All Around Us

Editor Speaks on Matters Related to Labor. 

The editor of Christian Economics, July 7th issue, presents two short but pointed editorials on two popular subjects related to the field of labor. With most of what he writes we find agreement. Because the editorials are brief, we quote them in their entirety. The first article appears under the title: “The Right to Strike.” 

“We uphold the right of a worker to strike but we do not believe he has the right to use force to prevent another from doing the work that he chooses not to do. 

“A physician has the right to refuse to serve a client, but he has no right to use force to prevent the client from seeking the services of another physician. 

“A milkman has right to strike but he has not right to use force to prevent another man from delivering milk to your baby. 

“A teamster has a right to strike but he has no right to use coercion to prevent other men from delivering food and other essential commodities. 

“The right to strike is not questioned; but if the striker has a right to use force to prevent others from doing the work which he refuses to do, that is equivalent to saying that he has a right to the power of life or death over his fellows. 

“Should any individual have the right to force you to give him more of your money than you voluntarily agree to give, or if you refuse, should he have power to deny to you essential commodities and services without which your life cannot go on?” 

Apart now from the question of whether or not it is always right for the worker to strike, we go along with the editor when he does not believe the worker “has the right to use force to prevent another from doing the work that he chooses not to do.” We believe there may be just cause for the worker or group of workers to quit their jobs after all attempts to seek proper rectification of grievances with the management have failed. But when this situation obtains, the worker has no more claim to his job, and surely not the right to keep others from taking the job he quit. 

We realize that this view is antithetical to the prevalent view of the average worker and unionist, including some who are associated with the union, C.L.A. The word “strike” in the accepted sense in which it is used in the sphere of labor today implies that the worker will use every means at his disposal to destroy the employer or anyone else who interferes with the worker in gaining his ends. No Christian, in our judgment, can go along with that conception nor with those tactics. 

The second article to which we referred above is entitled: “The Right to Work.” This has been a very popular subject recently, appearing even on the agendum at several polling places throughout the country; and it has found a bitter opponent in organized labor. Writes the editor: 

“According to a report issued by Fortune magazine, Europe has strong labor unions but, with few exceptions, has avoided labor contracts requiring workers to belong to a union before they are employed or forcing them to join shortly thereafter. 

“Even in labor-dominated Britain, the vast majority of workers are free to join a union or not, according to their own choice. Sir Charles Geddes, former president of Britain’s Trade Union Congress has said: 

‘I do not believe in a closed shop . . . There is a fundamental issue here of the right of the individual to say whether or not he would become associated with other people . . . I want the right to exclude people from my union, but that cannot be done on’ the basis that everyone must belong or starve.’ 

“France has a strong group of labor unions but contracts are not written between labor and management requiring the former to join unions or lose their jobs. “Germany and Italy also have powerful trade-union movements but the principle of the open-shop is recognized and practiced everywhere. This would seem to discredit the voices in America that proclaim right-to-work laws are ‘union-busting’ measures.” 

The Constitution of the United States contains several amendments in the Bill of Rights intended for the protection of our citizens and its Preamble purports to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, . . . promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” but it makes no provision for the labor man who has religious scruples which forbid him to be yoked with ungodly and unscrupulous unions and who desires to work in the place and at the occupation of his choice. Nor does it provide for the rights of management to hire men of their choosing without intervention of the unions. We are aware that there are certain laws which the government has enacted relating to the sphere of labor and dealing with labor relations, but so far the pendulum seems to swing in favor of the unions. I t also becomes increasingly apparent that the unions have gained such political stature that they dictate the policies relating to labor. But the above mentioned problem is one which could be and should be brought to the attention of our legislators for a fair solution. As the matter now stands, it would seem that the proposed liberty sought for all our citizens is not enjoyed by all. 

“Union-Made Unemployment.” 

Most of the commodities we purchase today are labeled “Union-Made.” With some the importance of the union label is so great that they will not purchase any article unless it is so marked.

Well, there is another article which is union-made, though the union enthusiast is reluctant to admit it, and he refuses to acknowledge the label we put on it. That article is unemployment.

It is on this subject that Frank Chodorov writes inChristian Economics of August 4, 1959.

After Mr. Chodorov points up the great concern of “economists, politicians and humanitarians” in respect to the problem of unemployment and their serious attempt to discover the cause and the remedy, he makes this significant statement:

“Generally speaking, however, we can state categorically that when the price of commodities reaches a point when consumption is discouraged the producers will find themselves without jobs. And, insofar as organized labor, protected by the law, force prices up they do in fact disemploy themselves. They can do this by demanding wages that have no relation to productivity, and they can affect the same result by devising schemes for increasing their pay without producing anything.

“In the current discussion of unemployment and its causes, very little is being said about the upward cost-price push of what is known as feather bedding. This is the wide-spread practice of demanding pay for doing nothing or for doing less than what can be reasonably expected in exchange for the contractual wage. The mere listing of these feather-bedding schemes would fill a sizeable book; the least we can do in our limited space is to give a few examples that conclusively prove that these practices have seriously reduced employment opportunities.”

Mr. Chodorov then proceeds to produce these examples. He begins with the railroads and continues with the newspaper industry, the construction business, including the carpenters, painters and electricians. Regarding the construction business he writes:

“Economists generally regard the construction business as a barometer of the national economy. Only an affluent people buy homes, rent large apartments or call for things made in factory buildings. A demand for buildings means a demand for steel, concrete, lumber, glass, paint and a thousand other things that go into the erection and equipment of houses. Therefore, the easier it is to acquire houses—that is, the cheaper they are in relation to earning power—the greater number of them that will be erected and the more active the economy the greater the number of people who will be profitably employed, from ditch digger to doctor.

“The unionist figures differently. He assumes that the more he can compel the contractor to put into the pay envelope, regardless of the services rendered by the construction worker, the greater the purchasing power of the worker and therefore the healthier the economy; furthermore, he assumes that regardless of price there will be only a static demand for houses and therefore only a given number of jobs. And so, he featherbeds. As a result of this attitude the cost of building is increased, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, by twenty percent. That means, roughly speaking, that a man who can afford to pay $16,000 for a house must go without because it is priced at $20,000, thanks to featherbedding. When he goes without, some construction workers must go without jobs. That is unemployment.

“How is this twenty percent overload accomplished? Well, the unions decree that the bricklayer who can easily lay 1,000 bricks a day, as he used to, must cut the number to half; an electrician must not install more than a given number of outlets a day, even if he has to invent ways for idling away his time; carpenters must limit the number of doors they hand in eight hours; and so on. A paint brush must not be wider than four inches and the use of the more efficient paint spray is restricted. There are rules against using pipe threaded at the factory with efficient machinery and there are rules against using ready-mix concrete; slower on-the-jobs methods must be employed or construction will stop. Glaziers have gone on strike until interior fixtures had to be removed and replaced by workers on the job before the building could be completed. Hundreds of such featherbedding practices—some invented on the spot by capricious or grafting union agents—go into the twenty percent increase in construction costs.”

The author of this article points out in conclusions what he calls “the rationale to support the featherbedding monstrosity.” It is known as the ‘work load’ theory. The theory holds that there is only a given number of jobs—regardless of what the workers may do—and it therefore behooves them to get as much as they can out of those few jobs. The fact that wages come from production, not from the capitalist, and that the greater the production the greater the consumption and the greater the number of job opportunities, is blithely overlooked. It is overlooked because it does not fit in with unionist economics.”

Mr. Chodorov points out how it is possible for the unions to force featherbedding on the economy. He tells us the answer is to be found in the “monopoly power they uniquely enjoy.” The unions are allowed to do what corporations and citizens are prohibited by law from doing. The Norris-La Guardia Act protects them. The author claims that unless this act is repealed, the situation will only worsen. At any rate, it becomes plain how unemployment is union-made.

—M.S.