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How Labor Unions Defend Causes that Harm Workers

By: Vanesa Vallejo - May 3, 2016, 10:59 am
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On May 1st millions of unionists defend causes that harm workers. (PCEML)

EspañolLabor Day is celebrated on May 1 throughout different parts of the world, and throughout those different parts of the world, trade unionists march in demand for better working conditions while denouncing the past and present abuses against them.

But agreeing with the trade unions’ rhetoric is easy. Most of their proposals seem courageous and necessary, but all that glitters is not gold — especially when it comes to economics and politics. Proposals that seem too good to be true are very often just that.

It turns out the union movement’s best-known arguments are extremely deceptive, and hurt the lower class. Many trade unionists who support such arguments are not aware of the terrible damage caused by their actions. Some speeches made by them seem so noble that it is normally very difficult to foresee the implications of their suggestions.

It could be said that the union leaders’ main struggle refers to minimum wage. Many might say this is a very important fight, and that earning at least a minimum salary should be a guarantee to ensure everyone lives comfortably.

Except that imposing a minimum wage actually pushes the poor into unemployment.

An employer pays a worker in accordance with the value of his productivity. But when a government bows to union pressure and imposes a minimum wage law, all those people bringing an inferior value to the production process are condemned to unemployment and informal work. The most vulnerable, therefore, are those who have lower productivity than the minimum wage: single mothers, inexperienced youngsters, uneducated people and immigrants.

Imposing a minimum wage actually hurts those it intends to benefit. It is common to hear people talking about how sad it is that there are people living on less than the minimum wage. But isn’t it sadder and more cruel to condemn those who have no education or experience to unemployment? Should they not be able to decide whether or not to accept a lower salary than that established by law?

Social Security is another struggle for unions. Trade unionists in Colombia, for example, proudly say that 68 percent of healthcare funding is provided by employers. But that 68 percent supposedly coming out of the employer’s pocket is actually deducted from the worker’s salary.

The same applies to holiday pay, which many believe is a great achievement for workers. What they don’t realize is that each day spent on the beach is still deducted from a worker’s salary. Employees in Colombia supposedly have 15 working days a year of paid vacation. However, as anywhere in the world, money is deducted from the remaining days the employee does work, meaning that workers usually end up paying for their own holidays.

Thus, what the unions describe as a sort of social conquest is really a social detriment — a violation of the freedom of choice. Many young, inexperienced and uneducated workers are willing to work for less than minimum wage, and thus have a livelihood, but they don’t have the choice because some unions and politicians have already decided it is not right for them to work below a certain threshold.

This is not to demonize unionism itself, which emerged as a valid struggle for the right to freedom of association. It’s important that groups of people work together to appoint representatives that can negotiate with their employers.

But what we see today is a politicized institution in itself, working for its own benefit no different from the big bosses it was originally trying to protect against.

Vanesa Vallejo Vanesa Vallejo

Vanesa Vallejo is a Colombian economist, columnist, and classical liberal activist. She is a member of Colombia's Libertarian Movement. Follow her: @VanesaVallejo3.