no third solution

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Can Workers Homestead Their Jobs?

August 29th, 2011

In Adamic’s Dynamite!, I came across an interesting argument for workers’ rights to their employment. Basically the argument goes that, “We (as organized labor) worked for years in order to make these jobs what they are today, in terms of benefits, wages, hours, conditions, etc., and that therefore they belong to us.  So when a scab worker comes in and takes the job, he is essentially stealing from us.”

They claim is that the workers have helped shape and define the job, its responsibilities and reward, etc., and as a result they have a legitimate claim to it.You can certainly interpret this argument as a form of homesteading and at a glance it is compelling.

Is it valid though? I’m not sure. I see two major flaws with the argument.

  1. Assumes that because conditions once prevailed which justified a certain compensation, that those laborers are forever after entitled to that same level of compensation.
  2. An unhealthy fetish for “high” wages, which I would probably attribute more to the psychology of capitalism than to genuine worker-owners in a free market.

Regarding #1, this assertion is intuitively bullshit because when a product or service is no longer (as) valuable or necessary, it ceases to command the same remuneration. For example, if medicine could cure all ailments and diseases, a Doctor’s services qua Doctor would no longer be valuable or necessary to society.

As for the canard of high wages… The problem is that high wages are indicative of scarcity, rather than abundance, and attempts to artificially preserve high prices inevitably result in the destruction of, rather than the accumulation of material wealth. The objective ought not be “high wages” but rather a high standard of living. Do not conflate the two. In a free market, prices fall as abundance (i.e., wealth) is created. Therefore it is not necessarily undesirable for prices (including) wages to fall, in fact we should expect prices to fall over time because that means that humanity is creating more wealth and abundance than they are consuming.

The union may claim “These jobs are ours. We have worked for them and made them what they are. We deserve them,” and I’m sympathetic to this position, but I think it is more of a knee-jerk reaction to try and justify one’s existence within the capitalist system, rather than a bullet-proof argument.

This post is more of brainstorming than actual argument, and I value your contributions, so echo any thoughts, comments, feedback, below.

Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in America

July 19th, 2011

As the old saying goes, “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” and there are few times more desperate for a majority of laborers living hand-to-mouth, than being put out of work en masse. Adamic’s well-researched, but surprisingly easy-to-read Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence In America demonstrates the desperate side of the labor struggle which is rarely, if ever, taught in classrooms.

Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence in AmericaAs strikes and “riots” are often portrayed in the media as unprovoked violence against the employers or scab workers, and haphazard destruction of the employers’ properties, Adamic will not let the reader ignore that in many (most?) cases, it is the the monopolists and the concentrated Big Business who are directly responsible for the opening salvo (i.e., hired thugs to bust the strikes, agents provocateurs, corrupt politicians, etc.). He also notes that while many attempts at labor organizing were demonized and even prosecuted as illegal interference with commerce, etc., the duplicitous nature of the American legal system often ignored equally heinous interference with commerce when done on behalf of organized Big Business.

Dynamite also presents a fairly compelling argument as to why organized laborers believe in a “right” to their jobs, which if you accept it, means that scab laborers would be guilty of violating that right and to some degree deserving of reactions as would any common criminal who violated you otherwise. This was an argument I had not previously encountered, but and it was definitely an “Aha!” kind of moment when I picked up on it.

Adamic is unabashedly anti-capitalist, so his character descriptions tend to favor the champions of labor, and make the enemies of labor seem characteristically repugnant. That said, he keeps a fairly even keel and is not afraid to highlight labors shortcomings, infightings, especially weak leadership, a “We’ll get ours and damn the rest” mentality (which he condemns as a byproduct of capitalism) , failures of the AFL as well as the politicking and racketeering scandals which plagued early labor organizations and it would seem, doomed them for the future.

Although Adamic does not explicitly endorse “dynamite” as a means to achieving labor’s goals, I think he is without a doubt sympathetic to its use; at least under certain desperate circumstances the majority of which cannot be blamed on the working classes.

If you’re a left-leaning libertarian or a big-L libertarian of the American persuasion, or even fancy yourself an “anarcho-capitalist” then this book will definitely give you pause to reconsider some of your positions. Otherwise I’d recommend it for anyone interested in the history of the American labor struggles, or anyone looking for an alternate account of this history.

Dynamite: The Story of Class Violence In America is available via Amazon.com.

no third solution

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