Unions Are Grounded in Violence

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.

14 thoughts on “Unions Are Grounded in Violence”

  1. As a teenager and young adult during the last significant recession (early 80s, unemployment around here was around 12%) those around me who had union cards got jobs, those who did not, didn’t… Clearly holding down the supply drove up the price. It was very clear to everyone that “rich guys” had union cards and poor guys didn’t. Maybe the friend of somebody’s uncle would get him a card, and therefore a meal ticket. Most of us worked in agricultural jobs or fast food for sub-minimum wage, a few joined the army. Imagine my surprise years later and miles away when I first heard UAW members referred to as oppressed and impoverished, but noble, struggling workers. OTOH, maybe those guys were paying all the difference in mandatory union dues…

  2. John,

    For a time in the parts of the northeast the difference between union and non-union was major. Unions for skilled trades worked like medieval guilds with a monopoly on work in a region as well as the authority to decide who could join the union, and thus work, and who could not. Some unions were “father-brother” unions in which a union member, usually family, had to sponsor a new union member. I believe the sandhogs still work that way. Then you get to add in union control of local politics and the always present problem of mob corruption. You end up with a very restrictive system in which a minority of privileged workers have the legal power to prevent others from competing with them.

  3. an old joke…

    Q: How many union members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    A: 8. You got a problem with that?!?

  4. Shannon,

    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.

    I’ve heard about the racist exclusionary origins of the AFL before, but never any claim quite as sensational as this. Got any citations? (Other than the general fact that the era of lynchings largely preceded the era of unionization, in which case you should probably be a little more specific about the period…)

  5. ArtD0dger,

    I don’t think anyone has done a systematic study of this because the people who do such research are overwhelmingly leftists academics who support unions. However, it’s very easy to piece together a rough estimate.

    The Jim Crow era lasted from 1876 to 1865 and and estimated 3,000 blacks and around 1,000 whites were lynched during that time. That comes to a rate of murder Africa-Americans of two a month. Up until WWII, roughly 2/3 of the “scabs” were African-American. Scabs and the security protecting them were the primary targets of union violence. You can leaf though histories of strikes and read between the lines of the hagiography to the mentions of scabs being killed (they are always nameless and faceless, just numbers cast up as stage props in the drama of the union protagonist.) From that you can easily reach an African-American death rate from union violence of 2 per months over the Jim Crow period.In the post WWI, period you can start to add in deaths caused union affiliated mobs and even machine controlled police. Read up on the history of the south side of Chicago during the African-American migrations of the 1920’s.

    Like I said, you won’t find a concise description because the people who create such descriptions do not want such a story told. You have to piece it together yourself.

  6. Devin Larson,

    Mutalism is simply covering up the reality of union violence with pleasant phrases. It doesn’t matter what you intend you actions to be or what you wish your actions to be. It merely matters what your actions actually are. Just because you use the words, “Peaceful” and “free” doesn’t mean that you actions are peaceful and lead to increased freedom.

    I find the Mutalist description you link to especially vapid. It doesn’t actually say what mutalist should or should not do in any particular detail. It basically just says, “we’ll always be the good guys.”

    In reality, unions cannot function without the ability to use violence to prevent other workers from competing economically with the union workers. Otherwise, you can’t extort from consumers a price above the free-market without being able to establish a monopoly for that product. As long as consumers can choose to buy from non-union workers, union workers will have to be content with the wages they can negotiate without the threat of violence.

    The mythology of unions and other forms of violence based economics arises from the need to rationalize why one group of humans has the right to take away by force the resources of another. Those rationalizations can be based in religion such as in Hinduism, classist as in medieval cultures, racism as in fascism or the socialist idea that people of who perform particular economic functions are actually unproductive parasites. In all these rationalizations, the targeted group is always composed of evil cheaters who deserve to be hurt in order to balance the cosmic scales of justice. At different times and places, these rationalizations seemed perfectly obvious to all right thinking people.

    So, instead of looking at rationalizations, I look at actions. The actions of unions are centered around destruction and killing. They destroy physical resources they can’t control and kill people who try to compete with them. You can’t cover that reality up with words.

  7. yeah, those damn unions! they are just terrible! I wish we didn’t have weekends, 40 hour work weeks, overtime, workplace safety laws, child labor laws, pensions, or healthcare.

    It would be so much better if we could all compete in a race to the bottom against the poorest people in the world!

    To celebrate the failed Chicago Boyz is insane, Milton Friedman and his hell spawn have destroyed the middle class in every country they touched, much to the delight of their elite masters.

    I have worked for the company in UAW and Teamster companies, and the union guys are usually right about more than the company, and they contribute greatly when allowed.

  8. You Like Pinochet, Don’t U?,

    I wish we didn’t have weekends, 40 hour work weeks, overtime, workplace safety laws, child labor laws, pensions, or healthcare.

    Yes, after all working conditions and standards of living had been steadily worsening since the start of the industrial age just like Marx predicted. No, wait, they weren’t. All the improvements that unions claim sole responsibility for where actually long term trends well underway long before unions gained power. At best, unions only accelerated improvements by a few years.

    Claiming credit for improvements wrought by the free-market is a fairly standard trick of the left. They accomplish this by tricking people into comparing the point in time when leftist policies where implemented against present day conditions. In reality, they should be comparing conditions at the time of implementation with conditions a few decades prior to that.

    To celebrate the failed Chicago Boyz is insane, Milton Friedman and his hell spawn have destroyed the middle class in every country they touched, much to the delight of their elite masters.

    Right, that is why the middle-class in say Michigan is so much better off than than the middle-class in say Texas. And of course, that is why heavily unionized urban areas are attracting middle-class families away from the suburbs. Meanwhile, back on earth…

    I have worked for the company in UAW and Teamster companies, and the union guys are usually right about more than the company, and they contribute greatly when allowed.

    Well, then why don’t the unions just run their own companies then? If they’re so damn smart and always right, why bother with the incompetents of managers and investors? Nope, that is to hard. Instead, it’s much easy to sit in the backseat and bitch, bitch, bitch. The jerk in the backseat telling you how to drive always imagines themselves right because they never have to accept responsibility for their decsions.

    Of course, unions already do run companies by enforcing minimum staffing and work rules that dictate how companies have to organize the work they carry out. Unions block technology that would improve productivity but that would “cost jobs.” Do you ever see unions stepping up and accepting responsibility for the effect that union decisions have on the long term health of the companies they control?

    No, instead, investors and consumers are expected to just keep coughing up unlimited money to union monopolies while management is stuck with all the blame. It’s a sweet gig if you can get it but you can see how the rest of us who compete in the free-market for our livelihood would be more than a little resentful of union privilege.

  9. “Instead, it’s much easy to sit in the backseat and bitch, bitch, bitch. ”

    Actually it takes a lot of work to beat up scabs and key their cars.

  10. I would really love to start on old school union busting firm. Axe handles and revolvers would be the order of the day. Over the top violence aside..I wonder if it would even be legal for me to start a union busting firm. Probably not in some states..but perhaps in others? Certainly not here in Hawaii. We have bus drivers making 90K because of the union crap here. The only unions to go on strike here are the ones that can hold the island hostage in some way…stevedores, school teachers, bus drivers. Personally I wish Lingle had pulled a Reagan and just fired the entire bus company when that happened and brought in a new service provider and hired all new drivers. I’m just so sick and tired of people with a high school education(and a poor one at that) doing a job that anyone could train to do in 3 weeks, justifying why they deserve their pay all the time.

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