Above: trade unionists take collective action
A guest post by former ACT MP Rodney Hide
This Labour Day we heard the union movement yet again claiming credit for the eight hour working day. It may be a practice honoured more in the breach than the observance nowadays, thanks to some sensible relaxation of our oppressive labour laws by recent National governments, but the eight hour working day never had anything to do with the unions. It is a damning indictment of our heavily regulated historian market that the unions continue to be falsely credited with the introduction of this practice. If anything, the eight hour working day yet again demonstrates the triumph of the free market and the evil of collective bargaining.
There never has been a greater force for empowerment through human history than the free market. You can see numerous examples of the market in action throughout history, examples that prove that the best outcome always comes when you put a willing seller in front of a willing buyer. The Mongol invasion of Europe is a good example of this. The brutality and savagery of the Mongols were legendary. They would ride in their vast hordes to a city and demand its surrender. “Open your gates and you may live,” they would say. “Fight and we will kill you all.” Sometimes a deal would be struck with the rulers of the city and the inhabitants would be spared. On other occasions there would be no deal, and the city and all the people within it would be wiped from the map. But everyone got what they wanted. Those who wanted mercy at all costs negotiated mercy from their enemies, while most of those who preferred a horrid death at the hands of Mongol hordes to surrender and submission ended up getting the outcome they desired. Willing buyer, willing seller: the free market provided the solution.
The free market is a powerful force for good, but governments have continued to interfere with that freedom to the point where willing market participants are often prohibited from striking a deal. There is no more dramatic example of this unwelcome state interference than the labour market, thanks largely to the lobbying activities of meddlesome trade unions. Today if a worker says to his or her prospective employer “I wish you to pay me nothing for my services, I wish to work eighteen hours a day seven days a week, and if I relax my efforts for even a moment I consent to your guards beating me with clubs until I am almost dead,” the employer is forced to say no. Unemployment levels in this country are a disgrace, particularly among the young, and yet we continue to put barriers in the way of our employers hiring more staff. We could have full employment if it were not for our trade unions interfering in the master-slave relationship.
There can be no question that this master-slave relationship provides mutual benefits for both parties, incentivising each party to keep to the deal. The slave provides his or her labour, and in return the master provides food and shelter. Not unreasonably, there are penalties for failure by either party to keep to their side of the bargain. If the slave is unwilling or unable to provide the labour required, the slave can expect to be flogged, beaten or even killed; while if the master acts unreasonably, the slave can expect to be flogged, beaten or even killed. Slaves are valuable economic assets, but only when they are alive and fit, so masters have an economic incentive to carefully manage their cruelty levels.
The slaves kept by an American plantation owner had few if any legal rights, and certainly none of the protections demanded by unionists today for their members. Things like annual leave and the eight-hour working day were unheard of. But did the slaves bleat and moan to their bosses? Why didn’t the slaves complain more loudly if things were so bad for them? Why didn’t the plantation slaves form trade unions if things were so bad? The truth of the matter is that many slaves welcomed the opportunity they had been given to be worked to death picking cotton under the brutal Mississippi sun.
What sort of nation would America now be if we had told her plantation owners all those years ago that slavery was abhorrent, and that they must treat the people who laboured for them with decency and respect? Slavery was widespread through many parts of America right up until the mid-nineteenth century, and now America is the world’s military and economic powerhouse. The US even has a black President. So tell me how exactly has the institution of slavery held back that mighty nation’s people?
Contrast the American experience with our own. New Zealand was one of the first countries to provide workers with substantial rights, and yet we have only a fraction of the wealth enjoyed by the United States, and our standard of living is today under threat. Slavery has helped to make America the force it is today, while we allowed the trade unions to conspire to ruin us.
But if you want to see the best example of the free market in action, you need only to lift your gaze up to the skies.
The claims made by the unions about their historical impact are extravagant and dishonest, and they would claim credit for the last orgasm you enjoyed if you let them. You can be sure that the unions will even try to claim credit for the warmth and sunlight you enjoy every day. They will claim that the Sun only provides its benevolent warmth because of the organising and mobilising of union members. But like most union claims, it’s a myth. Let me tell you what really happened all those years ago when our solar system was being organised.
One day the Earth said to the Sun: “give me sunlight! Give me warmth!” The Sun was willing to provide these things, but on the condition that that the Earth agreed to fall within the Sun’s gravitational field, always to remain in orbit around it. And so a bargain was struck. This was your typical basic master-servant relationship, not all that different to an employment arrangement. The parties were able to negotiate terms that suited their needs, without outside parties having to get involved.
But imagine if four and a half billion years ago there had been a union of planets demanding equal rights for all union members. What if Jupiter or Saturn had demanded exactly the same rights as Earth? You can almost hear the cry: equal orbiting rights for all planets! Collective bargaining would have resulted in each planet receiving exactly the same amount of sunlight, and sharing exactly the same planetary orbit. That might have worked well for planets like Neptune or Uranus with little going for them and with nothing much to lose, but what about our precious Earth? How many collisions or close calls might our planet have experienced in the last four and a half billion years if we had shared our orbit with other planets? Had the planets been unionised four and a half billion years ago we might not be alive today.
So far from being an empowering force for the poor and oppressed, the union movement is a threat to the very existence of humankind. The unions need to be smashed and squashed before they do any further damage, and everyone needs to play their part. So take action and stand up for the rights of employers and slave owners to do as they please. But if you won’t do it for your own sake, do it for the sake of your children. Do you want your kids growing up living in constant fear of the trade unions? Would you be able to live with yourself if one of your precious babies grew up and joined a union or, even worse, married a trade unionist?