Sector Unions in Wisconsin
by Walter Block: It’s
Ayn Rand Bashing Time, Once Again
unions in Wisconsin have been in the news of late. They are reacting
against Republican Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who is trying
to curtail their power and pelf. Virtually all Democrats support
the labor organization, and there can be few Republicans who do
not favor the Wisconsin governor.
What is the
proper free enterprise or libertarian position? I attempted to answer
that question in this
blog. My answer in a nutshell was, Both. Let them have at each
other, each of them weakening the other. A pox on both houses, was
how I put it.
are disgusting and repulsive institutions, as the right side of
the political spectrum properly emphasizes. They restrict entry
into the labor market, and either beat up potential competitors
who they characterize as "scabs" (where are the politically
correct opponents of hate speech when we need them?), and/or get
the government to do this evil deed for them, via legislation such
as the Wagner Act which forbids employers from hiring replacement
workers on a permanent basis.
advocates of the freedom philosophy must never forget that the government
is also an illicit, illegitimate and entirely vile organization.
Its middle name is also initiatory violence. We must never blindly
follow the Republicans in their support of the state.
that brilliant sociologist Franz
are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance,
is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires.
These are work and robbery, one's own labor and the forcible appropriation
of the labor of others. . . . I … call one's own labor and the …
exchange of one's own labor for the labor of others, the ‘economic
means’ for the satisfaction of need while the unrequited appropriation
of the labor of others will be called the ‘political means.’ . .
. The State is an organization of the political means."
like a simple call to me. I thought most readers of the LewRockwell.com
would react to this blog of mine with a ho hum, what else is new,
of course, attitude. However, I reckoned falsely. I did not realize
that there are quite a few brilliant people who read this blog,
many of whom disagreed with me, some of them strongly. Inadvertently,
I had created a firestorm of interest in this issue. Let me share
some of these responses with you. The present essay is an attempt
to deal with them, anonymously for the most part but not entirely,
along with my replies to them.
a few reactions that were very positive.
I know that I am on the correct analytic path when the great Bob
Wenzel supports my position. One comment went so far as to say
"Brilliant! This made me reconsider my own position in a way
that only Rothbard and Hoppe have. That's about the highest compliment
I can give..." My only response to that compliment was: "Thanks.
That's a pretty fast crowd you put me in. I can’t think of a higher
compliment. I'm honored."
Here are some
other positive responses: "Your blog post on the Wisconsin
showdown was interesting and informative! Having read the (very
good) book Alongside Night, I can understand and even sympathize
with it." Once again, Ayn
Rand hits the nail on the head. Here is another supportive reaction:
"… the longer the squabble goes on, the fewer days in school
for the children. That has to be a plus." A plus indeed. Given
that public education is on net balance a negative, the less of
it the better. I can’t resist sharing one last one: "Sir Walter,
Your logic is impeccable, as always. A devoted fan." My reaction
to this is that it is letters like this that make it all worthwhile.
Now for the
critical responses to my blog. There were several that were so impolite
I just ignored them, and continue to do so now. But here are some
"… why must one choose sides in an issue when both sides
are wrong? Is there some ‘law’ that says this must be done? Although
Jane Fonda was correct in protesting our involvement in the Vietnam
War, she was wrong about supporting the North Vietnamese. She should
have condemned the entire war. I condemn anyone who uses force,
be it a government bureaucRAT or a union thug."
If we take this objection literally, we libertarians must all become
pacifists. Surely, adherence to the non-aggression principle implies
no such requirement. We must only oppose initiatory force, not any
force at all. Of more relevance to the present situation, I think
this critic misunderstands what I meant by saying "I favor
the union thugs, not the government thugs." Of course
both sides were wrong. Did I not say "… a pox on both of them"?
When there are two bad guys duking it out, it is not anti-libertarian
to hope that the fight lasts as long as possible, so that each side
can inflict maximum philosophical damage on the other. And, if one
is weaker than the other, the more strength that can be imparted
to that side, the longer the conflagration will continue.
"Government employee unions are the lesser of two evils? They
need to be broken. They are parasites upon the back of the rest
of us. As far as government being the real evil you are correct.
We cannot get rid of it yet but we can bust their unions. Please
rethink your position."
Well, yes, certainly government unions are evil. And, so are private
ones. They all engage in restrictive entry, whether by blue collar
(explicit violence against "scabs") or white collar (labor
legislation) methods. Of course, it is entirely possible for organized
labor to act compatibly with libertarianism. All they have to do
is limit themselves to mass quits, and eschew all attempts to prevent
other workers from taking the jobs they spurn. However, purely as
an empirical matter, I know of no union that limits itself in any
such manner. So, yes, I agree with this critic that unions are parasites
(well, I prefer "tapeworms," but I’m not going to argue
this point). Indeed, my credentials as a hater of unions consist
of a long paper trail. Almost 100 pages of this
book of mine are devoted to an excoriation of this institution.
However, to make this point, and only this point, is to fall into
the Republican trap. Our justified venom for unions should not blind
us to the fact that the state, too, is an enemy of freedom, and,
indeed, when push comes to shove, a more powerful and daunting one.
"I am a big fan of you and your work. I bought your book on
the privatization of roads. I agree with you probably 95% of the
time. But in this instance you are being illogical. These are not
two separate entities. They are different factions of the same entity.
They are all part of the government. Breaking government unions
severely weakens the government. Much of their voting power is derived
from getting as many tax collectors on the payroll as possible."
Thanks for your kind remarks. You make a good point to the effect
that the unions are like junior partners in the ruling class. Murray
Rothbard would agree, as do I. However, right now, there is a falling
out between thieves. It is as if a senior and a junior gang member
are fighting. They can, logically, do this, even though in some
(very important) sense they are part of the same entity. I don’t
see why my analysis must be jettisoned because of your very valid
point. Why cannot we both be correct?
"Do you root for the coercive unions in Greece as well, since
they are opposing the Greece State? I am confused why someone I
consider one of the greatest living Voluntarist Libertarians is
condoning coercive activity. Tactically, why would you ever root
for one of two wholly coercive organizations, even if one is weaker?
Not only are you now rooting for a wholly coercive organization,
but in the end there will probably be some coercive 'compromise'
that just increases coercion and negates Voluntarism.
with the German invasion of Russia where you can support defending
against the unsolicited, coercive invasion, even if it is being
defended against by coercive Bolsheviks; you are clearly supporting
the defense and not the Bolsheviks supporting the coercive unions
has no clear underlying Voluntarist principle. The 'underdogs' are
screaming for mass unsolicited coercion, and nothing else. Why not
just say you are opposed to any violation of the Non-Coercion Principle,
so you clearly support no one? Just like, for instance, the Civil
War in Spain?"
Thanks for your generous compliment. I "support" both sides in the
Spanish Civil War: It would be great if they had killed each other
off. Neither the Fascists nor the Communists are friends of freedom.
Yes, the relationship between the Greek government and the Greek
unions is roughly parallel to that between the Wisconsin state and
its unions. The same analysis would therefore apply. I am only "rooting
for a wholly coercive organization" so that it has the strength
to weaken a stronger "wholly coercive organization." Why
is that incompatible with the non-aggression principle? I do indeed
come close to your suggestion that I "support no one"
with my "pox on both houses" statement. But, literally,
if I supported no one, and, somehow, magically, my wishes came into
being, then there would be labor peace, and no weakening of either
of these vicious institutions, the government or the unions. Can’t
a libertarian welcome the weakening of both? I'm just (dramatically)
making the point that both the union and the government violate
the NAP. Surely, you agree with me on that?
"You support people who are trying to loot the public? I don't
understand. If you think that both groups are thugs, why don't you
refuse to support either group? If the state government is a criminal
enterprise because it taxes the people, then surely the union is
just as bad, if not worse, because they not only support the taxation,
they encourage even more taxation because they want more of the
stolen loot for themselves. I guess you didn't exactly say you supported
the unions, only that you were ‘rooting’ for them over the governor.
But I would rather root for the governor, because the less loot
that is being handed over to thugs, whether the thugs are unions
or corporations, the less stealing from taxpayers the government
will be able to justify."
I actually oppose both the government and the unions. I only "support"
them in the sense that I’m rooting for them to fight each other,
so that both may be undermined. The government, I fear, violates
rights on a far more massive scale than do the unions. It is not
for nothing that the latter are merely the junior partners
in this illicit conspiracy.
"I think I would have to disagree with you in this case. Normally,
union thugs get together (i.e. ‘negotiate’) with government thugs
to give away Other People's Money to the union thugs to the betterment
of both the union thugs and the government thugs. In this case,
if the government wins, at least we're subjected to only a quotient
of 1/2 thuggery. It's sort of like the set theory of a ‘lesser infinity’
You make an important point. But, in my view, given that the government
is far more powerful than a bunch of unions, if they win, they will
do far worse things than steal a few more bucks from the long-suffering
taxpayers. Anyone ever hear of the drug war? Of massive government
regulations? Of taxes for expenses other that public sector unions?
"Your advocacy of the union position will mean ever increasing
taxes for us in Wisconsin. That's fine for you. Not so great for
us here in Wisconsin. Thanks for your support for the free market.
Not. Do you run away from your job? Do you ignore a legal election
and the consequences? Do you use fraud and lies to get out of work?
Fake Dr notes. DO you even believe in representative government?
You have a nice gig going in academia , wouldn't want to rock the
boat with your fellow "educators", would you. I have either misunderstood
your political humor on this matter, or no longer have the respect
for you I once did. Nothing to keep you awake at night I'm sure.
Plug this union hissy fit into the typical media template at your
You say this as if it were a foregone conclusion. But, I think it
is most unlikely that this spat between the governor and the public
sector unions will result in higher taxes. To begin with, right
now a lot of "services" are shut down. Less work means
reduced salaries. In the long run, whether taxes go up or down,
given balanced budgets, depends upon the path of expenditures. If
each of these contending parties weakens the other, the prospects
look good for less spending. On the other hand, I readily admit,
this is an empirical issue. I might be wrong. But as a matter of
deontology (rights) it seems clear that taking down the government
a peg or two is compatible with libertarianism, even if taxes increase
as a result. Ragnar Danneskjold breaks into Fort Knox and liberates
some gold (assuming there’s some of this precious metal in there;
work with me on this). As a result, the government raises taxes.
Does that definitively demonstrate
that this hero of Atlas
Shrugged was violating libertarian law? Not a bit of it.
See on this here,
As to your
other complaints I am not at all a fan of legal elections nor representative
government, nor democracy. Hitler, after all, came to power under
precisely these conditions; surely, what he subsequently did is
not compatible with libertarianism, what we all learned in 6th
grade civics course to the contrary notwithstanding. I am more a
fan of monarchy than I am of democracy. See Hoppe’s brilliant
book on this matter. However, you’ve got me dead to rights on
your "educators" charge. I wouldn’t dare write anything
not approved by the politically correct academic establishment.
As for those fake doctor’s notes, if they were struck off the medical
lists that would be just fine with me. Oops, that’s not politically
correct, is it?
This two-part back-and-forth series was initiated by Four Arrows,
my friend, sparring partner and co-author
"Of course Indigeous Peoples in traditional cultures never
had nor needed unions and rejected external authority except for
a willingness to listen to gifted shamans who had talked to spirits,
but even this would be rejected if life experience and honest reflection
on it challenged the shaman perspective. But greed was also not
a cultural phenomenon. So here is a question I don’t know how you
will answer. In the real world, not some idealized heaven, if you
live in a town where greed has caused great inequities in the capitalistic
system and you are a trained miner as has been all the generations
of your family who live in a particular place that you do not wish
to leave, and you go to work for the only business in town that
bought up everything, so now you are a miner working in the mines
but because of greed the mines are unsafe and someone dies every
month needlessly while the guy drives a Rolls, etc. Several co-workers
come to you and say, Walter, this is not right. We have to do something.
We've asked the owner to set up a simple safety system that we know
he can afford and he refuses. Shall we strike and see if we get
his attention? What do you say?"
A strike equals refusal to work plus preventing others from taking
the jobs you spurn. A strike is never justified. Ever. But, a mass
refusal to work is compatible with libertarianism. Mass quits, or
mass withdrawals of labor (allowing "scabs" to take our places if
the owner chooses to ignore us; e.g., not beating up the scabs)
will usually get the owner's attention. As for greed, we miners
are greedy, too. We want higher wages: total wages = money wages
plus working conditions. We want better working conditions (more
safety) and are not willing to lower our money wages. So, we are
greedily asking for an increase in total wages. Greed makes the
world go round. The owner is greedily driving around in a Rolls,
but we miners have got Hondas. Not too shabby.
(also from Four Arrows): "I find your reply naïve and
with extraneous added and misleading information. Why naïve?
Because you compare as equally ‘greedy’ the miners trying to earn
a living that can sustain them with the CEO's quest for unlimited
wealth and power, a common trait of an ‘owner’ housing a football
field of stored antique cars while his workers risk their lives
for an average of $33,000 to 40,000 dollars a year (coal miner's
wage's in Tennessee) and the owner refuses to spend a reasonable
amount of money to prevent obvious and documented unsafe working
conditions. Maybe you can buy a Honda on this income and raise a
family and pay for health insurance, maybe not. But it is beside
the point. And I could offer many examples besides the ‘high earning’
miner that definitely could not afford the Honda. Wait, as I think
of these examples I have to say your remarks are not naïve,
they are illogical. As for adding misleading information, a strike
is a work stoppage undertaken in support of a bargaining position
or in protest of some aspect of a proposed agreement between labor
and management. In effect, it is just what you say, ‘a mass refusal
to work.’ Modern strikers don't beat up scabs and it is common for
the company to hire scabs. So then, you must agree that unions that
support ‘a mass refusal to work’ are compatible with your position.
Wow, that was easy! So why all the anti-union talk? How can the
strike, which is defined as a mass refusal to work, be ‘never justified?’
Here is yet another logical contradiction and vague distinction
in your libertarianism, it seems."
Yes, indeed, the owners and the workers are equally greedy. The
former are merely more successful than the latter. When is the last
time a worker turned down a higher wage in favor of a lower one?
When is the last time a worker paid more for house or car or a pizza
than he had to? Yes, equally greedy. As a first approximation, we
are all equally greedy (with the exception of Mother Theresa, Gandhi,
and maybe a very few others). Some are more successful at pursuing
greed, but that is another matter.
is a bit beside the point. I think your more relevant sally concerns
my supposed illogic concerning strikes. Modern unionists don't beat
up scabs? I disagree; here is some evidence
to the contrary. But, in a sense you are right: modern unionists
initiate explicit violence against scabs much less than previously.
But, that is because they now have the government do this for them,
in effect, via labor legislation such as the Wagner Act, which forces
the firm to bargain "fairly" with the union, when it would prefer
to fire all the unionists, and replace them with "scabs." Initiatory
violence is initiatory violence is initiatory violence, and it doesn't
much matter if the "blue collar" unionists do this themselves, or,
go "white collar" and have the state do their dirty work for them.
Block [send him mail] is a
professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior
fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending
the Undefendable and Labor
Economics From A Free Market Perspective. His latest book
Privatization of Roads and Highways.
© 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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