The Reality of Labor Unionism in America: Americans Are Taught That Unions' Main Purpose Is to Fight Employers for Better Treatment of Employees, but That's Not True. Unions Exist to Keep Non-Union Workers from Working

By Farmer, Brian | The New American, November 21, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Reality of Labor Unionism in America: Americans Are Taught That Unions' Main Purpose Is to Fight Employers for Better Treatment of Employees, but That's Not True. Unions Exist to Keep Non-Union Workers from Working


Farmer, Brian, The New American


When we studied U.S. history in high school and college, we were taught that during the Industrial Revolution working people in the United States were virtual slaves, mercilessly exploited by their employers. That spawned a strong labor movement, which raised factory workers from a state of destitution, and labor unions continue to wage a ceaseless struggle to prevent workers from once again being subjugated by their employers. But to what extent is this so-called "conventional wisdom" the result of union propaganda that has found its way into our educational establishment, rather than the result of a thorough analysis of the nature of labor unions and a comprehensive study of economic history? In other words, were we really being educated in our U.S. history classes, or were we actually being indoctrinated?

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Many history textbooks that discuss the rise of the labor movement assume without question that there is an inherent conflict between employers and employees. This is based on the notion that each party will act in its own self-interest: Employers will want to employ the best workers available for the lowest wages possible, while workers will want to earn the highest wages possible for the least amount of effort. On closer inspection, however, one sees that employers and employees are not actually competitors. Rather than having an adversarial relationship with one another, their fundamental relationship is really based on cooperation and mutual benefit: The employer provides a job and the employee does the work. They must work together, because they are both trying to accomplish a common purpose, namely, the creation and delivery of some good or service for which there is a consumer demand.

How, then, do labor unions play their role in the economy? What is the true nature and character of a labor union? According to Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, a labor union is "an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members' interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions." In order to succeed in holding such an or ganization together over the long term, a labor union has to be able to deliver on the claim that it can and will obtain a better deal for its members than they would receive in a free and open market. The only means of accomplishing this is by controlling the supply of labor available to an employer, which the labor union does by preventing non-members from having access to the employer. When there is a contractual agreement between a labor union and an employer, it is essentially a compact whereby the employer agrees to enforce the provisions of the contract, which almost invariably includes the requirement that the employer will only hire members of that labor union.

Organized Against Whom?

Sherlock Holmes used to tell Dr. Watson, "People see, but they do not observe." When we observe the phenomenon of labor unionism as described in the foregoing paragraph, the scales fall from our eyes. Labor unions are not organized against employers at all; they are organized against workers outside the union! To prove this to yourself, and to show that the conventional wisdom about labor unions being for the little guy is a myth, you need only ask yourself a very simple question: When was the last time you saw a labor union trying to organize the unemployed? (To what end would the unemployed be organized? Obviously, to try and get the jobs of those already employed, which is exactly what labor unions want to prevent!) In fact, employers and labor unions, far from being adversaries, actually become partners, working together to shut out from employment those workers who are not members of the union.

But why would employers agree to hire only union members and not avail themselves of the entire worker pool in a free and open market? And why would employers agree to pay more than they would otherwise have to, in order to attract workers? …

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