Of course any individual can strike on their own. But for a labor union to do so every individual would have to voluntarily agree to be a member of that union and every single other person on earth would have to voluntarily agree to not cross the picket line and work for the company at union busting rates.
Come on; this is silly. In a shopfloor strike, labor unions do not need universal participation to get the job done; they just need enough participation that it is more costly for the boss to replace all the striking workers and try to carry on with business (in spite of pickets, boycotts, etc.) than it is to come to terms with the union. Now, it may be the case that everyone in a shopfloor does agree to join the union (there’s no reason why this would be impossible; organizations of tens or hundreds of members can be formed voluntarily). But if not you don’t need everyone. You just need enough to make it costly and difficult on the margin for the boss to keep on going as before.
Perhaps you think that the transaction costs of replacing a striking shop are neglible, but I don’t think history bears you out on this. (See, for example, the victory in the Lawrence Textile Strike of 1912, which was won more than 20 years before the NLRB existed; the Delano grape strike in 1965, which the UFW won without NLRB assistance, as farmworkers aren’t eligible for NLRB recognition; and a lot of much less famous, much smaller-scale actions.)
In any case, I’m not sure why you think the only tactic available to a voluntarily organized union is a shopfloor strike. I already mentioned the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, for example, a union which operates primarily through mutual aid provision at home and secondary boycotts of retail purchasers. Other folks suggest tactics of direct action, “open mouth sabotage” (basically, airing the dirty laundry and rallying public pressure), work-to-rule and other forms of slow-downs, etc. The IWW is especially interested in “minority unionism,” which involves the use of tactics that don’t depend on having a voting majority or NLRB recognition; see Kevin’s “Ethics of Labor Struggle” for some general discussion of all these issues.
The primary victim of labor unions is other workers, not capitalists.
Look, I think this is false, and we could dick around about why. (*) But suppose I granted that this were true: that labor unions gain what they gain at the expense of non-unionized workers. Well, so what? Do you think that an association of workers needs to feel obliged to go out of its way to improve the wages and conditions of workers who aren’t members of the association? If so, do you also expect Ford to build cars for GM?
I see that you have an advertisement for the IWW on your site.
Well, it’s not an “advertisement.” It’s a union bug. It’s there because I’m a member of the union.
That’s nice. the IWW absolutely does resort to legal threats and threats of force from the state as we can see just by looking at their site.
Some locals do this. Others do not (either because they cannot, or because they considered it and decided not to.) I certainly do not agree with the use of legal threats and NLRB actions in, e.g., the recent Jimmy Johns campaign or the occasional use of it in the Starbucks campaign. I think it sucks, and that it’s contrary to the historical spirit and principles of the union, and I tell my FWs so when it comes up. I’ve also worked for employers that I thought were doing things that were wrong (including accepting state money, state privileges, etc.). As for the union, this is hardly the only way the IWW operates. In fact, it’s pretty rarely how the IWW operates (I know, because as a member of the union I get pretty frequent reports and action alerts). What’s rather more common is to do things like this or that or this.
So the IWW could not exist without threats of force from the state,
This is nonsense. The IWW was founded in 1905. It existed — and enjoyed something like 100 times the membership it currently enjoys — for three decades without any state backing. In fact, it was rather frequently the victim of massive state violence (from the use of “criminal syndicalism” laws in the early 19-aughts, to the assaults on free speech in Spokane and other Western towns during the period of the free speech fights, to the mass “sedition” show trials, the Palmer Raids, and mass deportations during World War I and the Red Scare). Since the IWW existed for more than 20 years without the backing of state force, I conclude that it can exist without threats of force from the state. As for the threat of NLRB action against retaliatory firings, some IWWs try to use it. It mostly doesn’t work. Walk-outs and phone zaps have generally had a higher success rate at getting workers reinstated.
The IWW is pretty much a joke though. Its not really a union, more of a social club for leftist college kids.
The IWW is certainly much smaller than it used to be, and certainly tiled towards leftist activists. You do know that, prior to the Palmer Raids and the Wagner Act, it was one of the largest unions in the United States, yes? (The primary base of support at the time being among Western miners, loggers and migrant farmworkers, with another significant base of support in the Eastern seaboard textile industries.)
I’m not even sure if they have ever successfully organized a single workplace.
Well, Christ, your ignorance on this is not really my problem, is it? Besides deliberately activist worker co-ops (like, say, Red and Black in Portland), which were “unionized” without any struggle because they were founded by people who were already in or favorable towards the union, there are also IWW “job shops” organized in a number of US cities. For examples, check the directory for the San Francisco Bay Area. The Starbucks Workers Union backed off of attempts to win NLRB recognition (a move which I applaud), but they have clear majorities at some individual Starbucks locations and they have enough general membership to have won a number of victories (including getting fired organizers reinstated through walk-outs, winning holiday pay increases for all Starbucks employees, etc.).
Of course, the organizing that is done now is nothing like the organizing that was done at the height of the union in the 1900s-1910s, when, to put it rather mildly, they did succeed in organizing a few shops here and there.
(* For one thing, my view is not that union’s long-term goals should be to strike deals with capitalists so as to increase wages or bennies, but rather that workers’ organizations should be moving towards nonviolently replacing capitalists with worker-controlled mutual aid funds, and worker-directed and worker-owned enterprises. For another, I think that hard bargaining under free market conditions serves an informational purpose, which improves economic calculation and thus benefits a lot more than just the unionized workers. Etc.)