Labor Day is supposed to honor all American workers. And every year, union Labor Day rhetoric does just that. Unfortunately, it then makes the false leap to the claim that unions advance the interests of all American working men and women, not just their members. In fact, despite unions’ pro-worker rhetoric, the effect of most union activities and union-backed policies is to harm most American workers. Unions succeed by preventing competition from other workers who are willing to do the same work for less. Those workers either become unemployed or must go elsewhere to find jobs, increasing the supply of labor services in non-union employment, pushing down wages for all workers in such jobs as a result. The resulting union wage premium does not come out of the pockets of employers as much as from the pockets of other workers, as a result. Since less than 10 percent of the American private-sector workers are unionized, this means that more than 90 percent of private-sector workers are injured by this most basic exercise of union power.
Anti-worker effects are also vividly illustrated by the history of union violence and threats against “non-cooperative” employees. There have been thousands of attacks against such workers in recent decades, and well more than 100 deaths.
Aware that their government protection against workers who are willing to do the same job for less stops at the border, unions have also been the primary movers behind government protectionism of all stripes. But protectionism undermines the interests of all those workers who would have gained from expanded exports, as well as those who, as consumers, would have gained from access to lower cost and superior quality imports.
This post was published at Ludwig von Mises Institute on 09/03/2007.