John Jay Myers: Some Thoughts About Unions

John Jay Myers via facebook:

There was a time for unions, there is even a time for some unions today. I don’t agree with what unions have become, for the most part today they are a complete disaster. There are few things out there that can so damage an economy like an over zealous union with deep political connections.

When I ran for City Council a couple of years back, the issue was that the Mayor of Dallas, Tom Leppert (currently running as a Republican for U.S. Senate) decided that the main thing the City of Dallas needed was to build a hotel, one that the city would own. As a libertarian this struck the wrong chord with me on so many levels, one being the fact that the Mayor was formerly the CEO of Turner Construction, a company that builds……. (wait for it) hotels.

During the campaign, we found an unlikely ally, the local union. They say that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. I tend to disagree with “they”. The union was working hard to help pass a proposition that would ensure that any time over $1 million dollars was to be spent by the city on a commercial venture, that all you need to do was collect 500 signatures for that issue placed on the ballot for debate. Previously the council would just spend the million dollars on the commercial venture.

From a libertarian perspective this was a great thing. From a corrupt city council point of view this was a bad thing, it would appear the gig is up. But you wonder “Why do the unions want this?” The unions want this because they are completely ready to collect 500 signatures. They would use their ability to easily collect 500 signatures as a way of holding this over the heads of the City Council, basically saying “If you are going to get your cut….we want ours.” If the city council caved to their demands, then we would end up with not only a million dollar boondoggle, but one with out of control wages and pensions. If the City Council doesn’t cave to the unions’ demands, then they don’t get their “cut”… so to speak.

Nevertheless, I voted with the Unions. The proposition failed.

My point, though, is that unions no longer serve their original purpose of allowing people to “collectively bargain.” No one has a “fundamental right to collectively bargain” through government, that is known as force, and in some cases fraud.

I have mentioned before in a different article that it seems we fail to see the forest through the trees. An article written by a friend of mine, Tom Knapp, reminded me of that while talking about this same subject.

The problem is that our government is going way beyond the role that our founders had envisioned…. and we have allowed it.

We have two sides pitted against each other, each trying for scraps off the table, when we should realize that the problem is that we should be the ones sitting at the table. Our government has no business in business, and we need to privatize and localize as many functions as possible as quickly as possible. In the private sector when you run your business into the ground you go out of business. When the government runs their business into the ground we all pay the price, through taxes, inflation, and debt.

Those who are now poised to protest loudest do not care about you, or the effects down the road. They care about their own self interest. There is nothing wrong with looking out for your own self interest except when you effect mine as a result. Which is the end result of having government involved in business and unions.

30 thoughts on “John Jay Myers: Some Thoughts About Unions

  1. Lorne Marr

    Yes. I completely agree with what you are saying about the unions. They stopped serving their original purpose a long time ago and I am not sure what is the actual goal they should be ideally following now. I am afraid this is the classical case of an institution losing its reasons for existence, yet still persisting in the society.

  2. Matt Cholko

    I have no problem at all with people organizing for any purpose whatsoever. However, the organization must be COMPLETELY voluntary, and all other organizations or people (in the case of a union the counter party would be a business) must be free to recognize them or not, and deal with them in any way they wish.

  3. Matt Cholko

    There is a bit of an issue with unions of government employees, as people involved in the provision of “essential” services can basically force governments to meet their demands with the threat of a strike. However, the real problem here is that government is providing services, most of which they should not be.

  4. Thomas L. Knapp

    That unions “stopped serving their purpose a long time ago” is often observed.

    Why that happened, though, isn’t often noted.

    A lot of people think that the National Labor Relations Act (the Wagner Act) was a favor to, or a boon for, organized labor.

    In point of fact, it was exactly the opposite: The NLRA was enacted for the purpose of corralling, co-opting and harnessing an increasingly powerful union movement that was getting what it wanted on its own, not just without the assistance of government, but with government actively working against it.

    NLRA slowed down the unions, but apparently not enough. The Taft-Hartley Amendments started actually rolling them back.

    The unions “stopped serving their purpose” because of government intervention in economic matters — something that libertarians usually oppose (and that, to its credit, the LP still opposes).

    When it comes to government employee unions, it’s kind of a tiered issue:

    1) The best way to solve the problem of government employee unions is to have government doing as little as possible, with as few employees as possible.

    2) Short of that, I could see merit in proposals such as “the government won’t agree to exclusive, ‘closed-shop’ contracts with any union, nor will it act as any government employee union’s dues-collecting agent.”

    But that’s as far as it can reasonably go. A call to ban a union, or to prohibit membership in a union to anyone, by force of law, is not libertarianism, it is fascism.

  5. Bryan

    Thanks for that comment TK.

    In the various union topics over the past few weeks, Libertarians often use phrases which remind me of racists in denial. ‘I don’t have anything against (insert minority), some of my best friends are (insert minority)…but there are some bad apples that spoil the whole basket’.

    If you don’t like unions…say it! It gets rather frustrating to see the same things said in just about every thread.

    Teachers, police, and garbage collectors have the same right to free association as everyone else, and it just so happens that their employer is the government. But what if all or some of these professions were privatized…would they have the right to unionize…and wouldn’t it still cause the problems you seem to feel comes with gov. employee unions?

    Many L’s also like to point out they have nothing against unions in the private sector…but…in that or later comment….it generally follows that unions no longer serve their major mission, are run by a bunch of suits in DC, with thugs on the ground in hotspots. Give me a break…

    As for unions engaging in politics…yeah…they do. Of course no L’s seem to think it wrong that the Koch bros send payed employees to “protests”.

  6. paulie Post author

    If you don’t like unions…say it!

    I like some unions, such as IWW and The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, see http://radgeek.com/gt/2007/11/30/coalition_of/

    Teachers, police, and garbage collectors have the same right to free association as everyone else, and it just so happens that their employer is the government.

    It just so happened that my employer at one time was an organization that “doesn’t exist,” if you know what I mean. And if you don’t know what I mean, forget about it. I think that their employer “so happens” to be the government is a rather important fact that makes a lot of difference in the situation.

    But what if all or some of these professions were privatized…would they have the right to unionize…

    Yes.

    and wouldn’t it still cause the problems you seem to feel comes with gov. employee unions?

    No.

    Many L’s also like to point out they have nothing against unions in the private sector…but…in that or later comment….it generally follows that unions no longer serve their major mission, are run by a bunch of suits in DC, with thugs on the ground in hotspots.

    Correct. See above for a link to an exception to this.

    As for unions engaging in politics…yeah…they do. Of course no L’s seem to think it wrong that the Koch bros send payed employees to “protests”.

    I think you may have misunderstood comments made about unions in politics. If you would quote specifically what you are referring to, I could probably point out the difference between what the person said and what you say here.

    And as for paying people to protest: I have no problem with that, except if I am being coerced into paying for it.

  7. paulie Post author

    TLK

    A lot of people think that the National Labor Relations Act (the Wagner Act) was a favor to, or a boon for, organized labor.

    In point of fact, it was exactly the opposite: The NLRA was enacted for the purpose of corralling, co-opting and harnessing an increasingly powerful union movement that was getting what it wanted on its own, not just without the assistance of government, but with government actively working against it.

    NLRA slowed down the unions, but apparently not enough. The Taft-Hartley Amendments started actually rolling them back.

    The unions “stopped serving their purpose” because of government intervention in economic matters

    Exactly.

    1) The best way to solve the problem of government employee unions is to have government doing as little as possible, with as few employees as possible.

    2) Short of that, I could see merit in proposals such as “the government won’t agree to exclusive, ‘closed-shop’ contracts with any union, nor will it act as any government employee union’s dues-collecting agent.”

    Works for me.

    As an added bonus, 2 makes 1 more practically plausible.

  8. Robert Capozzi

    tk, agreed, mostly. The idea of dues-collection doesn’t per se trouble me if the shop is not closed. A direct deposit-type dues payment mechanism troubles me not.

    I suspect hard-core unionists would say our position is “anti-union.” Of course, when someone is blinded by their agenda, they often will deny truth no matter what.

  9. Thomas L. Knapp

    Bob,

    I’m not sure what you mean by “hardcore unionists.” I’m probably about as “hardcore unionist” as it gets.

    One of the problems with having the employer collect the union members’ dues is that that reduces the members’ ability to take on their own union “leadership.” An immediate “dues strike” is a handy way of letting that “leadership” know that they aren’t serving the members’ interests.

  10. Robert Capozzi

    tk, I didn’t have anything precise in mind with the phrase “hardcore unionist.” I’m thinking most labor leaders are that way, and they probably are for closed shops.

    As a L, I have no problem with a private association of workers negotiating with management to get contract terms. If one of the terms is direct deposit dues, this seems to be a consenting act among adults.

    It’s none of my business whether there is the ability INSIDE the union to execute dues strikes. It strikes me that direct deposit can be turned off.

    I’m no expert on labor law or unionism, so I’m even more open minded on this one than is my usual stance.

    Nevertheless, I sense some consensus developing here. Ls should not be ANTI union, but we should be lessarchists. Lessarchists would be foolish not to acknowledge that government closed-shop unions create a state-expanding bias.

  11. Thomas L. Knapp

    Bob,

    “I’m thinking most labor leaders are that way, and they probably are for closed shops.”

    I’m for closed shops, too — by voluntarily arrived at contract, not by law. When I said there might be some merit in a proposal that government refuse to agree to closed shops, that doesn’t mean I would support such a proposal.

    Similarly, when I support the idea that employers not be dues collectors for unions, that doesn’t mean I want to impose it as some kind of legal requirement.

    I just know that if I was a union worker on a bargaining committee, I wouldn’t seek that or, if I could avoid it, agree to it, as a contract proposal. I’d want the full-time union employee sitting next to me at that bargaining table to know that if the customers aren’t happy with his services, the customers are in a position to stop paying him for those services — on short notice and without an intervening party/process to stop them or slow them down.

    Why would lessarchists be foolish not to acknowledge an obvious non-fact?

    The state-expanding bias is there whether there’s a closed union shop or not, and suppressing the union won’t diminish that bias — it will merely recombobulate the redistribution of wealth among members of the political class in favor of the upper strata of that class at the expense of the lower.

  12. Robert Capozzi

    tk: The state-expanding bias is there whether there’s a closed union shop or not, and suppressing the union won’t diminish that bias

    me: Yes, the bias is always there. Yes, closed shops can be negotiated in private markets. I would suggest that lessarchists recognize that “public” markets are not markets. I think I support prohibiting closed shops in the government workplace by law.

  13. Thomas L. Knapp

    Bob @ 12,

    You write:

    “I would suggest that lessarchists recognize that ‘public’ markets are not markets.”

    I agree.

    “I think I support prohibiting closed shops in the government workplace by law.”

    I don’t see how compounding the ill effects of one anti-market wrong with a second anti-market wrong accomplishes anything worth accomplishing. The direction should be toward, not away from, liberty.

  14. Robert Capozzi

    tk, IMO, it’s worth accomplishing as a check on government growth. I see nothing anti-liberty about restraining what the State does. Restraining the State from forcing its ee’s into unions seems reasonable to me.

  15. Thomas L. Knapp

    Bob,

    How is forbidding workers to bargain for a closed shop “restraining what the state does?”

    It forces the state into a behavior, yes, but that behavior strengthens the state rather than weakening it, by distorting the conditions of the labor market in its favor.

    The conundrum, of course, is that a closed shop might ALSO strengthen the state (by giving the employees an interest in the strengthening of the state) …

    But that just goes to my point. Fucking around in the details of the state/labor relationship in Activity X isn’t going to make anyone any more free. Only reducing or eliminating state involvement in Activity X will do that.

    I’m not interested in sacrificing more people’s rights in yet another utopian scheme to make the state “work” from the vantage point of freedom. The state doesn’t work from the vantage point of freedom, the state isn’t going to work from the vantage point of freedom, and all these masturbatory fantasies of new regulations to magically make the state work from the vantage point of freedom accomplish is to divert attention and effort from efforts that actually might work from the vantage point of freedom.

  16. Robert Capozzi

    tk: How is forbidding workers to bargain for a closed shop “restraining what the state does?”

    me: Oh, government worker unions can ask, certainly. I’m inclined to support a State saying, No Can Do.

    tk: It forces the state into a behavior, yes, but that behavior strengthens the state rather than weakening it, by distorting the conditions of the labor market in its favor.

    me: If a company refuses to agree to a closed shop union, I would not view that as a “distortion.” Similarly, if a state entity refuses the same thing, it’s not a distortion. It’s a decision.

    States could be viewed as a distortion by their very nature. My TAAAList answer to that is that I’m not sure if that’s true or not. Instead, my primary political interest is on reducing the State’s size. I’m OK with things like Balanced Budget Amendments and govt ee closed shop unionism as a means to corral the beast. After that, I advocate starving it down to as small a size that works to maintain domestic tranquility. That MIGHT be to its death, but, if pressed, I’m inclined to say to nightwatchman size.

  17. paulie Post author

    One of the problems with having the employer collect the union members’ dues is that that reduces the members’ ability to take on their own union “leadership.” An immediate “dues strike” is a handy way of letting that “leadership” know that they aren’t serving the members’ interests.

    Excellent point.

  18. paulie Post author

    It strikes me that direct deposit can be turned off.

    Union fees for government employees should be opt-in, not opt-out. That would solve a lot of problems just by itself.

    government closed-shop unions create a state-expanding bias.

    I agree. Many examples of that in action in real life that I have personally witnessed.

  19. paulie Post author

    The state-expanding bias is there whether there’s a closed union shop or not, and suppressing the union won’t diminish that bias — it will merely recombobulate the redistribution of wealth among members of the political class in favor of the upper strata of that class at the expense of the lower.

    The pie is not fixed, so the easiest solution for everyone within the government pie when there is a dispute over distribution within the pie is to expand their pie.

    As a practical matter, whenever a measure for limiting government comes up – say a sales tax rollback or getting rid of an income tax – government employees unions provide most of the funding and personnel to defeat it. When a bond measure or tax increase is offered up, they provide most of the funding and personnel to pass it. If a politician promises to make government bigger so they can expand the number of government workers, they get a lot of government union support – volunteers, money, etc. If a politician talks about any cuts in government, or even cuts in the rate of growth, government unions provide much of the muscle to get or keep such a person out of office.

    Whenever they can, government unions strive to keep alternatives to government services such as homeschooling illegal, or at least make them as difficult as possible to provide or receive.

    Expanding the political class is high on the government union agenda.

    Without government union muscle, particularly as a result of (often so difficult as to make it practically impossible in most cases) opt-out rather than opt-in membership, state-expanding bias is greatly weakened politically in practical terms.

  20. paulie Post author

    I would suggest that lessarchists recognize that “public” markets are not markets.

    Agreed. I call them monopoly sector, rather than “public” sector. Forced monopoly sector may be even more accurate. Or how about extortion sector?

  21. paulie Post author

    “I think I support prohibiting closed shops in the government workplace by law.”

    I don’t see how compounding the ill effects of one anti-market wrong with a second anti-market wrong accomplishes anything worth accomplishing. The direction should be toward, not away from, liberty.

    Why or how is a closed shop in a forced monopoly extortion sector a step towards liberty?

  22. paulie Post author

    . I see nothing anti-liberty about restraining what the State does. Restraining the State from forcing its ee’s into unions seems reasonable to me.

    My take as well.

  23. paulie Post author

    It forces the state into a behavior, yes, but that behavior strengthens the state rather than weakening it, by distorting the conditions of the labor market in its favor.

    How does making government employment potentially less attractive vis a vis employment in the non-extortion based sector strengthen the state?

    The conundrum, of course, is that a closed shop might ALSO strengthen the state (by giving the employees an interest in the strengthening of the state)

    Precisely.

    But that just goes to my point. Fucking around in the details of the state/labor relationship in Activity X isn’t going to make anyone any more free. Only reducing or eliminating state involvement in Activity X will do that.

    My points on that remain that state involvement in activity X becomes exponentially more difficult to reduce due to the activities of government unions X, Y and Z.

    If you rest your hopes on government getting out of various activities because it gets too big and pops like a balloon, I suggest that A) it doesn’t usually work that way, looking at historical parallels and B) we are a long, long way from how big and intrusive government has been elsewhere without popping from being too big.

    I’m not interested in sacrificing more people’s rights in yet another utopian scheme to make the state “work” from the vantage point of freedom. The state doesn’t work from the vantage point of freedom, the state isn’t going to work from the vantage point of freedom, and all these masturbatory fantasies of new regulations to magically make the state work from the vantage point of freedom accomplish is to divert attention and effort from efforts that actually might work from the vantage point of freedom.

    I don’t see ending a government activity as a new regulation.

    Nor am I trying to make the state work.

    I’m trying to wedge a crack in its wall, in the hopes that the cracks grow and the wall collapses.

    The government unions try to shoot me down and/or take the tools out of my hands whenever I try to wedge such a crack.

  24. FKC

    Talk about tools, wedgies, and cracks…

    Surprise, surprise, yet another filibuster by IPR’s resident overweight felon/crook Paulie.

    Why doesn’t he start making an honest living, like oh, maybe becoming a plumber? LOL.

  25. Thomas L. Knapp

    Paulie @ 21,

    “Why or how is a closed shop in a forced monopoly extortion sector a step towards liberty?”

    It isn’t — and I didn’t say it is.

    X does not have to be a step toward liberty in order for a prohibition against seeking X to be a step away from liberty.

  26. Zane, LP member

    This discussion has gotten kind of esoteric, but John Jay Myers makes good points in the article.

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