Today is the first Monday of September, which in the United States and Canada (and only in the United States and Canada) is recognized as Pullman Strike. It is celebrated today at the behest of state and federal governments, and the business unionists at the AF of L and
Change to Win (sic), who, after all, have always been happy to suck up to State power in the name of a juicy private-public partnership. The real labor holiday in the United States is, of course, International Worker’s Day, celebrated each year on May Day, a wildcat holiday declared by labor radicals and celebrated not by edicts handed down from on high but by common consent of workers who just refused to show up for work on their holiday.
As much as I enjoy celebrating labor radicalism, today is not the day for it; today belongs to the establishmentarian unionists and the government labor bureaucracy and the bosses who use union patronage as a means of control over workers. They made it and they can have it. In honor of this Gilded Age bait-and-switch, I offer the following thought, reprinted in Benjamin Tucker’s Instead of a Book, and now available online at the Fair Use Repository:
The recent strike at Carmaux, France, was followed by an agitation for compulsory arbitration of disputes between capital and labor. There was a lively fight over it in the French Chamber, which fortunately had the good sense to vote the measure down. Of all the demands made upon government in the interest of labor this is perhaps the most foolish. I wonder if it has ever occurred to the laborers who make it that to grant their desire would be to deny that cherished right to strike upon which they have insisted so strenuously and for so many years. Suppose, for instance, a body of operatives decide to strike in defence of an interest which they deem vital and to maintain which they are prepared and determined to struggle to the end. Immediately comes along the board of arbitration, which compels strikers and employers to present their case and then renders a decision. Suppose the decision is adverse to the strikers. They are bound to accept it, the arbitration being compulsory, or suffer the penalty,—for there is no law without a penalty. What then has become of their right to strike? It has been destroyed. They can ask for what they want; a higher power immediately decides whether they can have it; and from this decision there is no appeal. Labor thus would be prohibited by law from struggling for its rights. And yet labor is so short-sighted that it asks for this very prohibition!
Elsewhere, at Hit and Run, BTS wonders:
I never quite understood why most mainline libertarians despise unions so. Don’t workers have as much a right to free association as the next guy?
In reply, Franklin Harris informs us us that:
In theory, yes, but I really doubt unions in anything like their current form could exist without the legal protections given them by the government — laws that force businesses to recognize and deal with unions once they have organized.
Kevin Carson has an excellent reply, which you should read in its entirety. For myself, I’d just like to say that I also
doubt unions in anything like their current form could exist without the legal protections given them by the government. That’s one of the chief reasons labor unionists should want those legal protections abolished. Without that legal patronage, it’s much more likely that unions would exist in something more like the form they existed in for the sixty-odd years that they existed from the beginnings of the American labor movement until the establishment of government-regulated unionism in 1935. Which would be quite a step forward, not backward, for organized labor.
Are you cold, forelorn, and hungry?
Are there lots of things you lack?
Is your life made up of misery?
Then dump the bosses off your back!
–John Brill (1916)
Updated 2007-09-04: Fixed an inaccuracy. Don’t forget Canada!