Sunday, March 25, 2012

Labor Unions and the Mythical Free Riders

Labor unions make constant, even habitual, reference to someone they call the “free rider,” by which they mean a person who enjoys the benefits of union activity but who does not pay for them.  But the free rider, at least as he or she is understood and depicted by the unions, does not exist.
Here’s what I mean:  Men and women who, for various reasons, refused to consent to the Communist party and its tactics in the old Soviet Union were not free riders on the train to the peoples’ socialist utopia, even if they were able to keep their jobs in the process.  Those jobs were not free.  Indeed, they came at an extremely high price, the price of freedom.  Those dissident workers were convinced that the destination was a delusion and that the journey to it was an exercise in oppressive compulsion, of which they wanted no part, even if the Soviet Union allegedly paid for the ticket. 
Labor unions, much like the Soviet Union, do not want individual workers to have the choice to go their own way to their own destinations.  Labor unions wish to eliminate free workers and their free choices.  Therefore unions do their best to get the legislators they pay for with political donations drawn from union dues to pass laws forbidding the existence of the dissenters, the so-called free riders.  Because they wish to stay in office, the bought-and-paid-for legislators do as they are told, constricting or prohibiting the right to work.
Yet, despite the political and personal opposition arrayed against them, dissenters prefer to go their own direction by their own means.  They do so for many reasons:  Perhaps they are lazy and selfish freeloaders, as unions depict them.  Or, perhaps they have examined the union, its leadership, its goals, and its methods and cannot consent.  Perhaps they have had a long, fruitful, enjoyable, and mutually respectful and beneficial relationship with their employer and do not wish to see that relationship suspended or distorted as it must be if the union intrudes.  Perhaps they think unionism itself is inimical to personal ambition, to incentive, and to freedom.  Perhaps they simply haven’t made up their minds on the issue of unions, whether for or against.  For whatever reason(s), they are not onboard.
To label such independents “free riders” and not also “innocent victims” is to tell but half their story, as if they were merely the beneficiaries of the union and not also its casualties, as if independent workers did not get caught up in strikes and other job actions that they do not condone but cannot evade.  Whenever the union so decides, independents are involuntarily deprived of their living even though those strikes and job actions are built upon principles to which they do not consent and are called for reasons and purposes they might personally denounce.  Nevertheless, the independent workers must endure these shut downs and job actions without the benefit of union strike funds, and must do so despite their disagreements and disapproval.
Take, for example, the great American steel strike of 1959, which lasted so long and cost steel workers, both union and non-union, so much in lost wages that it would have taken more than 120 years of their union-won wage increases to balance the gain/loss scales.  I say “would have” because it never happened and never will.  That strike opened the door for foreign steel makers and their cheaper steel to enter American markets, which caused nearly a quarter million -- more than 200,000 -- American steel workers to lose their jobs permanently, including the so-called free riders, who never consented to the strike or to the economic disaster it produced for them.
Not to mention the threats to their family, their property, and themselves, sometimes fatal, that independents have had to face from union goons in order to maintain their occupational autonomy.
Independent workers are being taken along for a ride by  the unions, that’s for sure.  But the ride is not free. 

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