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Opposition to trade unions

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Title: Opposition to trade unions  
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Subject: Thatcherism, Margaret Thatcher, Trade unions, Pinochet in Suburbia, The lady's not for turning
Collection: Criticism of Trade Unions, Labour Relations, Trade Unions
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Opposition to trade unions

Opposition to trade unions comes from a variety of groups in society and there are many different types of argument on which this opposition is based.


  • Economic effects 1
    • Unemployment 1.1
    • Harm to ununionized labor 1.2
    • Efficiency 1.3
    • Cost-push inflation 1.4
    • Corruption 1.5
    • General Response to Economic Arguments 1.6
    • Social Disruption 1.7
  • Challenges from affirmative action perspectives 2
    • Racist policies in the past 2.1
  • Government 3
  • Left critiques of trade unionism 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Notes 7
  • External links 8

Economic effects


The economist Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize winner and advocate of laissez-faire capitalism, believed that unionization (as well as the minimum wage) frequently produces higher wages at the expense of fewer jobs, and that, if some industries are unionized while others are not, wages will decline in non-unionized industries.[1]

By raising the price of labour, the wage rate, above the equilibrium price, unemployment rises. This is because it is no longer worthwhile for businesses to employ those laborers whose work is worth less than the minimum wage rate set by the unions.[2]

Trade unions often benefit insider workers, those having a secure job and high productivity, at the cost of outsider workers, consumers of the goods or services produced, and the shareholders of the unionized business. The ones who are likely to lose the most from a trade union are those who are unemployed or at the risk of unemployment or who are not able to get the job that they want in a particular field.[3]

Harm to ununionized labor

Advocates of unions claim that the higher wages that unions demand can be paid for through company profits. However, as Milton Friedman pointed out, profits are only very rarely high enough. 80% of national income is wages, and only about 6% is profits after tax, providing very little room for higher wages, even if profits could be totally used up. Moreover, profits are invested leading to an increase in capital: which raises the value of labor, increasing wages. If profits were totally removed, this source of wage increase would be removed.[4]

According to The New York Times, wages in 2012 fell to a record low of 43.5 percent. [5]


Friedrich Hayek argued that the effect of union activities to influence pricing is potentially very harmful, making the market system ineffective.[6]

Cost-push inflation

By causing wage increases above the market rate, unions increase the cost to businesses, causing them to raise their prices, leading to a general increase in the price level.[6] Austrian economists such as Robert P. Murphy, however, dispute this, arguing that the increase in the cost of labour simply means that less of other goods can be bought. He writes:

If unions succeed in wage hikes, and employers raise the prices they charge consumers to maintain their own profit margins, and the supply of money remains the same, then something else has to "give." Either the prices of goods and services in nonunion sectors have to fall and offset the union sector hikes, or people's cash balances need to fall, in terms of their purchasing power.[7]


Some trade unions, such as the

  • Unions Against the Working ClassInternational Communist Current,

External links

  1. ^ Milton & Rose Friedman, Free to Choose. Chicago Press, 1979
  2. ^ Alain Anderton, Economics, Fourth edition
  3. ^ Economics, 16th edition, Samuelson Nordhaus
  4. ^ Milton & Rose Friedman, Free to Choose, 1979
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b F. A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, 1960 Routledge Classics
  7. ^ Robert P. Murphy. "Can Unions Cause Price Inflation? – Robert P. Murphy – Mises Institute". Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  8. ^ Fitch, Robert (2006). Solidarity for Sale: How Corruption Destroyed the Labor Movement and Undermined America's Promise. PublicAffairs. pp. 134–155. 
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ "Unions Are Good for Business, Productivity and the Economy". Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  11. ^ "Union productivity effects | Monthly Labor Review". Find Articles. 1985. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Andrew Berg and Jonathan D. Ostry, 2011, "Inequality and Unsustainable Growth: Two Sides of the Same Coin?" IMF Staff Discussion Note SDN/11/08, International Monetary Fund
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Critique of SC's ruling on the right to strike, from Volume 2, Issue 6, of Combat Law". Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  17. ^ Colin Hay (2010). "Chronicles of a Death Foretold: the Winter of Discontent and Construction of the Crisis of British Keynesianism". Parliamentary Affairs 63 (3): 446–470.  
  18. ^ "Furlough negotiations: $50M ransom offered, but unions balk at releasing hostages > Hawaii Free Press > Articles Main". Hawaii Free Press. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  19. ^ "Unions will hold us all to ransom". Irish Independent. 14 July 2009. 
  20. ^ a b A Pictorial History of American Labor, William Cahn, 1972, page 160.
  21. ^ A Pictorial History of American Labor, William Cahn, 1972, page 231.
  22. ^ Solidarity Forever—An oral history of the IWW, Stewart Bird, Dan Georgakas, Deborah Shaffer, 1985, page 140.
  23. ^ Why America Needs Unions, BusinessWeek
  24. ^ "American Experience | The Fight | Nazis in the News". PBS. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  25. ^ "::Mussolini::". Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  26. ^ "E: The Third Reich". Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  27. ^ "The Creation Of A Fascist Dictatorship / Totalitarian State In Germany". 27 February 1933. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  28. ^ Unions Against the Working Class, International Communist Current
  29. ^ Roughneck: The Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, Peter Carlson, 1983, pp. 80.


  • Joseph Stiglitz (2002). Employment, social justice and societal well-being International Labour Review, 141 (1–2), p. 9 – 29.



See also

There is also the left critique of the tendencies of some labor unions to become Labor Notes, in the United States, is an example of an organization that attempts to fight this bureaucratic tendency.

There is also a philosophical difference between the [29]

Trade unionism is criticised by those of council communist and left communist tendencies.[28] Here, trade unionism is seen as being more useful to capitalists than to workers, and as a kind of "safety-valve" that helps to keep working-class discontent within reformist channels and prevent it from evolving into revolutionary action. They think the government to be the ultimate union to where all workers in the country belong; private unions can go against that. In contrast to other left critiques of trade unionism, these tendencies do not accept that the problems they identify could be remedied by changing the structure, leadership or objectives of trade unions. Instead, they argue that trade unionism is inherently reformist and that revolutionary action is possible only if workers act outside trade unionism through workers' councils or other channels.

Hyndman went on to urge workers to devote "the Trade Union funds wasted on strikes or petty funds" instead to the building up of a strong Socialist Party on the German model. Other social democrats however were more convinced than Hyndman of the utility of Trade Union action.

Trade Unions ... constitute an aristocracy of labour who [are] ... a hindrance to that complete organisation of the proletariat which alone can obtain for the workers their proper control over their own labour ... Being also ... unsectarian and unpolitical, they prevent any organised attempt being made by the workers as a class to form a definite party of their own, apart from existing factions, with a view to dominate the social conditions – a victory which ... can only be gained by resolute political action.

Some early H. M. Hyndman of the Social Democratic Federation summed up some of these views when he wrote in The Historical Basis of Socialism in England (1883):

The political left is often associated with support for trade unionism. However, some groups and individuals have taken a less positive view. In the nineteenth century, a belief in the iron law of wages led some socialists to reject trade unionism and strike action as ineffective. In this view, any increase in wages would lead manufacturers to raise prices leaving workers no better off in real terms. Karl Marx wrote a pamphlet, Wages, Price and Profit, to counter this idea, which had been put forward in the International Workingmen's Association by a follower of Robert Owen.

An anarcho-syndicalist flyer exhorting workers to "Give Union Bosses the Flick!"

Left critiques of trade unionism

[14] It has been argued, particularly by market anarchists, that government intervention in the economy has been decidedly anti-union, even in economies like the United States or the European Union.

Attempts to reduce the effects of trade unions may include union busting activities by private companies or state action including governments of authoritarian regimes such as in Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany[24][25][26][27] and Burma's military dictator, Ne Win. Many democratic governments have also attempted to limit the effects of unions, although success has been mixed.

Specific countries, especially countries run by Communist parties, while still having unions in name, do not allow for independent trade unions, just as they rarely allow for independent businesses. These state-run trade unions do not function in the same way as independent trade unions and generally do not hold any kind of collective bargaining power, acting to ensure the smooth running of Government industry.

Illegal union firing increased during the Reagan administration and has continued since.[23]


However, in a study called The Black Worker, Spero and Harris observe that more strikes [in American labor history] have been broken by white workers than by black workers.[20] Most blacks were barred from membership in the AFL not because of their skin color, but because they never had a chance to learn a skill, and "most A.F. of L. unions did not admit unskilled mass-production workers."[21] While the AFL-CIO is the modern version of the AFL, it is much more open to membership by women, immigrants, and different nationalities. Other unions, such as the Industrial Workers of the World and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, were created without regard to race from the very start.[22]

The record shows that black workers...have been used to break strikes. This availability has usually ended when the black worker has been shown that the union is open to black as well as white.[20]
The early A.F. of L. did not draw the color line, but expressed an "ideal of solidarity irrespective of race." Before long, however, the feeling changed. Whether a tendency to exclude black workers from craft unions was based more on fear of competition or racial prejudice carried over from slave days, it is difficult to decide. But the developing exclusion of the Negro worker from many neighbor unions brought with it serious problems—not just for the black worker seeking job security, but for the white worker seeking the same end...

A consequence of unions' zeal to guard their special interests is that some unions have actively lobbied for racist and anti-immigration policies. An example is the creation of the notorious Asiatic Exclusion League, which was composed mainly of the various labor unions. The Pictorial History of American Labor observes,

Racist policies in the past

Challenges from affirmative action perspectives

In some cases, unions' strike have led to violent clashes with police and with strikebreakers. See the article on the UK miners' strike of the 1980s.

Trade unions taken strike actions that result in the disruption of public services[15][16] – as demonstrated in the British Winter of Discontent.[17] However, where applicable, this may be logically inferred to be the very purpose of strike action per se.[18][19]

Social Disruption

[14] Union opponents respond that this is an example of the [12] Another argument raised by union supporters is that unionized workers will spend their higher wages, driving economic growth and creating new jobs.

The argument that unionized workers raise their own wages above their natural rate at the expense of their businesses or other workers assumes that unions never raise productivity to compensate for higher wages. Unions are capable of raising productivity by reducing turnover, by increasing coordination between workers and management, and by increasing workers' motivation.[9][10][11] Many unions raise the productivity of their workers, and some even raise it enough to make up for wage increases.[9]

General Response to Economic Arguments


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