Labor Day Retrospective: Liberty in the Workplace and Labor Unionism

Labor day has come and gone. In spite of the fact that it was made a Federal holiday by a president who used government power to crush the Pullman strike, it’s still worth using it as an occasion for reflecting on the struggle for workplace liberty. Corey Robin had a good post on the subject. This piece will hopefully be a good addition to the ones he already lists.

Right-libertarians or non-left libertarians aren’t known for an overwhelmingly positive view of labor unionism. Walter Block was the target of a past blog post by me that illustrates this. This post challenged the simplistic notion that labor unions are just creatures of government. This notion tends to be at the core of anti-unionism amongst some libertarians.

Anti-unionism amongst libertarians serves no good purpose. Libertarian individualism is certainly compatible with a form of unionism that involves self-interested workers forming a voluntary association to deal with the power of the boss. People are not only oppressed by government. The power of the boss can be immensely repressive too.

Liberty is a multi-faceted thing. It certainly doesn’t exclude freedom in the workplace. Libertarians who wish to provide a comprehensive attack on authority and oppression should take notice of this truth. A boss can serve the role of a mini-state with all the attendant consequences for human freedom.

Libertarians who desire to reach the majority of people dependent upon employers for a livelihood need to offer an analysis like the above that will connect to their experiences as subordinate employees. Not only is it politically prudent, it’s the approach most compatible with human liberty.

Human liberty is preferably defended in this more totalistic fashion. It’s far better to advocate liberty in all areas of life rather than settle for a limited amount. The workplace is a key battleground for liberty. One that requires libertarians to step up to the plate and provide answers.

Nobody who loves liberty wants to be told when they can and can’t go to the bathroom. Something that an employer has the power to control. And a power worth contesting in the name of freedom. Not to mention all the other attendant petty tyrannies listed in Corey Robin’s linked piece above.

Some libertarians worry that unionism or labor struggle generally is collectivist and must depend on government coercion to succeed. This confuses collectivism with collective action. The second issue of government coercion being necessary is addressed in my post on Walter Block linked to above. Please consider commenting on that post and this one!

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