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What Defines a Legitimate Labor Movement?

While it isn’t uncommon for anyone critical of organized labor to accuse them of being socialist, such criticism ignores an essential truth: All government, indeed society itself, consists of versions of collective behavior.

The many ways that individuals share the burden of coping with risk, chaos, and oppression, might all be considered forms of collectivist redistribution. When someone purchases an insurance policy, they are distributing the burden of an accident that may befall them onto a pool of similarly concerned individuals. When someone submits to government authority, they do so because the social contract they’re accepting, and the taxes they pay, enable them to live with increased safety and shared rules.

In this context, unions are just another form of organized behavior, accepted by individuals because it gives them a chance to live better lives. One may debate important details – should anyone be forced to join a union as a condition of getting a job, to offer one rather significant example – but the fundamental concept of collective bargaining is not some novel aberration, sprung from the bowels of Marxism. It is a normal feature in a healthy democracy.

Whether or not a union is a necessity, or an unchecked and parasitical menace, can often come down to whether or not the union represents private sector workers or public sector workers. The hypothetical examples of Sarah (private sector) and George (public sector) illustrate this point.

Sarah has worked for a major grocery store chain for the past 25 years. […] Read More

How Unions Can Help ALL Workers

Last month on January 5, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez resigned from the legislature to join the California Labor Federation. Gonzalez is likely to succeed the current Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski when he retires this summer. What will this mean for the labor movement in California?

Gonzalez has earned a controversial reputation in the State Assembly, partly by virtue of the legislation she’s sponsored, and partly by her Trumpian penchant for lobbing polarizing Tweets at her political opponents. But when Gonzalez takes the helm of the most powerful labor organization in California, as is expected, will the weight of the job moderate her political priorities?

It’s common for right-of-center politicians to criticize unions, and it’s worth repeating some of these criticisms. Public sector unions have an agenda that is inherently in conflict with the public interest, since the interests of their membership – more jobs, better pay and benefits – may be served regardless of whether or not public services are operated efficiently and effectively. They divert public funds out of public employee paychecks to wage campaigns to elect the politicians with whom they supposedly then “negotiate” labor agreements. The agencies they represent don’t have to compete for customers or make a profit, they can just raise taxes. Civil service laws offer ample protection to public employees, and voluntary associations that don’t engage in collective bargaining would still provide plenty of political leverage for public employees. Public sector unions should probably be illegal.

As for private sector unions, on the […] Read More

California’s Green Conundrum

In 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the landmark AB 32, the “Global Warming Solutions Act.” Determined to leave a legacy that would ensure he remained welcome among the glitterati of Hollywood and Manhattan, Schwarzenegger may not have fully comprehended the forces he unleashed.

Under AB 32, California was required to “reduce its [greenhouse gas] emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.” Now, according to the “scoping plan” updated in 2017, California must “further reduce its GHG emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.”

The problem with such an ambitious plan is that achieving it will preclude ordinary Californians ever enjoying the lifestyle that people living in developed nations have earned and have come to expect. It will condemn Californians to chronic scarcity of energy, with repercussions that remain poorly understood by voters.

It isn’t merely that Californians will experience unreliable energy, as the percentage of energy generated from “renewable” sources continues to increase. That will eventually get sorted out, although at a stupendous cost. Battery farms will replace natural gas plants to fill in those times of day when there is no sun and insufficient wind, and over time, the entire solar, wind, battery, and “smart grid” infrastructure will get overbuilt enough to cope even with those months in the year when days are short and there isn’t much wind. It will cost trillions and despoil thousands of square miles of supposedly sacred open space, but it will get done.

The bigger problem is that […] Read More