Are libertarians no different than statists?

posted by
May 2, 2011
The Libertarian Standard
by Geoffrey Allan Plauche  
Posted in Commentary

"Libertarians, of course, have no quarrel with voluntary associations and such voluntary actions as charity and boycotting. But let’s face it: historically, guilds and labor unions have tended to employ the state to impose their preferences on others; poor laws were historically and are by definition instruments of state policy; and limits on trade have historically been imposed on us by the state. There is nothing free or voluntary about them. Let us not confuse the political lobbying of governments and its results with free effort." [editor's note: Actually, prior to their co-option into the political class through National Labor Relations Act, no, labor unions did not "tend to employ the state" - TLK] (05/02/11)  


  • gplauche

    Labor unions were not co-opted before the NLRA? Also, that passive voice tacitly absolves them of being complicit. They didn't tend to seek state support beforehand? And what about guilds?

  • gplauche

    Also, wasn't NLRA enacted 75 years ago? It's been quite a while. But I have a hard time believing union bosses were generally good antistatists before it was enacted and only turned bad after being "co-opted" against their will.

  • Geoffrey,

    "Labor unions were not co-opted before the NLRA?"

    Not to any great extent. In fact, NLRA followed an attempt to do more than an attempt to co-opt them, it followed the National Recovery Act's attempt to impose labor conscription, a measure fought tooth and nail by the unions (and found unconstitutional by the pre-packed SCOTUS). The purpose of NLRA was at least as much to bring wildcat strikes, etc. under firmer government repression than to "empower labor."

    "They didn't tend to seek state support beforehand?"

    The labor movement was pretty big and varied prior to the merger of the AFL and CIO and the passage of NLRA, so it's difficult to say who "tended" what way.

    The radical unions like the IWW were plain anarchists (to this day, IWW bylaws eschew political activity, including prohibiting members holding political or party office — and most IWW unionization drives ignore the NLRA election process).

    Samuel Gompers at the head of the AFL was by far more laissez faire than most of his counterparts in industry.

    For the most part, the history of the American labor movement prior to the NLRA is a history of brutal state repression of union organizations, strikes, etc., by government police and troops on behalf of the political class's state socialist (a/k/a "capitalist") paymasters. And for the most part, the history of the American labor movement since the NLRA is a history of that movement's co-option into the managerial state's embrace.

    "And what about guilds?"

    The few still-existing guilds (the two that come to mind are the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association) certainly have their mouths firmly clenched to the state's teat. Of course, unlike labor unions, they are older than the modern state itself. It seems more likely that the state developed along the path of least resistance vis a vis the guilds than the other way around.

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