GLEN COVE, NY — Some believe that the recent Brown
Shirt tactics of the public employee unions in Wisconsin and the unfair
labor practice charges against Boeing for daring to open a plant in
a Right-to-Work state are the last desperate gasp of a dying union
movement. Others believe that these tactics are manifestations of union
boldness encouraged by a White House under the thumb of labor bosses.
Although both propositions hold some truth, both miss a more important
point: Violence and coercion are at the heart of the union movement.
The late Professor Sylvester Petro of New York University Law School
demonstrated beyond doubt that unions cannot succeed unless they use
either violence or government cooperation to round up members.
Over a hundred years ago, two charges were levied against the earliest
unions: They were a conspiracy to use violence against non-union workers,
and they were a conspiracy to prevent non-union workers from contracting
with their employers to work. The unions emphasized only the second
of these and won a Congressional prohibition on injunctions against
strikes. This victory, however, effectively prevented all labor injunctions,
even those against beating up strike breakers.
The early unions were built around particular skills, such as those
of cordwinders, teamsters, carpenters, steamfitters, and electricians.
Industrial unions did not emerge for another generation or two. These
were unions of all workers, skilled and unskilled, in a particular
factory or industry. The Wagner Act was passed in the 1930s. This legislation
forced employers in a unionized workplace to bargain with any union
representing a majority of the workers and not to bargain at all with
the non-union workers. It also outlawed many legitimate ways of discouraging
unions. Eventually, many states passed laws prohibiting forced union
contracts that sought to compel workers to join the union. These states
are the Right-to-Work states.
Workers join unions for many reasons. The three most common are that
they are afraid not to join; they cannot get a job unless they join;
and they really believe union workers make more money. Fewer and fewer
workers today believe this last reason, for they see that non-union
employers can afford to pay higher wages than the union wages net of
union dues. Other reasons are that they come from union families; they
enjoy engaging in mass violence that will not be punished; they hope
to become union bosses; and they believe that the union will help them
when they need it.
Many or most workers, however, have no particular reason to join
a union other than fear. Union power, therefore, depends on the ability
of union goons to get new members, or on the ability of the union and
government in concert to persuade employers to hire only union members.
Union success, in the long run, depends on a combination of government
coercion and goon violence.
Unions are, themselves, big business. Employers deduct the union
dues from the workers’ pay and turn them over to the union. The
dues are far higher than the dues the workers pay to any other organization
to which they belong. The union bosses do not account well for what
they do with the money. Much of it is used to encourage laws that will
consolidate their power.
Traditionally, the unionization of government employees was not attempted.
The possible conflict between duty to public safety and duty to union
action was too apparent. President Coolidge broke the Boston police
strike. President Reagan broke the air traffic controllers’ strike.
In contrast, New York City has seen far too many transit strikes, garbage
strikes, and similar strikes.
American industrial workers eventually realized that they could make
more money without a union, and the proportion of these workers in
unions dropped to a small fraction. Furthermore, highly unionized industries,
such as the Detroit automotive industry, were so damaged by unions
that they increasingly moved more operations to Right-to-Work states.
As unions lost their industrial base, they developed a new model.
They maximized their control over school boards and over village, city,
town, and county governments. They unionized the employees of these
bodies, and they negotiated contracts with their pawns that paid public
sector workers salaries far out of proportion to those of their private
When people began seeing $300,000 salaries for middle-level municipal
employees, they rebelled. Unions began losing their role in bargaining
for municipal and school district salaries. They returned to the traditional
backbone of organized labor -- the goons. We saw the goons acting like
Brown Shirts in the Wisconsin legislature, trying to substitute mob
rule for parliamentary decorum.
If the unions lose this last ditch battle — and it appears they
will — they will eventually lose their privileged place in American
society. With the likely exceptions of Detroit and New York City, they
will have to play by the same non-violent rules as everyone else.
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2011
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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