Academic journal article Global Virtue Ethics Review

Are Unions Criminal Gangs?

Academic journal article Global Virtue Ethics Review

Are Unions Criminal Gangs?

Article excerpt


The present paper subjects unions to a libertarian analysis and finds this organizational structure highly problematic from the perspective of the criminal law. Libertarianism is defined as that philosophy which opposes the initiation, or the threat thereof, of violence against non-aggressing people. Unions are characterized as groups which although need not in principle act contrary to this stricture, as a matter of fact always and ever do so. Hence, organized labor, as presently constituted, cannot be reconciled with libertarian principles of non-aggression. They are thus, in effect, criminal gangs and should be seen and treated as such.


This paper is an attempt to analyze unionism from a libertarian point of view. In section II this perspective is defined, and applied to organized labor, to the detriment of the latter. Section III addresses the special problems created by public sector unions and section IV asks if it can ever be legitimate for a libertarian to join this form of organized labor. Section V is devoted to possible criticisms of the thesis adumbrated herein.

Libertarianism and unionism

Libertarianism is the political economic philosophy that has at its core the "non aggression axiom": that it shall be illicit and impermissible for anyone to initiate either the threat of, or actual violence against, a person who is not himself an aggressor (Nozick, 1974; Rothbard, 1998; Hoppe, 2001). At this level of non-specificity, there is scarcely a non-comatose commentator who will disagree. Who, after all, favors invasions? Even invaders invariably invoke self-defense, or retaliation for previous wrongs. The difference between supporters of this view, and the median political philosophy, then, is not in its basic premise; it is found, rather, in the degree to which libertarians are willing to carry this perspective.

The notion that unions are illegitimate organizations is a position that will strike the average theorist as rather idiosyncratic,1 at best. Nevertheless, for the libertarian, the notion must be resisted that we have a "right to unionize" or that unionization is akin, or, worse, an implication of, the right to freely associate. Yes, theoretically, labor organizations could limit themselves to organizing mass quits unless they got what they wanted, and hence would be acting licitly. That would indeed be an implication of the law of free association.

But every union reserves the right to employ violence (that is, to initiate violence) against competing workers, e.g., scabs,2 whether in a "blue collar way" by utilizing physical aggression, e.g., beating them up, or in a "white collar way" by getting laws passed compelling employers to deal with themselves,3 and not with potential employees competing against them, that is, scabs.4

But what of the fact that there are many counter examples: unions that have not actually engaged in the initiation of violence? Moreover, there are even people associated for many years with organized labor who have never witnessed the outbreak of actual violence.

Let me clarify my position. My opposition is not merely to violence, but, rather, to "violence, or the threat of violence." My position is that, often, no actual violence is needed, if the threat is serious enough, which, I contend it is under unionism, at least as practiced in the U.S., Canada and other such western countries.

Probably, the Internal Revenue Service never once engaged in the actual use of physical violence in its entire history.5 This is because it relies on the courts-police of the U.S. government that have overwhelming power. But it would be superficial to contend that the IRS does not engage in "violence, or the threat of violence."6 This holds true also for the state trooper who stops you and gives you a ticket. They are, and are trained to be, exceedingly polite. Yet, "violence, or the threat of violence" permeates their entire relationship with you. …

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