The following three paragraphs are a quotation from the article “Unionizing the Bottom of the Pay Scale” by New York Times columnist Eduardo Porter. The article appeared on the front page of the business section in the December 5, 2012 National Edition. The subject of the article is the present attempts going on to unionize the employees of such establishments as fast-food restaurants and Walmart, whose workers are at the low end of the general wage scale in the US.
Union leaders know they are fighting long odds — hemmed in by legal decisions limiting how they can organize and protest, while trying to organize workers in industries of low skill and high turnover like fast food. But they hope to have come upon a winning strategy, applying some of the tactics that workers used before the Wagner Act created the federal legal right to unionize in 1935.
“We must go back to the strategies of nonviolent disruption of the 1930s,” suggests Stephen Lerner, a veteran organizer and strategist formerly at the Service Employees International Union, one of the unions behind the fast-food strike. “You can’t successfully organize without large-scale civil disobedience. The law will change when employers say there’s too much disruption. We need another system.”
In the 1990s and 2000s, the S.E.I.U. unionized tens of thousands of mostly Latino janitors from Los Angeles to Houston, including thousands of illegal immigrants, who were until then considered impossible to organize because of their legal status. It did so by putting pressure not only on the building maintenance contractors but also on the building owners who hired them, often resorting to bare-knuckle tactics. In 1990, the union asked members to mail their trash to Judd Malkin, the chairman of the company that owned buildings in the Century City complex in Los Angeles, printing his address on garbage bags. Mr. Malkin met Mr. Lerner soon thereafter.
Porter believes, wrongly, that labor unions are able to improve the standard of living of wage earners throughout the economic system and that they do so by means of securing increases in money wage rates. He, along with almost everyone else, commits the fallacy of assuming that because earning more money is obviously an intelligent policy for an individual wage earner to pursue, it follows that it must be an intelligent policy for all wage earners taken together to pursue. He is totally ignorant of the fact that increases in money wage rates obtained by labor unions reduce the quantity of labor demanded and thereby cause unemployment, less production, higher prices, and an added burden of supporting the unemployed. He is ignorant of the fact that what serves to increase money wages without causing additional unemployment is merely the increase in the quantity of money and consequent increase in the volume of spending in the economic system. But this phenomenon serves equally to raise prices and thus does not improve the standard of living of wage earners.
CONTINUED at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Written by George Reisman.