This story about French union members threatening to blow up their factory if their demands are not met [h/t Instapundit] lays bare the ugly truth about unions. The French union members are simply reminding the French people of where their union’s true power springs from. The power of unions does not come from warm and fuzzy class solidarity and negotiation but rather from the willingness of union members to destroy and kill in order to further their own economic self-interest.
Back in the 1930s the government took over the role of forcing union demands on everyone else, so we have forgotten the ugly, violent, racist roots of union power. We’ve allowed the unions to sell us a mythology about unions being little people fighting the big and powerful.
In reality, unions function by hurting everyone outside the union, especially the poor and powerless.
The fundamental role of unions is to protect a privileged subset of workers from economic competition from people economically worse off than they. Scabs are nothing more than individuals who have the temerity to compete in the free market for jobs with union members. In late 1800s and early 1900s, unions in American and elsewhere were viciously violent and most of that violence was directed against competing workers. Tellingly, they never tried to kill the actual owners and managers of the companies they sought to control. They knew full well who created the wealth they wished to seize.
Unionists created a mythology in which the privileged unionists were fighting for all workers as a group against exploitive employers. This mythology allowed them to condemn anyone competing against them as “traitors.” The designation of traitor allowed the unionists to morally justify intimidating, maiming and murdering their economic competition. The mythology turned thugs motivated by self-interest into heroes. It was the same type of mythology that turned one victorious group of bloodthirsty invaders into the “nobility” of many different medieval cultures.
American unions were especially keen to prevent competition from African Americans. The AFL was explicitly founded on the basis of racist exclusion. In the North, racist unions served the same economic function as did Jim Crow laws in the South. They prevented African Americans and others from winning jobs based on merit and instead created a system that favored incompetent whites. Figures for people murdered by unions and their symbiotic organized-crime families are hard to come by because most of that violence occurred outside of public view in jurisdictions run by union-affiliated political machines. However, it is not a stretch to say that union members killed as many African Americans during this period as were lynched in the Jim Crow South.
Just as governments in the South eventually codified violence against Africa Americans into Jim Crow laws, the federal government eventually stepped in and codified union violence in northern states. The government granted the first workers employed at a company a legal privilege to create an organization that owned the jobs. The government would destroy any company and imprison any corporate officer who hired anyone not in a union. Anyone who wanted to work had to join the union and support the union’s political objectives with compulsory dues (a practice that continues to this day). Even that did not prove enough of a deterrent against competition, and sporadic union violence against competing workers continues to this day.
Unions are government granted monopolies that give a privileged few the right to decide what all other citizens will pay for the products the unions manufacture. This is in effect a tax whose proceeds go to a privileged minority. Since labor is the primary cost for most products, the tax imposed by unions is significant and everybody, rich or poor, pays it. For 40 years unions dictated the price of automobiles in American and everyone who bought an American car (90% of American consumers, prior to 1975) paid a tax of several hundred dollars to the United Auto Workers. Ditto for unions that controlled steel, coal, transportation and every other major product or service. Worse, public-sector unions seized public works and services and held them for ransom against the democratically expressed wishes of the people.
The poor are most sensitive to price pressure and are hurt the most when taxes on necessities go up. One reads in the standard left-of-center histories of union victories but one never reads of the consequences for everyone not in a particular victorious union. One reads how union extortion improved the lives of coal miners in the period of 1900-1930 but one does not read of the consequences to the urban poor who had to burn coal to stay warm. Labor was 70% of the cost of coal back then. Even small increases in the cost of coal mining labor meant that more of the urban poor went without heat.
The most pathetic thing about the auto bailout is that now Americans can’t even avoid the union tax by buying a car made by non-union Americans. Now the union tax comes straight out of our paychecks. We all get to pay the union members what they decide is “fair” and we’ll be paying their pensions and benefits long after they’ve destroyed the private companies we’re supposedly trying to save.
Actions speak louder than words and real events speak louder than mythologies. Unions are no more protecting the working class than medieval nobles protected the peasantry. In reality, the primary function of each group’s mythology has been to justify its own privilege and to justify violently attacking anyone who threatened that privilege. The violence, and legal threats backed by violence, are not some unfortunate side effect of elevated passions in labor disputes. Instead, just like the swords and a lifetime of military training for medieval aristocrats, violence is the principle modality of unions.
Unions fail almost instantly when they can’t threaten violence. In America, private-sector unions began to fail when industry moved to areas in which the government would not use its violence-based power to enforce the union monopoly. Without the ability to use violence to prevent other workers from competing with union members, the unions evaporated.
Now we see in California and other states public-sector unions essentially claiming ownership of the government itself. By strikes, massive campaign donations (from coerced dues), election manpower and block voting, these unions have made the people the servants of the public servants. The only good thing about the situation is that now we can pay the union tax along with our other taxes so we only have to write one check.
In America, companies and workers fled to areas in which they could negotiate with one another free from explicit or implicit violence. I don’t think French workers and companies have that option. They will have to meet violence with counter-violence. France doesn’t need negotiators. They need snipers.