Where Union Power Lies

During President Clinton's recent fund-raising trip to Philadelphia, protestors greeted him with placards displaying messages such as "Resign or Get Impeached" and "Liar, Pervert and National Shame." Teamsters Union supporters weren't wild about what the protestors had to say about the President and Hillary and a melee ensued where anti-Clinton protesters were punched, stomped and kicked. People are sometimes puzzled by union violence, but violence and intimidation are part and parcel of union power and easily understood with some basic economics.

Competition is always between either seller and seller or buyer and buyer. For example, if Ford (a seller) wants to gain monopoly power in order to charge higher prices and earn more profits, who does it pay to try to eliminate - General Motors and Honda (other sellers) or you and I (buyers)? If you said General Motors and Honda, go to the head of the class. Similarly, unions are sellers of their members' labor services, so who does it pay them to try to eliminate? It's surely not employers. Employers are union customers; the greater the number of employers, the better off are union members. The union's struggle, like that of any other seller, is mainly against their competition - other workers.

Union rhetoric would have us believe their main struggle is against employers. They'd also have us believe that the strike is their main weapon in that struggle. That's nonsense. A union's main weapon in their struggle for higher wages is their power to prevent employers from hiring other workers. Without that power, a strike would be little more than a mass resignation. A good example was the air traffic controllers' strike during the Reagan administration. The strike failed because the union didn't have the power to prevent the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from hiring other workers in their places.

A typical union method to eliminate competition is violence. Most often the victims of union violence are other workers. Here's just a small sampling. In 1990, the Amalgamated Council of Greyhound Local Unions struck Greyhound. Snipers shot at replacement drivers 52 times. In 1987, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) struck an Anchorage Alaska utility plant. Nonstriking repairmen were routinely attacked and had their tires slashed. One employee had to move after union members threatened to rape and murder his wife. In Ravenswood, West Virginia, the Ravenswood Aluminum Company locked out Steelworkers Local 5668 in November 1990. By April 1991, the company had reported more than 700 incidents of violence directed at replacement workers including, 2 attempted murders, 2 house bombings and shooting, 5 arsons, 29 assaults and 43 death threats. According to an excellent report by David Kendrick, "Freedom From Union Violence," put out by the Washington-based Cato Institute, The National Institute for Labor Relations Research, reported that since 1975 there have been 8,799 incidents of labor union violence with only 258 convictions.

Labor unions prefer not using violence. They prefer to use government regulations to prevent the employment of workers who disagree with a striking union. If government eliminates their competition union members don't risk imprisonment. Anti-union violence laws are on the books such as the Hobbs Act as well as ordinary laws against criminal acts. There is also the Freedom from Union Violence Act, S. 230, a measure recently introduced by Senator Strom Thurmond. Laws have yet to stop union violence and intimidation simply because they're not enforced. That might explain the strong union support for President Clinton. His administration has stood in the way of enforcement of the Hobbs Act as well as the Supreme Court's Beck decision against unions using compulsory dues for political purposes.

Walter E. Williams

c42-98

October 8, 1998