Steve Sachs Duke


Monday, November 03, 2003


Union Yes? Josh Chafetz argues that there's "nothing un-conservative about supporting a union." For my part, I don't consider myself a conservative, and I'm not sure what to think about unions. But I'm also not sure I can agree with Josh's rationale:

[W]hen unions are engaged in organizing workers and bargaining for a better deal for their members -- including when they're on strike -- they're just a voluntary organization pursuing a mutual interest. In that capacity, they're just another of Tocqueville's intermediate social institutions.

Imagine an association of individuals who are clearly not fellow employees (say, an independent fishermen's association) which acts like a union, bargaining collectively to get a better deal for its members. In one sense, it's a "voluntary organization pursuing a mutual interest." But in another, it's nothing more than a cartel trying to corner the fish market. For some reason, it's hard to see an association of Sotheby's and Christie's as merely an "intermediate social institution."

So the real question to answer is, what is it about the relationship of employment that makes unions legitimate? There are plenty of different answers to this question, and they prescribe different sets of union regulations--deciding whether specific tactics, like sitdown strikes, or specific goals, like secondary or political strikes, are legitimate. But these answers don't seem to have their roots in a particular vision of a healthy civil society, but rather in particular conceptions of fair dealing and contractual obligation. The real question ought to be one of rights and their enforcement, rather than voluntary association. Otherwise, I know of another intermediate social institution Tocqueville might not have approved of...




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