11A051 Unions Without Government by Jim Davies, 2/20/2011    

In addition to the beer, Cairo-like protest demonstrations are brewing in Wisconsin, where the Governor Walker (R) is planning to trim spending now the money spigot has run dry, by clipping some of the power of some of the trade unions. The leader of a teachers' one in Madison said “We’re fighting for our very existence" and while that may be hyperbolic it's probably true that unions will take a hit. Except, as we saw on Thursday, for "law-enforcement unions" - a very significant omission. It says that Walker is willing to risk not indoctrinating Wisconsin's children for a while, but will not risk being unable to enforce the authority of his government. Mubarak's mistake, perhaps.

To take on the teachers' unions is quite brave, for there are few more powerful special interest lobbyists anywhere. The power comes from the facts that government schools are a de-facto monopoly (one must pay for them whether used or not) and that they can hire teachers only if members of their union; in effect, another monopoly. It's a double whammy, a kind of turbo effect, a government license to print paychecks. Union members know that very well, and so squeal like stuck pigs when either monopoly comes under threat. How, though, would unions in general fare when government has vanished?

"Collective bargaining" is a way for an employee to get paid more than he would be able to negotiate on his own. That's the claim unions make - it's not hidden, and very often, it's perfectly valid. The result is that union members earn more than what would be the free-market price of the labor of their members, while non-members earn less; and because of that distortion of the labor market, there is less trade (and jobs) in total than there would otherwise be. The result is that unionized labor gradually prices itself out of a job, wherever any alternative exists, such as a foreign source of the goods that members produce. The auto unions have been so effective as to damage the Big Three probably beyond repair, leaving Detroit a wasteland. Exactly the same would result from "public service" unions nationwide, but there is no alternative to government - that's what it means, to "govern." It's the biggest racket in the world.

In the coming zero government society unions will not of course be banned - but nor will they be sustained, by laws designed to help them. Instead, everyone will have no obligation whatever except any he chose contractually to undertake.

Possibly, a group of those skilled in some line of work might associate, and offer their services to an employer, with the advantage that he need not hire people one by one but could be sure of a high standard of service from members of this "union." No law would exist, to oblige him to contract with that union, but if he did so he (and it) would have to honor the agreement made.

The education industry will radically change anyhow - most teaching will occur at home - but every remaining school will compete for customers and hire whomever it wishes, on whatever terms are agreed. I think it rather unlikely that a school owner will wish to hire only members of a teacher union, though of course that's possible. Such a union might guarantee a certain standard of competence, grant certificates etc. Those would be valuable indicators. But they will have no monopoly on labor, any more than one school company will have a monopoly on teaching establishments; both parts of the present "double whammy" will have disappeared. The same, certainly, will be true of emergency service companies ("law enforcement" won't exist, for no laws will exist) and of other firms in the justice business - detection, apprehension, advocacy, adjudication, resolution.

In short, unions as we know them won't exist - but a new and healthy form of association will sometimes take their place.

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