Posts tagged Fellow Workers

Re: Dialectical Anarchism: Mind the Gap

Richard Garner:

I wonder, though, if your example of a world owning alien gains its intuitively objectionable nature, though, not from the fact that the alien hasn’t been back for millions of years, but from the objectionable problems of complete world ownership. If he had come and mixed his labour with a square mile of desert in a Nevadan desert (pretending Nevada existed then), and then went away and didn’t come back for millions of years, would your example be as objectionable?

I think you picked the wrong patch of land to consider for your example.

I don’t think that the problem in the Galaktron thought-experiment has to do with whole-world-ownership. It has to do with the fact that he left for several million years and in the meantime rival claimants have come along who re-homesteaded the land that he left. So I agree with you that there wouldn’t be much objectionable in Galaktron’s reclaiming a patch of desert land that nobody else is currently using. Where there is no rivalry, there is no question of abandonment to arise.

But the isolating case is not a patch of currently desert land; it’s a patch of land currently occupied and used by new-comers while Galaktron was away. So, for example, suppose that Galaktron weren’t claiming ownership of the whole world. Suppose that he did some homesteading on an island, went away for a few million years, and came back, only to find that his old garden plot now happened to be Manhattan. Does he have the right to say, “Out, squatters!” and demand eviction or restitution? Or do those currently occupying the island get to maintain ownership, given that the land was not in use when the meddling hyoo-mons first came to it, and hadn’t been in use for millions of years?

Re: Dialectical Anarchism: Mind the Gap

Richard Garner:

If I were to leave my bike outside a shop whilst I go in to buy groceries, I would not be using or occupying it, but it is still mine. If somebody else were to use it, it would still be mine.

Well, there’s leaving and then there’s leaving. If there is some reasonable expectation that you will return to pick up your bike at a definite point in the near future, that surely does not amount to abandoning you bike. If you leave your bike sitting out there for a month, in rain and shine, never make any kind of arrangement about storage or maintenance with a third party, etc., then sooner or later I think any reasonable system of property rights would take that as constructive abandonment of the bike even without any express performative act on your part of saying “I abandon my bike forthwith.”

Mutualist views on real estate aren’t that different in this regard: the reason that occupancy-and-use mutualists don’t accept that, for example, leaving your house to pick up some milk or even for a long vacation would count as opening up the land for someone else to occupy and use, is because in those cases your lower-level action of leaving is part of a higher-level project which involves your returning at some more or less definite date in the not-too-distant future. The kind of leaving which would open up the property to other claimants is generally held to require a leaving that’s long-term and open-ended, among other things.

Re: How Not to Help Somalia

Well, I’m sure it depends on what you mean by “promote business investment.” If you spell out what you mean by that, then we may perhaps agree, but as it stands, that kind of terminology is often used to represent something which has proven wholly toxic throughout the formerly colonized world.

In the political context of international development politics, especially as it is typically applied to sub-Saharan Africa, there are lots and lots of active schemes to “promote business investment.” The problem is that these schemes are typically driven by large inter-state governmental agencies like the IMF and World Bank; in substance, they typically involved large tax-funded government-to-government loans, packaged with stipulations that the local government bring certain key legislation (notably, Intellectual Property monopolies) into line with the requirements of large business interests, that they implement bureaucratic professionalization of local government (in the name of “good government” and rooting out “corruption”), and that they channel the money into big government forced-modernization boondoggles (e.g. large-scale government infrastructure projects), incentives for large projects by a handful of large multinational corporations, and large-scale privateering commissions for government-backed monopolies on natural resource extraction, utilities, etc.

All of which is to say that these kind of schemes “promote business investment” by means of large-scale government privilege and government-to-government transfers — when what is really needed is not that kind of political scheming, but rather for international politicos to back off and leave Somalia the hell alone, so as to allow a genuine, spontaneous forms of development to emerge. These may well involve various sorts of domestic and foreign “business investment,” but if so, they ought to be attracted to the investments by the prospects for peaceful cooperation, not by the prospects for rent-seeking and the efforts of political bodies to “promote” them.

Re: Considering Redistribution of Property

“I have no idea whether this is enough to appease the communists, the mutualists, the uber-left libertarians. I hope it would be, primarily because I’m simply not sold on the idea that individuals shouldn’t have the right to own and acquire productive assets, at least not on any moral grounds.”

Well, sure, but which anarchists are trying to sell that idea? Maybe some of the commies (although, remember, most anarcho-communists do believe in, or at least nod at a principle which declares, the right of individuals to withdraw from communist arrangements if they desire; the idea is usually that they imagine communist arrangements would be so obviously superior that nobody but a few lone weirdos would want to, and that even if those lone weirdos somehow amassed enough resources to build a factory under private proprietorship, that nobody would want to toil in it). But in any case, I certainly don’t know of any mutualists or “uber-left libertarians” who think that individual people shouldn’t have the right to own and acquire productive assets. If you do, I’d like to hear some names and quotations.

Of course, there is a separate question, as to what forms of organization and what levels of centralization of control over machinery and technology, would be most likely to flourish within a market freed from government privileges and increasingly distant from the shadow of past government subsidies. That question is interesting and important, but separate from the moral question of what individual people ought to have the right to do or not to do. For what it’s worth, though, I think it would be absolutely wrong to claim that, on the predictive (as opposed to the normative) question, mutualists ad “uber-left libertarians” somehow imagine that there wouldn’t be any individual ownership of capital in a freed market. Actually, the position is generally that individual ownership of capital would become much more widespread than it currently is, because forms of collective ownership that currently dominate the market (e.g. large centralized corporations) would be undermined by the collapse of state privilege. To take an example, as I understand it, Carson’s view (for example) is that vastly more productive assets would be owned individually in a free society than are today, because he envisions that, absent government intervention in favor of large centralized operations, a much larger portion of production would be carried out within households and small family shops.

Re: Shameless Self-Promotion Sunday

GT 2009-02-21: how professional social workers colonized the maternity home movement, and what came after looks at a long passage from Ann Fessler’s book on women who surrendered children for adoption in the decades before Roe v. Wade. In particular, it has to do with what happened to the maternity home movement during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, and how a movement that originally started, in the early 1900s, as a sympathetic refuge, a form of mutual aid between ordinary women, and a way for unwed mothers to find sources of relief and economic support, was gradually taken over and transformed into a means for professional social workers to sequester pregnant women, to aid and abet the social practice of secret-keeping and slut-shaming, and to separate young mothers from their children.

GT 2009-02-18: Public schooling #2: Criminal texting, in which a 14 year old girl in Wisconsin is detained by the police at her high school, interrogated, searched by a male police officer, arrested for “disorderly conduct,” then body-searched by a female police officer, all in order to find a cell phone that it turns out she was hiding in her pants. The charge is that she was sending text messages in class after the teacher told her to stop, and then hid her phone from the teacher when the teacher tried to confiscate it. This minor classroom management issue apparently was considered a police matter and a cause for arrest, for which the girl could in principle be fined up to $5,000.

Re: Individualism Clashes with Cooperation? It Just Ain’t So!


When I write that “voluntary mutual aid societies and workers\’ unions” are among the “myriad other ways for free people to choose individually to cooperate without cash exchanges,” I do in fact mean for the word “voluntary” to mean something. I agree with you that government labor bureaucracy, and government agencies (such as the National Labor Relations Board in the U.S.) that force employers to bargain with unions based on a majority vote of the workers, are violations of the rights of employers to chose who or who not to bargain with. But that’s no more an indictment of unions per se than the existence of government-supported monopoly corporations or government-created captive markets for large corporations (such as government-protected electrical, gas, water, local cable, or telecom monopolists; or such as the government’s use of force to, e.g., force unwilling customers to buy auto insurance) is an indictment of corporations per se.

Labor unions, as a form of voluntary association, existed and flourished in the United States (to take one example) for about 65 years before the Wagner Act was passed, and during that time they did their work without government patronage, and, indeed, often in the face of government persecution and tremendous amounts of violence, directed against even nonviolent strikers. Today, there exist successful fighting unions that do not participate in the NLRB system, either because they object to the bureaucratic process (as with the Industrial Workers of the World), or because the workers they represent are legally excluded from NLRB recognition (as with farmworkers’ unions such as the UFW, FLOC, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers). In fact, in an age of plummeting union membership and constant schism among establishment unions like the AFL-CIO or “Change to Win” (ha, ha), these non-recognized unions are among the only unions that can report any real success in recent organizing drives. I conclude, therefore, that labor unions can and do exist without “government sanctions of monopoly and compulsion.” You admit as much at the end of your comment; but given that it is true, it’s curious that you’d object to including them on the list of forms of voluntary association that free people might choose to engage in. Do you also object to saying that free people might set up private schools, since after all schooling is mostly carried on these days by government and at taxpayer expense?

That said, while I agree, again, that the NLRB and its regulations are instances of coercion, I can’t agree with your claims about union shop or agency shop contracts. (That is, contracts in which a union and an employer agree that new employees must become a member of the union, or must pay in a fee as a substitute for their dues if they choose not to become a member.) There is in fact absolutely nothing in free-market theory which would forbid an employer from making such a contract as part of a bargain with a labor union; in a free market, employers and workers can make any kind of contracts about hiring and firing that they want to make. The fact that unions have an artificially strong bargaining position due to NLRB coercion is, of course, a violation of the rights of the employer; but adopting a particular kind of restrictive hiring agreement as a result of that bargaining, even in the existing unfree market, is not a violation of the rights of non-union workers. Prospective workers do not have a right to override private contracts in order to secure some particular job, and bosses have no moral obligation to give jobs to workers who won’t join the union, if they have have agreed to sign on to a more restrictive set of hiring practices.

Nor can I agree with your claim that a strike is an “example of union coercion.” This is absurd; all workers have a right to quit working, either individually or en masse; thus they have a right to go on strike. And if workers decide to join a private association, like a labor union, which has private disciplinary procedures for members, then that association has every right to hold them to their agreement. If you don’t like it, you should quit the union. If you can’t quit the union without quitting your job, you should quit your job. Losing a job is sad, but it’s not a violation of your rights. The world doesn’t owe you a living and if, in order to get a job you wanted, you agreed to sign on to a contract stipulating that you’d join the union and abide by union decisions to strike, then you can hardly complain that you’re being “coerced” just by being held to the terms of your contract. Nor can I agree with the claim that a union picket line is, just as such, a threat of violence against those who would choose to cross it. Of course, there have been cases in the past where people who nonviolently crossed picket lines were subjected to vigilante violence against their persons or against their property. That sort of thing is wrong, dead wrong, and should be condemned as invasions of the freedom of those who would chose to cross them. But there is nothing about a picket per se that demands or threatens that kind of bad behavior: there are lots of perfectly peaceful picket lines, and I can’t for the life of me see why the violence of some picketers should be used to impugn other picketers who never threatened anything of the sort, or who conscientiously swore off any kind of violence whatever. Certainly the form of unionism I have in mind, when mentioning labor unions as one potential form of voluntary cooperation, is the form of unionism that FW Joe Ettor proposed, when he said, during the great Lawrence textile strike of 1912:

“If the workers of the world want to win, all they have to do is recognize their own solidarity. They have nothing to do but fold their arms and the world will stop. The workers are more powerful with their hands in their pockets than all the property of the capitalists. As long as the workers keep their hands in their pockets, the capitalists cannot put theirs there. With passive resistance, with the workers absolutely refusing to move, lying absolutely silent, they are more powerful than all the weapons and instruments that the other side has for attack.”

Finally, I think it is a mistake to claim, as you do, that government labor laws unilaterally put a “heavy thumb … on the unions’ side of the scale.” It’s true that government labor laws grant substantial privileges to a certain kind of labor union (the kind that wants and can get NLRB recognition). But it also imposes substantial regulatory burdens; the government patronage comes with government strings attached. For example, it is completely illegal for NLRB-recognized unions to engage in wildcat strikes, secondary strikes, or secondary boycotts; they are absolutely forbidden from holding out for closed shop contracts and, in “Right to Work” states, are legally forbidden from even getting a union shop contract; union hiring halls are illegal; declared strikes can be, and have been, declared illegal by the arbitrary fiat of the President of the United States. All this means that some unions are privileged by the NLRB system — generally, relatively conservative business unions, like those in the AFL-CIO and “Change to Win,” who operate mainly through collective bargaining processes with management, who limit their tactics to backroom negotiations and limited strikes, who limit their goals to job security clauses or benefit packages in a conventional labor contract, and which retain a team of professional labor lawyers, union bosses, and full-time “organizers” to do their work. Meanwhile it burdens or outright criminalizes other kinds of unions, which used to be much more prominent in the pre-Wagner era — rank-and-file-run unions like the I.W.W., who generally refused collective bargaining, favored minority unionism, direct action on the shop floor, solidarity strikes, general strikes, union hiring halls, and other forms of action that didn’t depend on maintaining any kind of bureaucratic interface with the boss or the State.

For more on wildcat unionism and free market principles, see my articles “Free the Unions (and all political prisoners)!” [1] and “In reply to a reply by Walter Block and J.H. Huebert” [2], my series of articles on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the series of victories it has won through government-free wildcat unionism [3], and Kevin Carson’s essay “The Ethics of Labor Struggle: A Free Market Perspective” [4].

Hope this helps.

Re: Election office: Culinary petitions for city hall ballot effort can proceed

Whatever the virtues or the vices of unions, and whether or not the motives of the Culinary make sense to outside observers, and whether or not Obama would approve, there remains one basic issue that the redevelopment machine and its apologists always dodge: whether or not taking millions out of workers’ pockets, in order to build nicer offices for Oscar Goodman and his cronies, is actually a productive use of our money.

You won’t hear anything about this, because it’s much easier to impugn the motives of your critics, or appeal to a popular politician, than to defend such a ridiculous and self-serving claim.

We are told that this will provide “construction jobs.” Of course it would; so would building a 40-foot golden statue of Oscar Goodman in downtown; so would digging a giant hole out in the desert and then filling it back up. But every dollar Oscar Goodman forces you or I to spend on his new office is a dollar that won’t be spent on providing for our own lives, or patronizing businesses that provide us with genuinely useful goods or services. Meaning a few more jobs in construction come at the expense of fewer jobs and a worse living for everyone else.

City government has no power to wish wealth into existence; they can only take wealth from taxpayers and apply it to some particular project. If they didn’t take it, it wouldn’t disappear; it would be applied to different projects. The question to ask is whether this project actually improves my life or yours in any way. If this project has any benefits worth mentioning for anyone other than city politicians, they ought to be able to persuade me those benefits are worth paying for. Not force me to pay for it by means of taxation and lawsuits.

Re: I-Team: Policy Group Takes on LVCVA

Vince Alberta says: “We generate a return on investment of about 10 times the amount.”

If the LVCVA’s activities have such a great ROI, then why should Las Vegas taxpayers be forced to fund their budget out of tax revenues? Good investments can find private investors, and if the casinos, in particular, benefit from LVCVA’s advertising, why not ask them to foot the bill for their own good investments?

If, on the other hand, the LVCVA’s activities are not actually beneficial enough that firms wouldn’t be willing to cover the costs on their own, then why should Las Vegas taxpayers be sent the bill for such a waste of money?

In either case, I can see no reason why we need a government-funded agency doing advertising for multibillion dollar private businesses.

Re: Cato Institute Publishes Leftist Screed!, Pars Decima

I can certainly think of some that are vastly better than the AFL-CIO establishmentarian unions. What about the IWW? The Coalition of Immokalee Workers?

For the record, some IWW locals make use of post-Wagner labor laws (most commonly in efforts to combat retaliatory firing of organizers for unionizing activities). I think that sucks, but the union as a whole is pretty minimally involved, and — importantly, unlike the AFL-CIO and Change to Win [sic] unions — they are largely opposed to State-mediated collective bargaining, and to the whole State regulatory apparatus, and they do have an organizing model which doesn’t depend on the use of federal labor bureaucracy.

The CIW is another can of worms. As far as I know they have never made any use whatsoever of any federal union law at all. If for no other reason than the fact that they couldn’t use it even if they wanted to. The Wagner Act explicitly excluded farmworkers’ unions (also domestic workers’ unions — the point was originally for St. Franklin to be able to count on the support of white-supremacy-forever Southern Democrats, so jobs black people took under Jim Crow weren’t included), and none of the post-Wagner amendments have changed that. Block and Huebert’s blanket assertion that all actually-existing unions either practice vigilante violence or solicit state violence or both is either breathtakingly ignorant or else dishonest. They seem to have no idea at all that several large unions have no access at all to the NLRB under existing federal labor laws, whether they want it or not.

(To be fair, I must note that the largest farmworkers’ union, the UFW, has no access to the federal NLRB, but does have access to a state government agency — the California ALRB, created in the 1970s through their lobbying efforts — in California, their main base of operations. I think this helps explains, actually, why the UFW, which was one of the most dynamic organizations in the labor movement for many years, has accomplished relatively little since the 1970s: they were bought off by the political patronage, and meanwhile the board was captured within a couple years by the big produce bosses, just like every other regulatory board in the history of the world. But as far as I know the CIW has access to nothing of the kind in Florida. Neither does FLOC in most of the states where it operates — mainly in the Southeast U.S., if I recall correctly. What they get done, they get done in spite of, or because of, the fact that they receive neither the legal benefits nor the regulatory burdens of the NLRB regime. And I think that’s a lot of the reason why farmworkers’ unions have accomplished so goddamned much in the past 40 years, while the establishmentarian labor movement has largely stagnated or collapsed.)

On Anarchy and Big Business

You write: The other problem I have with the Libertarian Free Market is this. I loathe Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buys, MacDonald’s and even Piggly Wiggly. The problem there is corporations result when the market is totally free. With corporations we enjoy… offshore outsourcing of manufacturing. . . . I guess I have trouble with the totally free market, not that I have a better solution. But I’m none too thrilled by the strip malls all looking the same and owned by nameless faceless corporations.

What makes you think that the success of big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target or Best Buy is the result of the free market? Certainly they’re prosperous in the market that we have, but as you know, the market that we have is not free.

In particular, big-box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy benefit massively from — in fact, they probably depend on — government hand-outs for big, centralized corporations in the name of “development” and “economic growth.” For example, in order to build those giant big box stores, they need large, contiguous blocks of land near an interstate highway exit. They often get those large blocks of well-positioned land at artificially low prices because the city government uses eminent domain to seize it, either in the process of building the highway or else as an independent project for “development” purposes. In a freed market, they wouldn’t have that.

Big chains like Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy also need big systems of warehouses, cross-country trucking, etc., and for all of that, they need big interstate highways. Which happen to be built, maintained, and subsidized by the government. In a freed market, there would be no government-subsidized highway system, and they’d actually have to pay the full cost of their shipping and distribution networks.

They also typically depend on being able to get very low-cost goods exported from textile mills, plastic factories, etc. overseas, in places like Communist China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and so on. Those goods are often cheap because labor is extremely cheap. But labor is extremely cheap because labor markets in those countries are unfree, because those governments happen to be comfortable with extreme brutality in order to keep small-time farmers and industrial workers poor, subservient, and desperate for any way to get cash. In a freed market, workers overseas would be much better off, much less desperate for cash, much more free to leave abusive or exploitative bosses to find new livelihoods, and generally able to command much higher prices for their labor. As a result, Wal-Mart’s comparative advantage in importing from developing countries would make for much less of a comparative advantage in competing with smaller, local shops — because goods from developing countries would no larger be made artificially cheap by the intervention of violently anti-worker governments.

As Roderick Long has argued ( “In a free market, firms would be smaller and less hierarchical, more local and more numerous (and many would probably be employee-owned); prices would be lower and wages higher; and corporate power would be in shambles. Small wonder that big business, despite often paying lip service to free market ideals, tends to systematically oppose them in practice.”

You write: As an old punk I should be all gung-ho for anarchy but anarchy is what “governs” Iraq.

Oh, come on, really? Iraq is in a state of civil war, not a state of anarchy. Civil war is what you have when a strip of land has too many governments (or would-be governments) fighting with each other over which one gets to do the governing. Anarchy is what you have when the have no governments at all. Iraq, which is currently being contested by the armed forces of the most powerful government in the world, a nominally independent puppet government propped up by those occupying armed forces, fractious provincial governments (especially in Kurdistan), occasional incursions from Turkey and Iran, roving sectarian death squads closely associated with various armed factions like SCIRI, the Sadrist movement, various tribally-based Sunni warlord-gangsters, Al-Qaeda, etc., all instituting police-state measures wherever they have strong enough control to do so, and all of them fighting with each other over who will be able to come out on top as rulers of Iraq, or–failing that–how they will be able to carve up Iraq into fiefs under their military control. That’s not anarchy; it’s just a bunch of warring states trying to get their hands on parts of the same country. No surprise: the situation there was created by a war between feuding governments and a military occupation.

Anarchy means no governments and no rulers — a consensual society based on free association, without wars, taxes, occupations, government prohibitions, government police, government curfews, or any of the rest. Maybe that’s achievable in this world, and maybe it’s not, but possible or impossible, it’s important to keep in mind what it is we’re talking about. Anarchy means lawlessness, not disorder; and it certainly doesn’t mean having so many would-be law-makers in one place that they end up fighting over who gets to make the laws!