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Walter Block’s Wrong Headed Anti-Unionism

Walter Block recently penned a piece arguing that libertarianism is neither left nor right. In it he argues that libertarians share an anti-unionist bias with the right. It may be true that many libertarians possess an anti-union bias, but that says nothing about the normative compatibility of unions with libertarian principles. It also ignores those left-libertarians who embrace labor unionism like Kevin Carson. His Labor Struggle: A Free Market Model comes to mind.

Walter Block presumably identifies unionism with state or government coercion. This ahistorical take ignores the fact that labor unions have often had an adversarial relationship with the state or government. It wasn’t until the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 that unions received any government or state protection/recognition. Not to mention that government or the state has frequently suppressed unions throughout American history. Some notable examples are the Homestead Strike of 1892, Pullman Strike of 1894, and the Colorado Labor Wars of 1903.

In addition to the above, the courts interpreted labor unionism as a violation of anti-trust law until the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914. Other legal restraints are contained in the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. Not to mention that the National Labor Relations Act or Wagner Act itself had issues. As Kevin Carson explains:

“This attitude was at the root of the Taylorist/Fordist system, in which the labor bureaucrats agreed to let management manage, so long as labor got an adequate share of the pie. (25) Such a social contract was most emphatically in the interests of large corporations. The sitdown movement in the auto industry and the organizing strikes among West coast longshoremen were virtual revolutions among rank and file workers on the shop floor. In many cases, they were turning into regional general strikes. The Wagner Act domesticated this revolution and brought it under the control of professional labor bureaucrats.”

Block never mentions any of this history.

The final aspect to be discussed is whether unionism is compatible with the normative philosophical principles of libertarianism. An emphatic yes is the answer. Left-libertarian market anarchist unionism involves a voluntary association of free and equal workers working together for their freedom from arbitrary employer power. Voluntary association and freedom are core libertarian principles. They most emphatically apply to the working class.