Last week news broke of a strike action and civil disobedience threat from the UK’s trade unions over the government’s proposed reforms to laws relating to strike ballots and union funding.
According to Sky News: “Senior union leaders have pledged to break the law and lead strikes and other disruption in defiance of the Government’s new Trade Union Bill…Mr McCluskey, in his first major speech of the conference, said his union would oppose the Bill using ‘any means necessary’ to defend the democratic rights and freedoms of workers.”
At the very root of this conflict, which seems like it might lead to some violence and social disruption in the near future, is existing and proposed unjust laws; existing regulation created to ‘protect’ workers by restricting the freedom of employers (often the State itself) to take peaceful action to mitigate the effects of strike action on the delivery or production of their services or goods, and proposed regulation to ‘protect’ employers by imposing restrictions and conditions upon the peaceful activities of workers’ unions.
Such laws, when judged according to widely held moral principles, are plainly acts of coercion and incompatible with free society, but because they are codified as law and the violence required to enforce them is undertaken by the State they acquire a mask of moral legitimacy; and come to be perceived as ‘rights’ or ‘freedoms’ of the groups they benefit.
In fighting against the creation of potentially unjust laws that might shrink the freedoms of unionised workers, the Trade Unions find themselves fighting for the preservation of an unjust existing law that enlarges the sphere of their own rights to the point that it harms employers and non-unionised workers.
This is the moral quagmire that has resulted from the perversion of the purpose of The Law from protecting genuine universal rights to enforcing illegitimate exclusive ones. A process which, given the nature of the State as the most powerful coercive force in society, was perhaps inevitable.
Like most special interest groups today, the trade unions demand that the law of the land favours them. They want to keep the existing law that benefits them, but do not want new laws that would disadvantage them. If the current government’s proposed Trade Bill happened to intend to enhance the already privileged position of trade unions, then their members’ faces would be flushed with excitement and not anger.
Mr McClusky, leader of the Unite workers union, said “if suffragettes had not broken the law women would not have won the vote and if American civil rights campaigners led by Martin Luther King had obeyed the law they would not have defeated race discrimination.”
If today’s trade unions engage in civil disobedience in an attempt to force the government to abandon their Trade Union bill and abolish all existing laws regulating the economic actions of employers and trade unions in respect to industrial action, then their cause would be a just one and McClusky’s argument in defence of his union’s intended actions would be valid.
Until that happens, and I very much doubt it will in my lifetime, then McClusky equating his union’s intended actions with those of the suffragettes and Martin Luther King is not only wrong, but it also besmirches these celebrated civil rights movements which lead to genuine social progress – the kind that doesn’t require diminishing anyone else’s liberty, the kind today’s trade unions have completely lost touch with.
The suffragettes weren’t all that either, they were idle upper class women.