However, for those who are rather more recent visitors, I feel that a slight clarification is in order—and the key to it is contained in the sentence above, i.e. the unions as they currently exist.
The trades unions were formed to solve a specific problem...
Originating in Europe, Labour unions became popular in many countries during the Industrial Revolution, when the lack of skill necessary to perform the jobs shifted employment bargaining power almost completely to the employers' side, causing many workers to be mistreated and underpaid.
... and they were a good balance in these circumstances. This balance of power is, of course, entirely A Good Thing—as a libertarian, your humble Devil is against the use of force or fraud against people and it is usually when one particular group has far more power than another that this can happen.
Further, of course, I do believe in free association, etc. and would therefore not ban trade unions. Not to mention the fact that many trade unions also acted as Friendly Societies
which, as you will know, I am heartily in favour of.
However, the trade unions of today bear very little resemblance to those of the Industrial Revolution. The exploitation that they then sought to redress has largely been resolved, e.g.
- The development of the British economy has largely switched from a dependence on unskilled jobs to highly skilled ones (compared to screwing on the same nut onto the same mudguard 83,000,000 times a day, even a call-centre job requires more aptitude—if only an ability to read and write.
- This trend has led to a shift in the balance of power from the eeeeevil exploitative boss to the worker.
- Workers' rights are now enshrined in law, especially (and I hate to say it) as regards to health and safety, etc.
As such, the formerly minor political ambitions of trade unions shifted into overdrive and, in the Seventies, brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy.
Worse than that, however, in many cases the trade unions essentially ceased to be voluntary organisations. In many companies, the unions ran a "closed shop": in other words, if you refused to become a member of the union, then you lost your job, e.g. Reuters (and many other journalistic organisations) in the Seventies and early Eighties. Indeed, you could lose your job for belonging to the wrong union.
At that point, as far as I am concerned, the unions stopped being a voluntary organisation and also lost their legitimacy from a libertarian point of view.
Further, in the same way that I heartily loathe the attempts by corporations to bribe or bully democratic governments for advantage, I also despise the unions who do the same. Why, for instance, has the Labour government handed over more than £10 million of our money to the unions for "restructuring"?
As far as I am concerned, if the unions can afford to pay their bosses salaries of the order of £100,000 per year, then they can bloody well pay for their own "restructuring". Instead, they steal money off the taxpayer—which is also very far from being a voluntary exchange.
Perhaps I was a little harsh in my post: after all, no one denies that unions fundamentally exist to serve their members—although one can argue that, in many points throughout history, the actions of the union leaders have served their members very badly. I think, particularly, of the miners' strikes which destroyed the livelihoods of their members in the short term, i.e. they weren't getting paid whilst on strike, and in the long term, e.g. the unions had not only jacked up the wage bills to a point at which British mining was unprofitable, but also the constant striking ensured that no one would take on such an unpredictable workforce.
But it is the fact that the unions try to pretend that they are, in some way, working for us—the general public and general consumers—that so enrages me. They. Do. Not.
If you care about the education of your child, then the union will not fight for better teaching: they will fight for more money from the taxpayer but not for school books, or better teaching or better schools—they will fight for that money to pay their members higher salaries.
Which is why this particular pronouncement from Mrs Chris Keates...
"We put teachers first so we can get the terms and conditions that allow us to do the best for the children."
... so absolutely pissed me off. This is just an outright fucking lie.
As regular readers will know, education is one of your humble Devil's bug-bears: screw up a child's education and you screw up their life. Education is absolutely fucking crucial to individuals being able to realise their potential and it really annoys the hell out of me that so many people in this country (about 50%) still leave school with incredibly low levels of literacy.
There is a reason, of course, that the state services are still so riddled with trade unions—because they are basically monopolies. Since the education service is an effective monopoly, it is very difficult to face down any concerted action from trade unions and, as such, they perpetuate in such industries when, in more nimble modern companies, trade unions are all but extinct.
The unions now largely exist to extort more money from you and me, on behalf of their members, through our taxes—subs that you and I must pay involuntarily. These subs are then used to enforce collective bargaining so that you and I, despite suffering from a massive recession, must pay out ever more to a public sector that delivers less and less.
Furthermore, of course, such collective bargaining diminishes the quality of the workers in that industry—it doesn't matter whether you are good or bad at your job, you will still get the same pay. It is a system that rewards mediocrity at the expense of skill and dedication—thus calling into question whether the unions actually serve the best interests of their members. After all, if a bad teacher must get the same pay rise as a good one, then the good teacher's pay rise is less than it might have been.
In a near-monopoly such as the education system—especially since education is compulsory—all of this means that the general public have no option but to pay the higher (and often undeserved) wages, and reward failure; not only this, but their children's education is then screwed up and these young people's lives irreparably harmed.
It's a disgrace.
There are a number of other reasons that I could throw into the mix, but the upshot of all of this is that I heartily dislike the trade unions as they currently exist—which is, more or less, where we came in.
So, yes, I would like to see these dinosaurs destroyed. But I am not advocating banning them, or using the law against them in any way. No.
What I do advocate is opening up the industries in which they have a stranglehold: the prospect of the eradication of unions within education is just one reason why I support a voucher system and Swedish-style "free schools" (the main reason that I support them, of course, is that the educational outcomes are so much better).
And yes, I also excoriate teachers who—like their medical counterparts—are often painted as veritable angels, noble public servants whose primary aim is the education of the nation's children not their own narrow self-interest. This, too, is a lie.
Or, if it is not a lie, these teachers can leave the union—a body that doesn't give two shits about the kiddies, for all of Mrs Chris Keates' weasel words—and thus destroy it. No subs: no union (except, of course, for the constant stream of stolen money provided by the Labour government—also due to stop soon).
So yes, I would like to see the unions die: they serve both their members and the general public very badly.