What “Right to Work” Laws Reveal about Libertarians.
There is a threat that all good libertarians must rise up against. State legislatures around the country are debating whether to make it illegal for one private entity to freely sign a type of contract with another private entity. I speak, of course, about Right to Work laws, which make it illegal for one private actor (unions) to sign particular types of contracts with another willing private actor (companies). What an outrageous infringement of individual liberty!
Imagine a situation like this: An employer, lets say a restaurant, signs an exclusive contract with a uniform company. An employee at the restaurant, if they need a new uniform, must buy it from that uniform company. Now, I, as a non-liberatarian might disapprove. But a good libertarian should say that everyone has voluntarily agreed to their position. The worker, after all, doesn’t have to take that job. He knew he would have to buy from the uniform company when he took the job. The restaurant and the uniform company have each voluntarily agreed to do business with each other.
Now lets imagine another: the same restaurant faces pressure from their employees, who are mad about low pay and unsafe conditions. The majority of the employees strike, a boycott is called, and the restaurant’s image suffers. After a while the restaurant decides that it is in their financial interest to sign a labor agreement with the employees, who have constituted themselves as a union. Part of the deal mandates that all employees must pay dues to maintain the union, in order to prevent free riders. Just like before, an individual employee is free to leave the restaurant. So they are acting freely when they come to work. The business and the union have each voluntarily agreed to their conditions. The state doesn’t have to get involved.
Two cases in which private actors act freely. The state doesn’t coerce anyone. Yet libertarians are ok with one, and not with the other.
Of course the fundamental difference– which gets to the heart of modern libertarianism– is that in the second case, working class people are benefiting, while in the first case, businesses are benefitting.
Thus we get to the total Orwellian absurdity of the “right to work.” Do workers in those notoriously high-wage right to work states like Mississippi and Louisiana have the right to work when they want? Do they have the right to tell their boss to fuck off? Or to name their own salary? Or take as many sick days as they want? Or to wear Slayer shirts to work? Or to have safe working conditions? Of course not. Under capitalism, workers lose those rights for the 8 hours they are at work. But, for some odd reason, there is one demand which is absolutely outrageous to make on employees: the demand that they join a union in order to work the job. You could demand that they cut their hair, or get an expensive master’s degree, but never demand that they join an organization that negotiates on their behalf.
And aren’t libertarians supposed to hate government intervention? A true libertarian might say, we’ll pass no laws about it. But if there were no right to work laws in, say Mississippi, then unions might put enough pressure on one employer until it was in the company’s interest to accept a union-shop. And then the union might marshall that strength and work on the next factory, and then the next…So to prevent this holocaust of high wages and safe working conditions from happening, the brave John Galts in the Republican party run to the safety of the nanny state, demanding that they ensure that no unions can ever demand a union-shop in negotiations.
In final words, let us hear what Martin Luther King Jr., whom the modern right is now convinced is one of theirs, had to say on this subject:
“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. It is supported by Southern segregationists who are trying to keep us from achieving our civil rights and our right of equal job opportunity. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote.”