Every time this former labor union lawyer and son/grandson of former Brotherhood of Railway (Southern/Norfolk Southern) Carmen union members expresses any negative opinion of the union movement or even any particular union local, I endure the wrath of pro-union Democrats, family and friends. That wrath usually takes one of two broad forms.
One, since I was “raised on union wages,” I have no right to now oppose unions.
This personal legacy, non-substantive, and near religious argument is rather easily dismissed, especially since my own father expressed a loathing of his own union as it evolved to prevent the firing of incompetent employees and trump up skin surface scratches as serious workplace injuries requiring substantial compensation. This argument also reminds of the similar “logic” used against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that he must favor affirmative action in perpetuity since he “benefited from it.” Again, such thinking would forever mire select communities in policies that harm the whole, based solely upon parochial interests.
Two, but Mike, “labor unions built the American middle class.” Even if that were true (it’s not, and more on that later), it is not a substantive argument for supporting every existing labor union today, no matter their actions.
But the death of the free market and cold warrior giant, Margaret Thatcher, requires that I take my criticism of labor unions and the laws that favor them to their logical conclusion if I am to keep faith with my heartfelt Judeo-Christian and economic beliefs and principles, especially since my Summer of 2001 conservative epiphany.
In that regard, let me first refer to a portion of Mona Charen’s timely obituary memorializing the Iron Lady:
The magnitude of Thatcher’s accomplishments as prime minister cannot be understood without reference to the depths into which Britain had fallen by 1979. Successive Labour (and spineless Tory) governments had delivered an economy close to collapse. During the “winter of discontent” in 1978–79, strikes by public employees had crippled public services. Pickets blocked the entrances to hospitals, and only those suffering emergencies were permitted entry. Railway workers and truck drivers disrupted transportation. Trash accumulated on the streets as sanitation workers walked off the job. Bodies accumulated in morgues as gravediggers joined the strikes, prompting officials to discuss burial at sea for the mounting piles of corpses.
Thatcher’s victory ushered in a period of difficult but necessary free-market reforms. As in the U.S. under Reagan, Britain endured a tough recession as Thatcher wrestled inflation down. But the economy then rebounded and grew dramatically. She privatized state-owned industries, cut taxes on investments, radically reduced the power of trade unions, and reduced government spending. “The trouble with socialism,” she said, “is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”
The Eighth Commandment, The Golden Rule and the Right to Strike
Thankfully, despite the unfairness of FDR’s National Labor Relations (Wagner) Act, President Reagan’s task in righting the economy of the United States (while formidable given the necessity of taming inflation and cutting taxes and job-killing regulations) did not require dismantling privatized industries and other advanced socialist policies that Britain’s prime minister had to confront. The free market, at least in right-to-work states made possible by the Republican Party’s post-WWII Taft-Hartley revision of President Franklin Roosevelt’s prime labor law “achievement”, had already much reduced private sector union employment, so that it remained only for The Gipper to meet the PATCO government union’s unlawful strike with the legally-called-for firing of those without the “right.” Even FDR opposed such public sector strikes and even the formation of such unions.
But FDR was also bitten by his own Wagner Act-defined “right to strike” monument of the New Deal when workers building the arsenal of democracy got selfish after the Day of Infamy. He, like Thatcher, found that it could also be immoral for private sector workers to strike.
And about this right to strike and other labor laws for which we are invited to give the labor union movement full credit for enacting into law. Did some labor unions lobby for laws against child labor, safety requirements, the minimum wage and the 40-hour work week? Yes, but laws are passed by legislatures, and we don’t owe any lobbyist perpetual carte blanche to abuse their employers just because they helped get laws favored by the majority passed, much less permanently tilt the labor market playing field in their favor.
I speak, of course, of the post-New Deal right to “strike” versus the right to quit one’s job, individually or en masse, and free speech to criticize one’s employer on public property that had existed since the ratification of the United States Constitution. The “modern-day” version of the right to strike means the right of union workers that have quit their jobs to intimidate other Americans willing to work for their former employer and, as in the 1937 Flint (MI) General Motors plant strike, to occupy the private property of another, thus preventing the owners of the use of their property for private enterprise, i.e. to earn money for food and shelter.
How did it ever occur to non-Communists that they secure some shared ownership right in another’s property simply because they accepted a job with the owner? Such was a violation of the sin of stealing before and after the Wagner Act.
Moreover, contrary to the Democratic Party’s re-write of American history, the existence of a middle class the prosperity of which the world had never seen existed in the colonies before the Revolution, had only grown more prosperous before and after the Civil War, and was the reason that huddled masses from increasingly Marxist Europe populated the Fruited Plain, long before there was a National Labor Relations Board.
The reason we had and have a middle class was and is due to private property rights and the efficient technology and processes it produced. No amount of collective bargaining aided by the power of government laws on the side of employees can build a business able to pay middle class wages. All it can do is carve up the wealth already produced by a company that was created because a free man with an idea was willing to risk his time and money because of the American promise, informed by Christ’s Golden Rule, that he would get to keep the fruits of his labor and thus be treated by others as they would prefer to be treated.
Thank you American Founding Fathers that ratified that Golden Rule in our Constitution and those that have sought to restore and preserve it here, as well as those like Margaret Thatcher that saved Britain from freedom’s socialist enemies for a time.
“One man with courage makes a majority.” – Andrew Jackson