Trade Unions: From Marx To Mafia

“[T]here is only one way in which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated, and that way is revolutionary terror.”
-Karl Marx

Labor unions have been an entrenched part of American culture since the early 20th Century, and their impact on society, politics, and economics, for better or worse, is undeniable. It’s just as undeniable that, by their very nature, labor unions leave very little room for personal ambivalence and are often purposefully polarizing in both their rhetoric and practices. They feverishly cleave to their allies and ferociously attack their enemies, and, make no mistake, they do mean “enemies“.

Despite what many on the left would have you believe, the language used by labor unions isn’t accidental or the result of mere happenstance, because the impetus for union ideology was not, in fact, born in the factories of the early industrial age but the social unrest of the pre-revolutionary period in Europe, that, centuries later, informed the utopian political philosophy of Marx and Engels. By the 1900’s, the collectivism of Marxism and progressive socialism had long since infected the politics of the western world, which, in turn, fueled the organized labor movements on both sides of the Atlantic.

While American workers tacitly embraced some elements of Marx’s class struggle philosophy, they conspicuously failed to reject the acquisition of private property that was so central to his revolutionary theory. With the eventual catastrophic collapse of both the Soviet Union and the conspicuous poverty of workers wherever Marxist policy has been faithfully implemented, American workers have simply stopped buying it. Given these demonstrable facts, it would seem that the case against collectivism should be an open and shut, yet the language of worker’s revolution persists and organized labor, however diminished, remains.


“Society as a whole is more and more splitting into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.”
-Karl Marx

While the vast majority of western socialists readily concede that, for all intents and purposes, the theories of Marx and Engels are untenable in any realistic arrangement of society, the left still pays lip service to the ideals of Marx. They still talk about social equality, labor standards, and even sometimes muse about a mythical egalitarian revolution, but, when it comes to actual communism, the only use they have for it is as a scapegoat for the demonstrable failures of strong state collectivism of the 20th Century.

Having largely discarded the utopianism of academic leftism, increasing worker wages, worker benefits, and access to the very accouterments of the ownership class that socialists once rejected became the central political purpose of the working class left. American workers, in particular, took their extra wages and spent it on standard of living, and, between 1920 to 1980, the average size of homes increased by 66% from 1,048 square feet to 1,740 square feet. During this time, organized labor consolidated its place as a powerful political lobby within the Democratic Party, largely as manufacturing in the United States increased (data 1940-1980).

Manufacturing Jobs 1940-1980, source US Bureau of Labor Statistics

That all changed, however, as the height of American manufacturing dominance ended in the 1980’s, and income growth rates and standard of living increases among many working class Americans slowed considerably. As American manufacturing wilted, jobs in these industries declined from their peak at over 19 million workers in 1983 to 17 million to 2001, then, between 2001 and 2010, jobs in manufacturing simply collapsed from around 17 million to just 12 million jobs, after some modest recovery.

Manufacturing Jobs 1980-2017, source US Bureau of Labor Statistics

The heaviest losses of union jobs, as a percentage, occurred in the heavily unionized apparel industry, which shed 85% of its jobs in just 25 years, and as well as the textiles industry. All told, millions of union jobs have vanished as international competition in these industries has increased. The union industries that have not suffered large losses are those where international competition has limited ability to compete, such as construction and public sector jobs, but the unions in all industries have increasingly come under serious scrutiny.

With the benefit of looking back at the rise and fall of labor unions in America, it’s obvious how and why the unions, for all of the things they have accomplished for the working class, were doomed to fail, and, more importantly, why they should have known their days were numbered. Statistical analysis of financial data, the rapidly expanding foreign markets, and the diminishing post World War II manufacturing advantage all should have been clear warning signs for union workers, but none of those things are the sort of things uneducated laborers pay attention to.

The thing that really should have tipped these people off would have been a functioning moral compass that could tell the difference between right and wrong.

“Historically, elements of organized criminal groups… gained substantial corrupt influence, and even control in some instances, over labor unions by creating a climate of fear and intimidation among their members by threats and acts of violence.”
-US Department of Justice*

There is nothing more absurd than when a union representative complains about an employer not negotiating in “good faith” (an actual legal term with serious legal repercussions for employers), while he attempts to extort yet another contract wage hike for workers already earning significantly above market rates. No negotiation can be said to be in “good faith” if negotiations are demonstrably partisan, implicitly coercive, or at all unsustainable for one of the parties, but this is the norm in organized labor disputes.

To begin with, labor unions are notoriously partisan actors, both in terms of how they deal with employers and in their political agendas. Thanks to exactly such partisan antics of the labor unions over the last century, government entities such as the National Labor Relations Board exist practically for the sole purpose of forcing companies to the negotiate with organized labor, even when there is nothing to gain for the company. Meanwhile, workers in labor unions have a documented history of utilizing both overtly and covertly coercion intended to threaten or cause financial damage to or otherwise inconvenience employers for the sole purpose of forcing concessions.

And even if we disregard the tactics employed by unions over the last century to strong arm private and public employers, the deals themselves have been been disastrous. As has been clearly demonstrated by both the high profile bail outs of, for example, the automobile industry a few years ago and a wave of defaults of several municipalities across the United States, the most often cited causes of financial difficulties were the unsustainable labor costs, both in salaries and in retirement benefit expenses that had been ostensibly “negotiated in good faith” with organized labor.

“The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”
-Thomas Paine

Even when we consider all of the good things that labor unions have accomplished for workers since their inception, most of which having been accomplished in the first 20 years of their existence with little resistance from eager employers, labor unions have been, by every standard of Natural Law, inherently and demonstrably immoral in their conduct. Since we do not measure morality strictly in terms of intentions but in consequences, the case for the immorality of labor unions is clear.

This, however, is not to suggest that it is impossible to conceive of or even find current examples of labor unions that achieve their goals in a fashion morally consistent with Natural Law, being even handed, consensual, and sustainable for all parties. It is, however, unrealistic to suggest that it would be the norm, especially in industries (most demonstrably including the public sector) where the unions have been corrupted by the mafia for generations and where they face little threat from outside competition, either by nature of their industry or by legal protections.

The reality is that, in the era of the internet, social media, and near instantaneous information transmission, worker advocacy no longer actually requires the brute force methods of Marx’s “revolutionary terror” or mafia style extortion tactics. If an employer is creating a dangerous work environment, the smart phone camera, not the picket line is the most effective remedy. At long last, it is time to turn the lights out on the organized labor movement born out of morass of progressive socialist era, corrupted by thuggery of organized crime, and enabled by partisan politics for the better part of the last 50 years.


Liberty is For The Win!

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