Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wisconsin and Collective Bargaining: My Journey on Labor Policy

     I was in my home town of Lake Bluff, Illinois in mid-February 2011, when protests began at the State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin against newly-elected Governor Scott Walker's proposals of reforms to the state budget. I had lived in Madison from 2005 to 2009 while attending the University of Wisconsin at Madison, studying political science. I managed to move back to Madison that summer, and the following spring I filed to run for the U.S. House of Representatives from Wisconsin's 2nd Congressional District in 2012.
     On February 16th, 2011 – just a day or two after finding out about the protests from a friend in Madison – I published my reaction to Governor Walker's suggested public-sector collective bargaining reforms as a file entitled “Scott Walker's Public Union Proposals” in a Facebook group dedicated to my congressional campaign.
     Initially, I agreed with the provision that public employee unions retained the right to negotiate on wages at all, but disagreed with taking away their right to negotiate on health benefits and vacations, disagreed with requiring them to negotiate every year, and disagreed with freezing their wages until a new contract is made. However, I agreed with the provision that there be an annual secret ballot on whether public employees want to stay unionized.
     Also, I opposed the provision that public employee unions could not get salary increases above the consumer price index except if approved by public referendum, agreed that public employees should pay 5.8% more of their salaries for their pensions and 12.6% more for their health coverage, disagreed that the state should stop collecting dues for unions, and disagreed with taking away the right of home health care, family child care workers, University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics employees and UW faculty and academic staff to collectively bargain.
     Additionally, I supported the provisions that public employees could opt out of paying union dues if they wish, that state and local employees would have the right to refuse to join unions, and that the National Guard should be used to suppress strikes which disrupt state services such as prisons. Also, I opposed firing 6,000 state employees if Walker's measure did not pass, as well as opposing firing teachers for going on strike and firing the Democratic state legislators for going to Rockford, Illinois in order to deny the Republicans a quorum on the vote for Walker's proposed legislation.
     At this time, I had not yet taken a position differentiating the needs for collective bargaining rights of private-sector workers as opposed to public-sector government employees. Being that, at the time, Governor Walker was stating that he did not want Wisconsin to become a Right-to-Work state, I opposed him on that (he has since changed his position, and I have revised mine several times). Explaining my positions, I wrote that all types of employees should have the authority to collectively bargain, that collective bargaining should be “free, open-ended, and frequent”, and public employee unions should have the responsibility to collect their own dues without help from the state government.
     I further explained that “Individual employees [should] be free to choose whether to join unions and pay dues to them, joining a union would never be a precondition for employment, and refusal to join a union would never be a legitimate reason to fire an employee.” I have espoused this position since, during high school, I worked for a grocery store, and discovered that my workplace had enacted what is called a post-entry closed shop agreement (however I quit to re-assume my high school studies before I would have had to join the union).
     I ended my explanation of my position on Walker's proposals by disagreeing with the argument that people who refuse to pay union dues are choosing to become free-riders. My explanation supported the individual worker's subjective evaluation of the benefit which may come from being represented by a union; I argued that to compel the payment of dues to unions in order to bargain for increased benefits would ameliorate the employer's financial incentive to hire new employees.
     I have since argued on my blog - based on my experiences as a temporary custodian at the Madison Area Technical College - that lack of freedom to and from association with unions only serves to create animosity between unionized and non-unionized workers.

     After studying the issue for two more weeks, I published another file on February 28th, 2011, on the topic of the difference between public-sector and private-sector unions. I argued that “public-sector unions have more leverage than private-sector unions because government[al service providers] is more likely to have a monopoly in the provision of services than in the market” (i.e., than non-governmental commercial service providers).
     I wrote that while “[g]etting rid of collective bargaining rights for certain types of jobs is one way to address this problem, [a]nother... and... a more libertarian solution... would be to undermine the government monopolies in the provision of such services” (i.e., education, health, public works and infrastructure, police and judicial services, etc.).
     As a market anarchist and a student of Gustave de Molinari, I recognized then, as I recognize now, that the State – the local monopoly on legitimate violence – is the source of legitimacy of all monopoly and oligopoly in the private sector. I wrote that “[t]he only way to solve Wisconsin's union problem... is to encourage competition in the provision of those services which are typically provided by government.”
     Rather than believing that corporations dominated public interest - and that if we didn't have a State, corporations would control our lives - I believe that the State is the source of corporate power, and that if the State didn't exist (that is, if there were no ban on governments competing to provide services in a territory), corporate power would be small enough to be able to be effectively limited by non-violent consumer and worker action.
     My positions on collective bargaining result from an awareness – due to studying Milton Friedman - that unions seek State power to help them monopolize the representation of workers in collective bargaining, in the same manner in which businesses seek State power to help them monopolize markets, industries, and the provision of certain services.
     In non-Right-to-Work states, private-sector unions monopolize the representation of workers in bargaining by enacting “compulsory unionism” - laws permitting closed-shop and union-shop union security agreements in unionized workplaces - and by promoting majority unionism over dual unionism and minority unionism.
     When such practices are implemented, individual workers become less free to negotiate with management on their own merits, and unable to join and pay dues to some other union. Arguably, this is good because it stands to increase worker solidarity, but majority unions would be free to appeal to the State to prohibit alternative unions, whether a union would demand less, or whether it would be more radical in its demands, and call for a strike of which the majority union leadership would not approve.

     In late March 2011, I was asked to respond to the argument that Right-to-Work legislation interferes with an employer's and a union's right to freely enter into contract. In my reply, I explained that it is not primarily the law which interferes with the contract rights of employers and unions, but the employers and unions which interfere with the contract rights of the individual worker.
     Explaining my opposition to unions and employers colluding to require workers to join unions, I wrote that “I am more concerned about preserving the individual employee's right to freely enter into contract with either or both unions and employers than I am with preserving union or business rights”. I also supported requiring closed-shop and union-shop businesses to notify applicants about their type of bargaining arrangement during the application process.
     I explained that I did not want employees to be “forced to choose between participating in a strike and continuing to work” in order to provide for himself, risking getting fired for agreeing to work without committing to fund a union that might not actually even do anything that promotes his own interests in the workplace.
     Also, I elaborated upon the idea that bargaining for increased benefits has adverse effects on the incentive to hire: “Increased benefits can... mean higher standards for the hiring of future employees; ...[making it] more difficult for future employees to qualify for those increased benefits... contributing to unemployment.”

     In mid-April 2012 – around the time I filed for candidacy in Wisconsin's 2nd District congressional race – I published a lengthy file about private-sector labor laws and contract rights. This occurred shortly after I learned about collective bargaining agreements and labor laws from a co-worker who aspired to organize our workplace.
     I responded to a statement by economist Friedrich Hayek that Right-to-Work laws and union privileges are both the results of favorable special legislation, that there should be no need for either, and that such special privilege should be removed by special legislation declaring certain pertinent contracts invalid. I agreed about the special favors, but I argued that legislation should not impair the obligation of contracts, because judgments in lawsuits are the only way to retroactively invalidate contracts.
     I explained that union security agreements “act as unnecessary barriers of entry into the labor market... increase unemployment levels and the cost of living... make it less likely for new and fledgling labor unions to gain prominence[,]... make independent... strikes less likely to occur, [and] narrow the range of acceptable tactics for – and goals of – negotiation”.
     I supported discouraging unions and employers from making union security agreements at all, and I supported prohibiting any and all (although admittedly unlikely) legislation which would seek to impose - in all unionized workplaces - security agreements such as union-shop and closed-shop, which empower established unions more than other agreements.
     I took this position because I was struggling to apply the lesson which I was learning; namely, that “compulsory unionism” is not the result of state laws mandating favorable organizing conditions in all unionized workplaces within a state, but rather the result of state laws permitting the representatives of labor and capital to govern their workplace together.
     Because I understood an inkling of the aforementioned position, I took the position that the Taft-Hartley Act should be repealed, thereby effectually invalidating Right-to-Work laws, and making them unnecessary. I began to argue that Right-to-Work laws “impair the obligation of contracts”, by which I meant the responsibility of the State to refrain from infringing upon the rights of individuals and agencies (in this case, employers and unions) to privately make contracts (in this case, governing how particular unionized workplaces are run in terms of union security agreements). I came to support a system of individual contract rights in a system of personal law, rather than a system wherein the State has power to dictate what sorts of contracts are acceptable.
     I also expressed criticism of the long-standing power of the National Labor Relations Board to approve and deny unions' requests to engage in strikes (as well as of the power of union leaders to decide whether or when a strike will occur). I supported abolishing the board and repealing the National Labor Relations Act, saying that “[t]hey are not necessary to uphold the right to collectively bargain which existed prior to – and exist[s] independently of – the current federal... labor-policy...“. I also supported establishing labor relations boards at the state and local levels, and “urging local governments to begin to administer N.L.R.B.-type services”.
     Additionally, I supported local governance, counter-economic activity, and mass-scale direct consumer action (including boycotts) – rather than empowering the State and excusing the growth of its power to remedy the special business privileges which the State erected – to uphold the right to collectively bargain; by demonstrating that the powerto do so lies in the workers, and that it is retained regardless of State endorsement and protection of such rights claims. I recognized that this view is compatible with the segment of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W. / Wobblies) which did not choose to pursue Statist political solutions to the labor struggle, and to instead pursue revolutionary anarcho-syndicalism.
     Because I observed that the free-rider problem which arises in workplaces when workers are not required to pay dues actually arises because non-dues-paying workers are required – as workers at an organized workplace - to receive the benefits of collective bargaining which they did not help fund and in which they did not participate, I supported encouraging unions and workplaces to adopt dual-unionism and minority-unionism, members-only collective bargaining, and open-shop union security agreements, so that there is a place for individuals and unions alike - multiple unions, at that - within the workplace.

     Since adopting those positions in 2012, I have come to recognize the existence of labor unions as a feature of a capitalist system (which actually resembles feudalism due to its rentier system and lack of allodial property rights, and I can name anarcho-socialists and students of the Austrian School alike who would agree with this notion).
     My most startling realization about unions being part of State capitalism occurred when Joseph Carriveau wrote to me that “[u]nions are not syndicates”. I began to understand that the purpose of collective bargaining is not just to get as much compensation out of management and profits as possible, but to bring about egalitarian cooperative management and control of production in the workplace. Most importantly, “autonomous unions” (syndicates) require that the union be free to decide how and under what conditions it strikes, rather than beholden to the supposed authority of a government board.
     Soon after, I began learning more about egalitarian labor-managed firms (E.L.M.F.s), cooperative corporations, mutual and cooperative banks and credit unions. I began to understand syndicalism, cooperativism, corporativism, mutualism, entrepreneurialism, and others as – as Rudolf Rocker put it - “only different methods of economy”; that is, only different methods of making certain financial, structural, and organizational decisions about matters of the firm, such as the relationship between labor and management or capital, the logistics of investment and funding, and the methods of profit and cost calculation.
What I have learned about the subjects has given me hope that an effective counter-economy could develop through an anarchy-without-adjectives coalition of business associations which unite egalitarianfirms – including dispute-resolution and security-provision agencies - operating under each particular anarchist “method of economy” (indeed, if all enterprises were cooperative, then it would be difficult to distinguish a professional association, business association, business alliance, industry trade group, or pro-business lobbying firm, from an autonomous, industrial, trade, craft, or guild union, a federation of cooperatives, or a pro-labor lobbying firm).
     These security and dispute-resolution agencies, each offering voluntary citizenship, would provide choice from amongst competing governments, which would aim to out-compete the State in public service provision through offering more perfectly progressive user-fee structures (potentially paying disadvantaged citizens to choose to accept their protection over that of others), fostering an environment of free and fair trade - with reasonable and justifiable profit - without either necessitating involuntary subjugation to a single State or interfering with the obligation of contracts.
     While it is still my position to support only the types of private-sector union security agreements and union organizational and election practices which are the least Statist and majoritarian, and which are the most compatible with individualism, voluntary exchange, and a desire to eliminate the free rider problem, I would take a much stronger position against public-sector unions - especially the Association of Federal, State, County, and Municipal Employees (A.F.S.C.M.E.).
     This is because public employee unions - through donations, lobbying, and elections - practically have the power to appoint their own employers; the politicians who serve and represent the people who have the power to write laws that grow or shrink bureaucracies, and to hire and fire public employees. Thus public employees have personal financial incentive to elect candidates who will continue to promise them the continuation of their jobs and increases to their benefits, at increasing expense to taxpayers. Growth in the size and costs of bureaucracy is growth in the power and inefficiency of the State.
     This is problematic, of course, because governments all over America are in debt, and in some cases paying off debts incurred over a hundred years ago, so any promises to keep funding insolvent governments only serve to cause future generations to go further into debt. And let us not forget that all of this revenue collection occurs in the context of Statism; the local monopoly on legitimate coercion in the enforcement of government order, including the enforcement of tax law.
     Rather than increasing the freedom and egalitarianism of governance and commerce, the unchecked power of public-sector collective bargaining risks growing the State; thereby entrenching a barbaric, backwards system of legitimized violence, monopoly and oligarchy, and territorialism, which has no concern for either a logical justice system or classically liberal civic and economic values such as market choice and competition, voluntary association, and freedom of choice in government.
     In all cases, I support dismantling all State-erected privileges and protections for businesses and unions alike, and I support maximizing the decentralization of - and limiting majority power within – representation in government, by business associations, and through collective bargaining.
     I believe that this would have profound positive effects, such as curbing the growth of State and corporate power, electing less corrupt politicians through less expensive elections, strengthening bipartisan opposition to federal centralism, allowing growth of and diversity of thought within the labor movement, freeing the markets for consumer goods, and fostering the natural development of free enterprise, fair credit, and affordable and responsibly-financed government.
     I additionally support transcending the “centralization vs. decentralization” paradigm in favor of a diffusion of power, brought about through increasing the rights and the abilities of the accused to represent themselves in court (and of people in general to participate in a system of interpersonal contracts), so that people are able to effectively represent themselves without necessitating empowerment of political, business, and union leaderships and bureaucracies.

     Insofar as I am willing to support tactics utilizing the current representational government - gradualistic reforms to the State - my position now is that I disagree with Friedrich Hayek that Right-to-Work laws should be removed by special legislation, so I also disagree with Ron Paul's attempts in the early 1990s to pass a national Right-to-Work law.
     Instead of invalidating Right-to-Work laws nationwide through special legislation by Congress, I believe that Right-to-Work laws should be found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court; i.e., through a judgment, the only legitimate way to retroactively invalidate contracts. However, I understand that Paul's legislation – had it passed – would eventually have forced the Supreme Court to make a decision about the constitutionality of Right-to-Work laws.
     I also believe that union security agreements should be found unconstitutional by courts in the states and at the federal level, because they hinder the ability of potential employees to interact unilaterally with employers. I take this position not out of lack of solidarity with the needs of working people, but out of the necessity to avoid taxpayer debt, socialist bureaucracy, labor aristocracy, and excessive planning that inhibits freedom.
     I would wager that Joseph Carriveau agrees that for workers to get their fair share, most contracts – however constitutional – ought to be dissolved.

For more entries on unions and collective bargaining, please visit:

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  1. This is Ronald Reagan calling Walker a communist. When collective bargaining is lost freedom is lost. Unions are an important part of a democracy. In his own Words

    1. Unions are a feature of a capitalist system. if you want to live in an unequal corporate State where people like Reagan are still respected, so be it.

      But I am not a Reagan Republican, I am an anarchist, I support anarcho-syndicalism and individual rights alike.

      The unions do not need the State to prop up or help assert their power; this only undermines their point that true equality is what the unions are after.