by strikers. They killed at least 20 people, including children and wives of miners who were burned alive.
Today, however, violence is more likely to be initiated by unions.
When I worked for ABC, delivery trucks for the New York Daily News were attacked with sticks, stones and fire on the first day of a strike. Some drivers were beaten.
Not satisfied with attacking the company and threatening violence against “scabs” who want to work, union protestors threatened newsstands that continued to sell the Daily News. Protestors seized copies of the paper and set them on fire.
Police did little to quell the violence.
No wonder many companies prefer to work with nonunion labor.
The legally mandated bureaucracy, and all the lawyers surrounding labor disputes, is another infuriating obstacle to anyone who just wants to work out a contract or get a project done.
One-size-fits-all union contracts aren’t great for all workers, either. They make it tough for individuals to have their own way.
If the union at your workplace says everyone works an eight-hour day, you can’t make your own deal to work a 12-hour day with higher pay. You and your boss might prefer that, but you don’t get the option. The union might even call you a troublemaker, saying you put pressure on everyone to work longer hours.
In a pure free market, every entity — whether individual or a group of individuals — is able to make whatever contracts they like, so long as the other party agrees.
That system would include you getting to decide whether you want to join a union or remain a free individual operator.
More controversially, it would also include the right of business owners to fire people for trying to organize unions.
In a true free market, workers and management are both allowed to be tough negotiators and make demands. But neither side should have the right to get the government to dictate the terms of a contract.
Keep government out of it, so long as people stick to their contracts and refrain from violence.
John Stossel is author of “No They Can’t! Why Government Fails — But Individuals Succeed.” For other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.