Unhappy Labor Day!

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a fan of unions.  (No surprise from a conservative blog!)  Growing up with family in and out of unions, my general experience was that union work tended to be more expensive for shoddier work.  In the construction industry, the union carpenters (e.g.) would have more leverage for securing larger jobs even though it was widely known that their work was of lesser quality.  So from personal experience, I come at the issue not from the “greedy” corporate raiders side but the “greedy” small business owner competing against a powerful union.

I’ve also never had any desire or pressure to join a union.  I work at a small, religious institution with no union.  If I had to guess, I’d say that roughly half (perhaps a bit more) of the faculty are Republicans and Libertarians and the other half are Democrats.  And I’ve never heard the Democrats make a case for unions at our school.  Why not?  Because we all know the administrators and know that the explanations for our low salaries are mostly not due to greed and an unwillingness to pay us more.  They want to pay us more and think we’re worth paying more.  Union dues would only mean that we have less take-home pay.

The main reason I’ve never liked unions is because of their overwhelming support for Democrats and Democratic issues beyond support for unions (not to mention corruption, the mafia, etc.).   So it’s particular unions such as the NEA that make me inclined not to support them.

However, I can’t see why a conservative should be against them in principle.  Unions, like corporations, are (or at least can be) free associations in which citizens come together for a common cause.  (See also A Libertarian Case for Organized Labor?)    If citizens should be allowed to incorporate, so too should they be allowed to unionize.

At least to a point.  Public-sector (government) unions are a different animal, and there are good reasons for conservatives to oppose them.  Beyond the fact that many public-sector union members live high on the tax funded hog, the status of a unionized employee changes with respect to ordinary citizens for the worse.  For non-unionized, elected officials, we the people set out what we take their responsibilities to be, salary, and so on.  If elected officials and their cohorts unionize, they are now beholden to the union bosses and are one more step away from being accountable to the people who elected them.   Since the government already has a monopoly on force and basic utilities, a unionized government can now effectively strike (along with the bloated bureaucracies) bringing non-public sector citizens to their collective knees when it comes to receiving vital services.  As such, those on the right should oppose them.


A former police officer, AR-15 (or “AR”) knows the difference between an assault rifle and home defense rifle. AR now fights with other weapons and demolishes arguments. He agrees that the pen is mightier than the sword, but he isn’t so stupid to bring a pen to a gunfight.

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  1. I personally take a fairly dim view of “Labor Day” in practice, if not in principle, but maybe not for the same reasons outlined here.

    Maybe I’m just less hopeful than I used to be, but with respect to Labor Day I find myself pretty much in alignment with this position, for anyone interested.

    I realize this blog has a lot of contributors in academia, and several from outside the U.S. of A., so I’m not sure if our experiences and opinions align, but the Protestant work ethic that served to build up this nation is apparently no more. I’m personally convinced that it died out with The Greatest Generation, and we’re currently living off the last dregs of the fruits of their labor.

  2. @Leonidas, thanks for the helpful link, it was instructive. Although I wasn’t aware of all the various historical undercurrents that swirled under and around the labor movement in the U.S., none of the information cited in the linked post was surprising.

    The more things change the more they stay the same.

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