Right-to-Work Laws, Again

 Posted by on 16 October 2008 at 11:06 pm  Business, Election, Politics
Oct 162008

On FRODO (the discussion list of Front Range Objectivism), someone objected to my opposition to Colorado’s Amendment 47 — a “right-to-work” measure that would forbid private businesses from requiring union membership as a condition of employment — on the grounds of “freedom of choice” and “natural rights.”

My reply is of general interest, as I think the legitimacy of “right-to-work” laws can be confusing. I wrote:

The idea that people have some kind of natural right to work for another person — without regard for their employer’s terms — is completely ridiculous.

If my employer says that he’s only willing to hire me if I cut my hair short, put in 10 hour days, donate money to ARI, or join a union, that’s his right. And it’s my right — precisely because I’m a free person, not a slave — to refuse employment under those terms.

To say that he is obliged to hire me, even though I don’t meet his terms, would make him my slave.

That’s why “right-to-work” laws are wrong. They are yet another violation of the right to contract — in a misguided, typically conservative attempt to make existing pro-union laws more “fair.” But in fact, freedom requires the repeal of those unjust pro-union laws — not passing even more unjust regulations to “level the playing field” or “protect choice.”

My view here is the definitive Objectivist position. In the June 1963 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter, Barbara Branden addressed the issue of “right-to-work” laws:

What is the Objectivist stand on “right-to-work” laws?

As advocates of laissez-faire capitalism, Objectivists are opposed to any legislation that abridges the freedom of production and trade. We are, therefore, opposed to the “right-to-work” laws.

The “right-to-work” laws prohibit employers and unions from contractually agreeing to and stipulating a closed and/or union shop. As such, these laws clearly represent an infringement of the rights of the parties involved; these laws rest on the principle that the government has the right to prescribe the terms of contractual agreements-which is a Statist concept. In a free society, an employer who voluntarily negotiates with a voluntary union, may sign any agreement with the union that he wishes. Although it is doubtful whether a closed and/or union shop agreement would ever be economically wise, that choice is the employer’s to make. No one’s rights are infringed by such an agreement; a worker does not have a “right” to a job with a given employer; if he does not or cannot meet the employer’s terms, he is free to seek employment elsewhere.

Many “conservatives” champion “right-to-work” laws on the ground that today unions are so powerful they can virtually compel an employer’s agreement to a closed and/or union shop. It is true that unions have such power. But they acquired it only by virtue of legislation, which had the effect of forcing men into unions whether they wished to join or not and of forcing employers to deal with these unions. Unions did not and could not achieve, in a free society, the monopolistic, destructive power they possess in today’s “mixed economy.” The guilty party is not unionism as such, but government controls.

The solution lies, not in passing new laws, but in repealing the laws that caused the disaster in the first place.

The defenders of freedom do not serve their own cause by trying to fight their battle on the enemy’s terms, that is, by deciding that the solution to the evil of government intervention in the economy is more government intervention.

Ari Armstrong has more on his blog.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha