Saturday, August 6, 2011

My Thoughts on Collective Bargaining

In light of the protests in Wisconsin over Scott Walker's proposal to strip public employees of collective bargaining "rights", I thought I'd submit my thoughts on the topic. Not only do I agree with Governor Walker's actions, I think he stopped too short; he should have abolished government-enforced collective bargaining "rights" for private employers too. The terms "collective bargaining rights" or "right to strike" make me chortle. There is no such thing. I have nothing against the literal definition of collective bargaining; that workers are entitled to quit in unison, and to elect representatives to negotiate collectively with their employers, in an attempt to make themselves one, cohesive, stronger negotiating unit. That is fine, I'm all for it. But when did it become okay for them to use violence or threat of violence to prevent anyone else from working for that employer!?!?!?!?! And when they did, instead of the government punishing them for using force to get what they want, when did the government start joining them!?!?!?!?!?

Well, I'll tell you when; during the great depression, thanks to FDR and the New Deal. It's not the first thing he screwed up about this country, but it's one of his most onerous blunders. Instead of making it a crime to use force to prevent people from entering a peaceable economic arrangement with another, FDR made it a right. That's what collective bargaining "rights" are; the suggestion that the only way the proletariat or the "working" class or the "workers" or "labor" (suggesting that the employers don't work...) can get a fair shake is if they use government force to hold employers hostage at the negotiating table, the suggestion that might makes right. It is absurd, and all collective bargaining rights should be abolished immediately.

The ultimate regulator of what is a "fair" wage is competition in a free market. If one employer is paying his employees too little, he will lose qualified workers, and consequentially business, and consequentially money, to his competitors. Just as companies try to win customers from their competitors through low prices (to the benefit of consumers), they try to win employees from their competitors through higher wages/benefits (to the benefit of employers). And that's why in a free market, all wages, just like all prices, are set by the mathematical laws supply and demand. If there is a high demand for employees who can do a certain job, and a low supply of employees who can do that job well, those few employees are very valuable and will fetch high salaries. Inversely, if there is a high supply of workers who can do a job well, and a low demand for that job to be done, that job must not be very difficult or needed and won't fetch a high salary. Wages are not and should not be set based on how physically straining the work is, or how "hard" the employees work, or whether the labor is critical to the success of the company or not. The fair wage is the wage that reflects how valuable (read: rare) the employee's skill set is.

The practical implication for employees who don't think they're being paid what their worth is that in a free market, they can test their hypothesis by demanding a higher wage and quitting if he/she does not receive it. If the employer cannot find another worker capable/willing to do the job at the same price, the employee was right; he/she was being paid too little. If the job is important to the business, the employer would likely then go back to the employee and offer a higher wage. But if the employer can hire someone else at the same wage to do the same job just as well, the employee was wrong, their wage was fair.

Collective bargaining rights arose because the disgruntled employees didn't like being proved wrong. They didn't like it so much that if another worker was willing to do the job at the same wage, they called them nasty names like "scab" and threatened to kill them. The government took note of this, and instead of throwing it's full force behind the protection of the natural rights of all citizens and defending the "scab" from attack, they agreed to arrest the scab if he tried to take a job on mutually agreeable terms. Truth is, scabs are heroes. Scabs are less spoiled but equally hard working versions of the striking employees. They stand up to incredible pressure, threats, and even violence to do what's best for their families.

The notion that scabs are villains who the government/labor unions should persecute can only be justified by the notion that jobs are a piece of property, and that scabs are stealing that property. "This is MY job! He's stealing MY job!" The truth is that jobs only exist if they are on mutually agreeable terms. If either the employee or the employer wants to terminate an economic agreement at any time, they are free to do so. An employer who fires you and hires somebody else is not "stealing" your job any more than an employee who quits is "stealing" his services from an employer. And once the arrangement is terminated by either party, the employee has no more right to forcibly coerce the employer to rehire him than the employer has to forcibly coerce the employee to work for him. The latter is called slavery. The former is called the right to strike.

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