The Inhumane Nature of Anti-Scab Legislation

Today, workers of the Canadian Pacific Railway went on strike.  According to the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, the union which represents the CP workers, the strike is mainly over management’s attempt at “watering down existing defined benefit pensions and placing new union hires on less costly defined contribution plans.”  From the Globe and Mail:

More than 4,800 Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. employees have gone on strike, stopping freight shipments.

The strike by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference began at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, after the two sides in the labour dispute tried but failed to reach a pact late Tuesday night.

CP spokesman Ed Greenberg confirmed that Canada’s second-largest railway has halted freight deliveries. “The union has withdrawn its services and as a result, CP has successfully executed the safe and structured shutdown of its freight train operations in Canada,” he said.

This work stoppage is estimated to cost the Canadian economy “$540 million a week.”  With such a large sum at stake, what would be the free market solution to an entire workforce refusing to do their job?  Hire those still willing and able to work for whatever pay is offered or course!

By virtue of owning one’s body, man is able to decide where he dedicates his labor.  Striking is a natural extension of property rights.  Any other state of affairs would be analogous to slavery.  Just as employees are free to withhold their labor whenever it’s deemed necessary (except in the military), employers have the right to refuse to hire or pay out exorbitant wages as such is their property initially.  Advocates of the labor movement either don’t realize, or refuse to admit, that the process of bargaining occurs throughout the entirety of a worker’s tenure of employment. Beginning with the hiring process, each potential worker comes to an agreement over the pay they are willing to accept for the offered position.  Each day the employee must then decide if continuing to work at his chosen firm or company is worth his time and labor.  The decision process is continual as working conditions change and adapt to better meet the need of the consumer and different levels of pay and benefits are offered.

The same principle applies to management who must constantly measure costs and income along with the productivity of the workforce.  If one or more workers begins to produce at a level not agreed to in the employment contract and is not satisfactory to the owners of the business, than the owners are free to withhold payment or reject them from the premises.  The guarantee of full ownership of property is always the best means to incentivize private investment and wealth production.

With the upholding of private property, the relationship between the worker and management is mutually beneficial.  There is no force initiated by either side.

The establishment of government enforced collective bargaining throws the peaceful market process on its head.  In the name of protecting exploited workers, the state grants itself the authority to intervene in the market economy.  It is not a protection against the excesses of capitalism but the diminishing of capitalism in favor of future socialism.

Like the Air Canada strike before it, Labor Minister Lisa Raitt is threatening “back to work” legislation while Ottawa is currently considering such a bill.  This legislation would send the management of CP and the Teamsters into binding arbitration in order to ensure the rail workers return to their positions.  Under this binding arbitration, a government-appointed arbitrator comes up with a “compromise” both parties are forced to accept.  Compromise is a deceitful term however since both parties end up with no choice in the matter.  With the passing of a “back to work” bill, Ottawa will then reassert its implied domination over the national economy.

This was an easily foreseen outcome when the Canadian government passed legislation to prevent private businesses with a unionized workforce from hiring replacement workers as a reaction to an impending strike.  According to Section 94 of the Canada Labour Code:

2.1) No employer or person acting on behalf of an employer shall use, for the demonstrated purpose of undermining a trade union’s representational capacity rather than the pursuit of legitimate bargaining objectives, the services of a person who was not an employee in the bargaining unit on the date on which notice to bargain collectively was given and was hired or assigned after that date to perform all or part of the duties of an employee in the bargaining unit on strike or locked out.

The only way to prevent willing laborers from replacing union employees who refuse to work is through systematic violence.  That is, the government forbids the hiring of replacement workers with the promise of legal penalty.  Unions and their gang of armed toughs are more than willing to impose violence on the man who wishes nothing more than to better his own state of affairs.  As Murray Rothbard notes on the history of union violence in the United States:

Union history in America is filled with romanticized and overblown stories about violent strikes: the Pullman strike, the Homestead strike, and so on. Since labor historians have almost all been biased in favor of unions, they strongly imply that almost all the violence was committed by the employer’s guards, wantonly beating up strikers or union organizers. The facts are quite the opposite. Almost all the violence was committed by union goon squads against the property of the employer, and in particular, against the replacement workers, invariably smeared and dehumanized with the ugly word “scabs.” (Talk about demeaning language!)

The immorality of anti-scab legislation is staggering.  Utilizing one’s labor to produce is essential to survival.  To bar a man from working for the sheer fact that another, backed by his union, refuses to accept the offered conditions of employment is completely unjustified.  There is nothing at all demeaning by taking the job of someone unwilling to do it.  With the state at their backing, unions are no better than thugs who hold their employers hostage.  If involuntary human bondage is inhumane, then so must be state-enforced collective bargaining.  After all, what else could be tantamount to slavery than literally forcing an employer to employ someone?  Slavery is inherently a government construct since a slave could run away if not for the state that would force him back to his owner.  And it is because slavery is inefficient in terms of productivity that such an exploitive system ended itself in every Western country besides the U.S. without war.

Anti-scab legislation is really just another method of modern enslavement.  Instead of the servant beholden to the whip wielding master, it is now private employers who must pay heed to the all-powerful state and its union enforcers.

“Back to work” legislation may be appealing to opponents of forced collective bargaining but it only perpetuates the problem of union tyranny.  The real solution, as Rothbard recognized, is

not to pass laws outlawing strikes; the remedy is to remove the substantial body of law, federal, state, and local, that confers special governmental privileges on labor unions. All that is needed, both for libertarian principle and for a healthy economy, is to remove and abolish these special privileges.

There is little chance of union privileges being revoked because they ensure for backdoor domination of the economy by the state.  The strike of CP workers is already being considered a “national emergency” as Parliament is gearing up to intervene in what should be a private affair.  Whatever legislation is adopted to deal with the strike will only serve as a stern reminder to Canadian business owners that they are not the controller of their destinies; the ruling class of government is.

4 Responses to “The Inhumane Nature of Anti-Scab Legislation”

  1. Well said! much better than the way I tried describing it. I like how you in comparison it to slavery; displaying the deficiency of independence, instead of directing out how it's better to have independence as I usually put it.

  2. traderpaul says:

    "All that is needed, both for libertarian principle and for a healthy economy, is to remove and abolish these special privileges."

    Also, police must uphold private property rights and not turn a blind eye to union thuggery.

  3. Lee Weishar says:

    Well said! much better than the way I tried explaining it. I like how you compared it to slavery; showing the lack of freedom, instead of pointing out how it's better to have freedom as I usually put it.

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