We all know that the “pendulum” swings back and forth over time as to many issues. And, although I never thought I would say this, one pendulum swing that should happen again regards what I call voluntary workers’ unions. I came to that conclusion after reading an article by Jonathan Rauch in the July/August issue of The Atlantic entitled “The Conservative Case for Unions.” As we all know, private-sector labor unions in the past had become so powerful that they could sometimes dictate how many companies could do business. So eventually the reaction against that power became so strong that laws were passed, along with many bureaucratic regulations and court interpretations that specifically prohibited creative ways of forming unions, and those already formed were forbidden from engaging in a number of activities. Public unions (a real problem) are a whole ‘nother issue for another time. But, Liberty-lovers should always be in favor of voluntary associations.
Times have certainly changed, but the restrictive laws have not; laws which (mostly) prohibit the formation of such things as creative “workers’ unions.” Even if not fully empowered to negotiate wages, engage in strikes, or be involved in collective bargaining issues, workers’ unions can serve other functions. For example, almost all surveys of lower economic-level workers show their biggest complaint being a lack of respect and a feeling of diminishment in how they are treated in the workplace. So a workers’ union could 1) give the workers a unified voice, and 2) address and propose resolutions for things such as workplace safety issues. In addition, it would allow the workers to pursue (together with management) innovations like helping the administration of government-funded unemployment, health and benefit plans, wage insurance, and even serve as employment agencies. Liberty allows for innovation and change and, in this area, Liberty is being stifled.
-Judge Jim Gray, from his “Two Paragraphs for Liberty” series. Slightly edited.
Candidate for Vice President of the United States in 2012 on Governor Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Party ticket.