Compulsory unionism was a major component of the economic Fools’ Paradise to which the Alliance residue Matt McCarten, Laila Harre, Keith Locke et al would have us return, and for most of the Twentieth-Century a ‘Trojan Horse’ for Marxist movements who were more often genuinely concerned with economic dislocation and disruption than they were with worker welfare.
(The Unite and Supersize-My-Pay campaigns conducted by McCarten and Harre continue the ‘struggle’ – the aim not so much to achieve an increase in the ‘minimum wage’ or the ‘youth rate’ as to gain a new powerbase for themselves, and the radicalisation of the youth with whom they’re working.)
While voluntary unionism is a simple reflection of people’s right to choose whom they associate with, compulsory unionism is an imposition on that right. It is both morally and economically destructive. Compulsory unionism in New Zealand imposed artificially high wages on the economy and excluded potential non-union labour from the workforce, people who could have been employed at true market rates but who were instead left in unemployment. This acted to the detriment of productivity, and ultimately to the detriment of all workers.
The abolition of compulsory unionism was provably beneficial – acknowledged by all but the most blinkered to have provided a major impetus to New Zealand’s economic recovery. (Note that even the Labour Government’ s Employment Relations Act retains many of the voluntary planks of its predecessor.)
From a libertarian point of view, people have a right to organise into unions if that is their choice and if the employer agrees. He has the right not to agree – this being an aspect of property rights, whereby you enter someone else’s premises on his terms. Equally, workers have the right to effect a closed shop with their employer, if that is his choice and their choice. In the context of a totally free market, however, closed shops on the one hand or the forbidding of union membership on the other would be, and would be seen to be, incongruous and self-defeating. The role of government in a free employment market would be simply the protection of employment agreements that have been freely entered into.
'Cue Card Libertarianism' is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by libertarians. Originally published in The Free Radical. The 'Introduction' to the series is here.
The series so far is here.
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