The British trade unions are again in the news, and so are "strikes", "trade union powers", and something called "industrial relations".
But what are "trade unions", "strikes", "trade union powers" and "industrial relations"?
Trade unions are private voluntary organisations.
Yes, this is all they are. And this is what determines their legal status.
In a free society people are free to use their time, money and energy in any non-criminal way. This includes the freedom to form private organisations for the purpose of some collective activities. Such organisations can be only voluntary. Nobody has right to compel anybody else to join an organisation.
Forming of voluntary organisations, however, does not give such organisations any rights or privileges under the law over and above those of a single private citizen.
Organisations can have their internal rules and laws, but they cannot have "powers" to impose these rules and laws on anybody against their will. Not even against their own members. The only sanction that a private voluntary organisation can have against a member, who refuses to comply with the rules of such an organisation, is to expel such member from its ranks.
No government has right to grant to a private voluntary organisation any rights or privileges. The various rights and privileges granted to trade unions by the British governments in the past were gross abuses of government powers. Any laws contrary to the fundamental principle of equality under the law are fundamentally unjust, unconstitutional and are null and void. And the members of government who pass such favouritist laws are acting ultra vires (beyond the scope of their powers).
The present doctrine of "industrial relations" is not based on the assumptions of a free society. It is rooted in the institution of medieval serfdom.
The legal basis of the doctrine of "industrial relations" is the doctrine of "master and servant".
The relationship between master and servant is not that of a freely agreed contract, but that of a fixed hierarchical social structure.
The master belongs to the class of masters, the servant to the class of servants. The master owes to the servant unspecified duty of "care and protection", the servant owes to the master an unspecified duty of "obedience". Monetary consideration plays little part.
A "good" master might give his servant some pocket money to spend at the "fayre", if he is in a good mood, but he has no obligation to do so. The master is obliged to feed and clothe his servant who is his property. This obligation of care remains even when the servant is ill or reaches old age.
Does this doctrine reflect the present contracts of employment? But this is the basis of the philosophy of the modern "industrial relations". And it is reflected in expressions like: "My 'boss' makes me slave away for him for 'peanuts'". As if any employer has 'powers' to make anybody work against his will.
Because in a free society all people are equal under the law, all commercial relationships between citizens can be only by mutually binding voluntary agreement, that is, contract. The relationship of employment is just another commercial relationship. There is no difference between a "self-employed" guy agreeing to paint your fence for £100, and you taking on a "job" of painting fences for a builder, as an "employed" person. The builder does not become your "master", nor do you become his "servant". You just sell him 8 hours of your time per day in exchange for whatever you agree to accept in money. He cannot force you to take on the "job" against your will, nor can you force him to hire you. Either of you are free to terminate the contract subject to an agreed (or reasonable) notice.
Nor do you become "working class", or any class, just because you sell your time and skill rather than hiring a market stall and selling fruit or vegetables.
"Working class" is an ideological1 myth, like that of the "Aryan race" of the German National Socialists. In addition to the myth of the "Aryan race", Hitler, like most of the other 20th century politicians, used the myth of the "working class", as well, to justify his powers. The full name of Hitler's Nazi Party was the "National Socialist Worker's Party of Germany". Most politicians in the world today have made their careers using the myth of the "class society".
But today people are free to do whatever they like with their lives. Nobody is obliged to be a miner, just because his father was a miner, or because for some part of his life he happened to work as a miner.
A strike is organised non-contractual cessation of work by a group of employees with the object of forcing an employer to accept one or more contractual obligations against his will.
Most strikes are organised by trade unions.
Strike is a breach of contract, but it is justified by the socialist ideology.
It is just as wrong to demand that the employer agrees to pay more money than originally agreed under threat of a strike, as it is to stop a passer-by in the street and demand that he hands over his wallet under a threat of being stabbed with a knife. But strikes were part of the socialist ideology, and no government in Britain, and other Western countries, have chosen to challenge the socialist myth. This is why strikes have become "socially acceptable" in spite of their obvious, and even "political" inconvenience.
The trade union "movement" is an ideological and political phenomenon. Trade unions justify their actions by an ideology and seek to achieve their objective by forcing governments to pass laws in their favour under threat of causing chaos and disorder.
The ideology of trade unionism is based on the myth of the "class society".
According to the trade union ideology the society is divided into two main classes: the employers (bosses) and the employees (workers).
The workers work for the bosses, not because they chose to earn some money by doing some work, but because they "belong to the working class". If a worker takes on a managerial job or saves up some money and starts his own business, he will "betray the working class". The only way a worker can improve his living conditions is by joining a trade union and "fighting for his living standards". The fight of the working class for its rights will be won when all the "means of production" are brought into "social ownership", and under the "workers' control".
This socialist ideology is not always so clearly stated. Some trade unions limit their ideology to just the immediate pay increases by means of strikes. And, in the USA and Australia, the trade unions are less ideological and often resort to Mafia style violence to achieve their objectives.
But the "workers and bosses" doctrine is common to all trade unions.
All trade unions are hostile to the principle of private contract and equality under the law. They seek to put themselves above the law, or to force governments to pass laws which favour themselves.
Today most trade unions are large organisations with substantial financial assets, while trade union leaders command salaries comparable to those of directors of commercial companies.
Having put themselves in positions of power and become part of the "political establishment", preservation and extension of the power of the trade union leaders is the main driving force behind the activities of the trade unions today.
As the ideology of socialism in its crude original form is increasingly losing its credibility, trade unions (and socialists in general) are modifying their ideology to make it more acceptable to their potential constituency. Thus the slogan of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" is mutating into "stakeholding", "management and union partnership", "industrial democracy" and similar theories. These theories are just as false as that of the "dictatorship of the proletariat", but they sound more "modern", "moderate", or just "new".
The fundamental flaw of all these theories is the assumption that the fact that a person has done some work for somebody else entitles him to some additional rights beyond the amount of money agreed under the contract of employment. Thus the workers are "entitled to a stake" in the assets of the company for which they work, or "entitled to have a say" in its management. Such assumptions have no more sense than saying, that, if you hire somebody to paint your front door and pay him for it, in addition to that he would acquire a "stake" in the value of your house and a right to have a "say" in anything you will wish to do with the house. But according to the socialists, he should have such rights, because, once he has painted the door, he has put into the house his "labour".
So who supports the trade unions and their ideology and why?
It is obvious that the trade union leaders themselves are the main supporters of the trade unions and of their ideology. It is also clear why they do it.
In addition to the trade union bosses there also exists a substantial group of people whose livelihood and social status are directly dependent on the existence of the trade unions. They are those who are involved in the management and operation of the trade unions bureaucracy, as well as of various organisations, institutes, think tanks, etc., which share the socialist ideology.
Although at the heart of the trade union ideology is the concept of the "struggle between the management and the unions", there are some people in the management of large commercial companies, and especially of companies connected with the government, who accept the principle of trade unionism. Such people support the existence of trade unions, because they had been brought up to believe that trade unions are an inevitable and necessary part of the "industry". In their minds "industry" has "two side": the "management" (themselves) and the "unions". They are misguided but sincere believers in the ideology of "trade unionism", of "class society", and of "class struggle" or of "class cooperation". They just do not know and cannot see anything else. They are like the majority of the people in the former Soviet Union who took Communism for granted and believed it to be "inevitable", until it "suddenly2" collapsed.
But whatever strength trade unions have does not come from the trade union management, but from the members whose role is limited to paying "their" trade union fees, and obeying "their" trade union leaders. It is they, who go on strikes causing chaos and disruption, a kind of peaceful terrorism, which forces management of commercial companies and governments to yield to the "demands" of the trade union leaders. Why do they join the unions?
Originally people formed or joined trade unions because they believed that they belong to the "working class" and that they had to work for the "bosses", because the bosses forced them to work for them. The only way of improving their lives was, according to their beliefs, to join a trade union and "fight the bosses". Some people still think that way even today, but their number is diminishing.
Today some people, who happen to work in places where trade unionism is strong, join the unions because "everybody else does".
In some places trade union activists put various kinds of pressure on people to join the unions. And some people join the unions because they believe that it is to their advantage, because the unions will "fight for their rights" and will "win" for them higher wages, pensions and various benefits.
If to believe the trade union propaganda, the main beneficiaries of trade unions are the "working class", now more often referred to as the "ordinary people". It is for their rights that the unions fight their fight. But, if we look at the reality and start asking questions, then we shall see that those who rely on the trade unions to improve their lives, continue to remain in low paid jobs. And whatever wage increases they get, are offset by the increases in prices (inflation), so their position does not improve. This is not surprising. If, all the bakery workers' wages are increased, the cost of bread becomes higher by at least that amount. In the hey days of Old Labour, wage increases, taxes, and benefits were going through the roof and so were the prices and "unemployment".
Those who do not rely on the unions to improve their lives, do so by increasing their earning capacity through acquisition of skills, or by using saved or borrowed money to set up businesses. You cannot expect to earn high wages by doing cheap work, any more than you can expect to sell a loaf of bread for £50, if others sell it for 50 pence. Belonging to a trade union does not change these simple facts of life. Those who hope to improve their life by joining a trade union deceive themselves and doom themselves to staying in low paid jobs.
So, if the union members do not gain from trade unionism, then may be the trade union leaders do? After all they get high salaries and drive around in expensive cars.
If the trade union leaders dedicated the same amount of time and energy, which they invest in their trade union activities, to some positive business activity, they would have achieved higher monetary reward. By devoting their time and energies to the dishonest and harmful activity of trade unionism, they deprive themselves of the opportunities of earning higher rewards by honest means. They are losers just as much as the duped by them trade union members.
As we have seen in the preceding section both the unions members and the union leaders lose from trade unionism. But they are not the only losers. Trade unionism damages businesses, increases prices, causes economic damage to the general public through strikes and other disruptive activities. The ideology of trade unionism corrupts the people's minds and leads to economic stagnation and "unemployment" as well as to lawlessness and crime.
Every body loses from trade unionism.
Some will ask at this stage, "But, if everybody will start increasing their earning capacity or setting up in business, who will do the low paid dirty jobs? How can the Industry survive without the 'working class'?. After all, we are where we are, because they are what they are. Somebody must remain at the bottom of the 'Social Pyramid'. The ideology of the "working class" is beneficial, because it helps to keep the 'lower classes' at the bottom, and us, the 'upper classes' at the top."
Such arguments are not new. They were advanced in the past. They were called "patronising conservatism".
The answer to it is, that people find themselves at different stages of their lives in different positions. Some people will find it worth their while to take on some low paid jobs, because of the circumstances of their lives, or because of their personal preferences. Some will keep such jobs for some time, and then will move on, others might be happy to keep such job for their whole life. But this will be not because of their "class", but because of their circumstances or their choice.
But, what about difficult dirty jobs that nobody wants to do? If they are necessary, then, they will become expensive enough to become sufficiently attractive. Or they will be mechanised and automated, as it happened with conveyer belts in the automotive industry.
Also, while it might be flattering to some employers to think of themselves as the "upper classes" and to look down on their employees as the "lower classes" and to experience a sense of proud ownership of their "serfs", this is but vanity and self-deception. People who suffer from "working classism" might be cheaper and could develop a "master-servant" relationship with "their boss", but such people are also immature and unreliable and are likely to play games during their working time, when "their boss" is not watching them, prone to pilfering when an opportunity arises, and could "pull a fast one" on their "boss" given an opportunity. It is not unusual for a self-employed subcontractor to do in weeks the same amount of work that a team of employed people does in months or even years. In the end you get what you pay for, and what looks cheap at the beginning, often turns out expensive in the end.
The history of the heavily unionised large companies, that are run at a loss and have to be periodically "bailed out" through government help "to preserve jobs", is clear evidence that the "master and servant" model of industry is not working. It is a dead body kept alive artificially on the life support machine of public taxes for the sake of politics and ideology.
The "Industry" does not need the unions, any more than a street market needs 'pick-pockets'.
When big time criminals have made sufficient money from their crimes, sometimes, they decide that enough is enough. So, they use their money to set up legitimate businesses, or buy up existing legitimate businesses. This is called "going legit", that is "becoming legitimate".
Can trade unions do the same?
Nothing prevents the trade union leadership from abandoning their criminal anti-social activities and turning their unions into honest commercial employment agencies, training companies, labour-only sub-contracting companies and similar honest non-ideological commercial undertakings. The union members would become shareholders in such companies and in that way share in their failure or success.
This will be legal and honest and everybody will benefit from this.
This will also take the trade unionists from the medieval "master and servant" mentality to that of free people living in a free society. The socialist nightmare is over. It's time to wake up.
1) Ideology is a system of ideas used to justify privileged status or political powers for a group of people. Most ideologies are either nationalist (tribal) or "class", or a mixture of both. The most widely known ideology of the 20th century was Socialism, which took different forms: Communism, National Socialism, Democratic Socialism, Social Democracy, Christian Socialism, etc. The common themes of all the Socialisms is justification of practically unlimited powers for socialist governments and appealing to envy and desire to get something for nothing.
2) For most people in the world the collapse of Communism in Russia was a great surprise. But some could see into the future. Shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Imam Khumeini, the leader of the Iranian Revolution, visited Moscow. After that short visit he said, "Communism is dead". This statement was dismissed by the World Media and various experts as "rantings of a medieval cleric". Communism collapsed within a few months after that statement to the amazement of the whole world.