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Right to Work Laws and the Free Market. Featuring Tim Carney and Frederich Hayek

Last night on Real News I argued that Right to Work laws – like the one Indiana is looking to pass – are a necessary, but unfortunate, solution to labor relations.  But they are not a free market solution.


Right to Work laws, styled as preserving workers' freedom not to join a union, actually “interfere with the right of contract and they bar certain consensual economic arrangements -- specifically, they bar employers from agreeing to hire only union workers, ” as Tim Carney wrote in the Washington Examiner a year ago. Carney writes:


Let me put it this way: Imagine a liberal talking about a law imposing maximum hours rules. He might say, "nobody should be forced to work 50 hours a week." That's true -- nobody should be forced to work 50 hours a week -- but it's also a bit besides the point. Bosses don't force employees to do anything: they place conditions on those who want the boss's money. If you want to work for me and get paid by me, you will do A, B, and C. Some of these demands are more reasonable or more compassionate than others, but barring extreme circumstances, the conservative position is that people should be able to place whatever conditions they like on those who want their property.

Right to Work laws bar employers from imposing a different sort of condition: the requirement that all employees join a union. Thus they take away property rights and infringe on the right of contract.


The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, aka the Wagner Act, requires that if a majority of employees vote to join a union the employer must recognize that union and negotiate with the union. This is coercive government interference.  In a free market the company would be free to ignore the union and the union would be free to convince the company to negotiate with it through strikes and persuasion.  But instead, the company is forced to negotiate with the union.  Right to Work laws, though, don’t remove the coercive nature of the relationship, they instead add another layer of government interference into the relationship.

While repealing the NLRA would remove coercion from the relationship and thus be preferable, a reader of Carney’s says that with the existing state of the law, Right to Work laws provide a necessary counterbalance.  And Carney’s reader marshalls Frederich Hayek in defense of Right to Work laws.


If legislation, jurisdiction, and the tolerance of executive agencies had not created privileges for the unions, the need for special legislation concerning them would probably not have arisen in common-law countries.  But, once special privileges have become part of the law of the land, they can be removed only by special legislation.  Though there ought to be no need for special 'right-to-work laws,' it is difficult to deny that the situation created in the United States by legislation and by the decisions of the Supreme Court may make special legislation the only practicable way of restoring the principles of freedom.


You should read Carney on this…and many other things.

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