CPEG’s Ron Baiman: Forget About “Right to Work” (without Paying), We Need “Right to Get Paid” (without Working) Laws!

Finally we’re starting to get serious about individual liberty by passing these new “Right to Work without Paying” (union dues or contract service fees) laws that brush aside those liberal elitist and academic arguments about “free riding” with their “prisoner’s dilemma” demonstrations of the limits of markets and individual choices and the benefits of binding social choices. I mean these people make the same kind of arguments about gun control, nuclear weapons and waste proliferation, global warming, aquifer depletion, excessive use of anti-biotics and over-fishing, and even urban planning, economic inequality, and sustainable macroeconomic prosperity, claiming that all these problems require binding social agreements. But surely personal liberty is more important than these debatable and abstract concerns, and I think it’s time that we really got serious about economic infringements on personal choices!

I’m talking of course about prohibiting those despotic collectivist employer-employee contracts that require individuals, such as myself – though I’m currently among the 24 million unemployed, to submit their labor to overwhelmingly undemocratic and unrepresentative organizations like corporations, in order to get paid.

I mean this is really insulting to my personal dignity as a true blooded American individualist. This is not just a matter of a quid pro quo exchange of a completed service or final product for money. Rather, I have to commit to spending a good part of my labor-time (i.e. my life), at the beck and call (i.e. under the direct command) of corporate bosses, whom I have no right to choose through elections or other forms of democratic representation, and who can make me do whatever they want (within very broad legal parameters) in their own or their investor master’s (generally short-term financial) interests, with absolutely no regard to what I would like to spend my working life on!

Of course I have the right to “quit” but this is a mirage of freedom, not real freedom, as given the very limited and ever more shredded public “safety net” available in the U.S. , if I were to quit, in order to get paid and not starve or sink into dire penury, I would eventually have to work for some other tyrannical collectivist organization that would similarly run roughshod over my personal economic freedom to direct my own life. Allowing corporations to enforce labor contracts that require work for pay is basically a sanctioning of “rent-a-slave” organizations that are sucking the life blood out of the American people. True personal liberty requires that workers get paid without having to engage in wage-labor.

Having to work in order to get paid is a much more serious infringement of my personal freedom than forcing me to pay for the benefits of a union collective bargaining contract with an employer in a non-“Right to Work” closed-shop state. First, I’m not required to join the union and thereby pay for the union’s political work even though these activities are, unlike corporate political lobbying and campaign contributions, mostly in my economic interest rather than in the interests of absentee and often foreign investors. All I have to do is pay for the direct services that the union is required by law to provide in the bargaining agreement. Thus even if I chose not to join the union, I will continue to receive the direct benefits of the union contract, and don’t have to join some other union or starve, unlike what will happen if I refuse to contribute my labor to the corporation, so this is a real, not a fake, choice. Second, if I join the union I get to democratically participate in an organization that, as I said is more likely to represent my interests, not those of stockholders, and this includes electing union representatives and leaders. Third, as a corollary of the above, if I do join, my dues money is more likely to get spent on political activities that I would personally support rather than on causes and candidates that will largely be working in the interests of corporate investors against my personal economic interest.

A Leftist Would Say That…

He/She would have less of a problem with a law that stated that folks that don’t want to pay a service fee for a union contract are to receive compensation, benefits, and work rules, based on management’s first offer, or even “last best” offer before arbitration or agreement, in contract negotiations. (Note that even in non-“Right to Work” states no one is required to join a union – the requirement is just that all who benefit need to pay for the cost of achieving and servicing the contract.) From an individual choice point of view this would be fair . Those who don’t want to pay even the minimal service fee don’t get the benefits of the contract (and those who don’t think there are benefits in a union contract need only look at the outcome of the recent Chicago Teachers Union strike!) Moreover, it’s likely that this kind of “Right to Work” law would very rapidly solve the problem of the “shirkers” so that collective bargaining, emphasis on “collective” not “individual,” could proceed as originally intended in a non-“Right to Work” setting. This kind of “modified Right to Work” law would however miss the point and the principle of collective bargaining which is best upheld by giving the union the same power as management to enforce a binding collective agreement.

If anything, as democratic organizations that represent the interests of the people most affected by their decisions, unions should have more authority to make binding social decisions than corporations that, as noted above, are neither democratic nor acting in the interest of those most directly affected by their decisions. In fact, in a truly democratic society most “investor run and owned” corporations (as opposed to “stakeholder” or “cooperative” corporations), as legally constructed today in the U.S., would be illegal.

In any case, in contrast to the “modified Right to Work” law outlined above, currently existing U.S. “Right to Work” laws take away the ability of a union to require any payment from the beneficiaries of a collective bargaining contract even as the union is required by federal law to serve all members of the bargaining unit equally whether or not they have contributed. As an ad supporting the (successful) opposition to “Right to Work” in Minnesota pointed out, this is like asking a sports gym to make membership fees “voluntary”. Given the human proclivity for a “free lunch”, such a gym would probably not be long in existence which is exactly what supporters of “Right to Work” really want. They want everyone to get the compensation, benefits, and work rules (if there are any) of management’s “first offer,” and, even more importantly, they want to eliminate the broader political power of unions (for example to play a crucial role in the election of a certain Democratic President) which are the most forceful political counterweight to the power of Capital under capitalism!

And Even From the Perspective of a True Individualist…

Frankly, as I said, if I have to be part of a social organization I’d much rather be required to pay dues to a union that is a signatory to a collective bargaining contract in return for contract benefits and the ability to participate in the union, than be forced to slave for a corporation as part of an employment contract in return for pay, with no rights and no say over corporate governance and decisions – not to mention even the basic “civil liberties” of a citizen like “free speech,” “freedom of assembly”, etc. For all intents and purposes, especially in the absence of a union contract, under current U.S. law once I become a party to an employment contract (which as I said I will sooner or later be forced to do out of economic necessity) my labor-time at work, that is after all inseparable from my human-person at work (or at least I thought I was a human being!), becomes the rented “property” of the corporation. I mean talk about tyranny!

But let’s end all of these forms of collectivist despotism once and for all! Let’s pass “Right to Work without Paying” and “Right to Get Paid without Working” laws and put an end to both kinds of infringements on personal freedom: obligations to pay union service fees and obligations to rent-out servile labor-time to corporate oligarchies. And while we’re at it, why don’t we include the Right to not Pay Taxes, the Right to let my House (and Neighborhood) Burn, the Right to stay Sick, The Right to not go to School, etc. As all of these collectivist social obligations are a real affront to personal liberty. Especially taxes! I mean a good part of my tax money goes to – you guessed it! – those, often foreign owned, corporations that will refuse to pay me if I don’t submit to their 9 to 5, 52 weeks a year oppression, and this in the land of freedom and the “pursuit of happiness”!
And by the way, if any of you Koch brothers, or Americans for Prosperity, folks are reading this, how about a little donation? (just send me a note and I’ll provide contact information), as I’d like to have the kind of economic freedom and economic and political power that you have, which my measly pay (even if I had the “opportunity” to work for it) will not afford me.

To the abolition of all liberty-constraining, binding social choices!

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