Unions aren’t all bad, but the reaction to the private members bill by newish MP Jamie Lee Ross allowing employers to employ non-union labour has brought out the worst in those who speak for the monopolists of labour.
If passed, Ross’s bill would give employers the right to employ replacement labour when unionised employees strike. Labour MP Darien Fenton knee-jerk reaction to it say this “is another attack on the hard-fought rights of Kiwi workers.” But is it?
Strike action by unionised employees is certainly their right. But the unionised employees have no right to forcibly exclude non-union labour from taking the jobs from which they have voluntarily walked away.
They will disagree with me. They would place pickets and law in the way of employers hiring new folk to replace those who’ve walked out. They will argue, essentially, that they own these jobs and have a right to exclude others from taking them—to exclude them by force, if necessary.
But they don’t own those jobs, and the mistaken idea that they do is what gives unions their power to destroy.
It’s often thought that a loyalty to the interests of workers makes you a friend of union action. But consider this observation by William Hutt:
Unions gain at the expense of other labour, not capital, and the transfer reduces total output.
The meaning of his observation is this: Union action does nothing to raise productivity, and in general reduces it; so to the extent that unionised workers earn more by their actions, it’s because more is being taken from what non-unionised workers would have earned. Or in other words, as history shows:
Gains [of the unionised few] were always ‘at the expense of the equal right of the industrious to acquire skill and to exchange their labour where and how they may.’
Darien Fenton might see herself as a friend of the working class and an enemy of capital. But as William Jevons long ago pointed out, her loyalty is very much narrower:
The Unionist overlooks the fact that the cause to which [she] is so faithful is only the cause of a small exclusive class; [her] triumph is the injury of a vastly greater number of his fellow-workmen, and regarded in this point of view, [her] cause is a narrow and selfish one, rather than a broad and disinterested one.
Fenton’s response reveals she has loyalty to a class all right: she is loyal to the union class. And to the league of non-union workers whom she would forcibly exclude from taking jobs other have walked away from, she is an enemy.