Center for a Stateless Society
A Left Market Anarchist Think Tank & Media Center
Unions as an Alternative to State Licensing

In this day and age under the United States government, it’s nearly impossible to legally get a skilled job without a professional license. According to Matt Miller of the Texas Institute for Justice, the issue of over-licensing has become so rampant that “[a]bout one in three people now need the government’s permission to work.” It doesn’t matter whether you’re a doctor, mechanic, florist, plumber, electrician, interior designer, construction worker, lawyer, taxi driver, hair stylist, or even gas pumper if you live in New Jersey. Of course, people always find ways around such things. Uber and Lyft routed around taxi licensing regimes by establishing themselves instead as tech companies. Almost everybody knows someone who will cut their hair or fix their car unlicensed and under the table. But what about the occupations that seem like a base level of standards should be maintained? How can you maintain such standards without state granted licensing regimes?

Many skilled jobs, such as those in the construction, electrical, medical, and mechanic industries, are already heavily unionized. And in those industries, the unions pride themselves on their professionalism. Skilled unions require certain amounts of training or other qualifications before a person is allowed to join in many cases or provide training as part of union membership. Some unions pride themselves on their standards so much that chances are if you are getting your car fixed by one of their mechanics, you know you’re in confident hands. Already many people look for certified union workers because they understand that if the union requires a base level of skill, then the services their members provide will be of quality.

This system could easily be an alternative to the overly bureaucratic and authoritarian state licensing regimes. Consumers would, of course, have the choice to disregard such things and take their chances or judge them on their own terms, but labor unions can offer a base level of certification for its members, guaranteeing that they have received certain types of training. Unions could require doctors and nurses to have so many years of medical training, electricians to have trade school or apprenticeship training, taxi drivers to pass a background check and driving test, etc., before they can be certified. Unions could also use their influence and bargaining power to team up with trade schools and universities to create training programs specifically for their union members. And the best part of all? Union certification is paid for out of union dues, not stolen tax money.

Of course non-union and non-certified alternatives would exist in a voluntary society but it should be fair to assume that most people would prefer a certified doctor or surgeon. And while not all decisions are as important as medical ones, consumers logically want to be confident that the services they are paying for can be performed by the person they’re paying. That could voluntarily come from such things as personal experience, a trusted recommendation, proof of work, private certification, or any number of alternatives. Not everything needs to be certified and not everyone particularly cares about certification but for those that do, unions are one of the options that currently lies before us that we can build upon in the here and now. Doing so would both help to calm the fear of leftists that businesses would go completely unregulated without government interference and allow us to build the systems we prefer in preparation for the fall of the state.

Truth is, many of the jobs requiring occupational licenses do so because of crony capitalists who lobby for restrictions on competition and sometimes, sadly, those cronies include big unions. But it is up to the rank-and-file union members and alt labor organizations to change that trend because in some cases such standards are actually desired by consumers. We all know that one-size-fits-all proscriptive solutions never work as well as decentralized bottom up solutions. With unions certifying their members, they will compete to provide the best quality and standards to their customers. Then instead of blindly trusting the government standards, we could research various union standards and decide for ourselves. Of course, this would only be one of many great licensing alternatives that are able to compete and flourish in a truly voluntary anarchist society.

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