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Strikes and Picket Lines in a Free Society

General Motors (GM) auto workers are on strike and walking a picket line. The question to be answered is simply this: Would these things occur in a free society?

The answer is: Yes, but…

First of all, here is what is happening at GM.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) union, which represents auto workers, is negotiating new contracts this year with each of the Big Three automakers―GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler. The union has extended its earlier agreements with Ford and Fiat Chrysler while it is bargaining with GM.

But on September 16, the UAW called for its members to strike after it failed to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with GM covering some 46,000 workers at dozens of GM facilities. This is the largest strike against auto manufacturers in more than a decade.

The union seeks new production at some idled GM plants, higher pay for its members, a shorter period for workers to earn the top rate of pay, and the use by GM of fewer temporary workers.

GM publicly released the outlines of its offer to the union that was rejected. It included $7 billion in investments and “solutions for unallocated assembly plants in Michigan and Ohio,” raises on the table, and a promise to “retain nationally-leading health care benefits.”

Shutting down production is not only costly for GM, it hurts workers as well since their union strike pay is only $250 per week.

Striking auto workers don’t garner much sympathy from most Americans. In fact, many Americans would kill to receive the wages and benefits that a typical auto worker earns.

Secondly, Americans don’t currently live in a free society. If you think they do, please read my description of what a free society would actually look like.

And third, strikes and picket lines might exist in a free society; however—

In a free society, although there might still exist labor unions and collective bargaining, there would be no Wagner Act, National Labor Relations Board, or special government protection, promotion, patronage, or privilege for labor unions.

In a free society, the government would not interfere in any way with the employer-employee relationship.

In a free society, union membership would be voluntary. Non-union workers could not be forced to pay union dues.

In a free society, the relationship between management and unions wouldn’t have to be antagonistic. Businesses could mandate or forbid their workers to unionize. A company’s workers might be represented by more than one union. A company’s workers might contain a mixture of unionized and non-unionized employees.

And in a free society, employees who refuse to work and go on strike could be fired. “Scabs” could freely be hired to temporarily or permanently replace striking workers. But strikes would be voluntary, peaceful, and non-coercive. No employee could be forced to strike. Violence or vandalism committed by striking workers would be treated as a criminal act. Walking a picket line on company property would be considered trespassing. However, there are some occasions when striking workers might not be fired. If a company reasoned that the cost of recruiting and training new workers exceeded the cost of meeting the demands of its striking workers, then it might give in.

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