The great Talmudic genius, Joshua L. Diskin (1818-1898), led the rabbinic court of Lomza, Poland, circa 1850, when a couple walked in to ask for a divorce. They brought their pet dog along, and the cuddly creature kept rubbing up against the legs of his owners. The writing of the divorce was proceeding apace when Diskin suddenly called the process to a halt, saying it could not be completed that day. Overnight, he sent an investigator to the town where the couple lived. There it was discovered that the man who had accompanied her to court was not her poor cuckolded husband, stuck caring for their kids alone, but a lover conspiring with her to obtain a divorce under false pretenses.
“How did you know?” asked the associate judges.
“Before a couple divorces, the dog senses the animosity. He picks the partner he likes most and shuns the other. If the dog was at ease with both, it was unlikely they were really a couple separating.”
Something like this happens in politics as well. When there is friction between groups in society, individual politicians pick a side. Looking at the current strike of Hollywood writers against their studios and networks, an odd pattern is emerging. Democrats are supporting the scribblers while Republicans turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. But where is their nose? Can someone please explain to me how Republicans gain by not backing the writers, or which conservative principle would be subverted by such solidarity?
The labor union movement has run afoul of free-market orthodoxy in certain ways. Its leaders have also targeted the Republican Party as a generic counterforce, assuming that party’s agenda to be inimical to their cause. The danger is that conservatives, made cynical by the frustration of being treated as the bogeyman, mindful that a hand reaching out to the unions will likely be slapped down, are responding in reflexive rather than reasoned ways. Anytime a union does an action, the conservative will give a knee-jerk equal and opposite reaction.
This type of behavior wreaks havoc with an image of ideological constancy. And it is hard to see how you can win in this way.
Let’s break it down. A union is intrinsically a capitalist entity just like a company. The company sells widgets to the public, the union sells labor to the company. The union acts as a wholesaler, just like the company that sells steel and machinery to the widget company. Labor is as much a component of the widget as the steel. We all know companies that provide labor, a maid service for instance. The value of the labor is determined by market conditions, enhanced somewhat by bringing many individual maids together to assure availability. There is no reason to see a labor union any differently.
That is in pure economic terms. In reality a few phenomena distort this vision. One is the fact that many unions emerged from the catalyst of socialism and are still intoxicated by its matrix. They see the world as big guy vs. little guy, user vs. used, predators vs. prey. Another problem is the politics of naming officers in the union, with its attendant potential for thuggery. Add to that a big pot of dues money and the recipe for corruption is complete. The union tends to see itself as a government-type structure rather than a company-type, as doing a service for unfortunates in its ranks rather than as selling a good to a consumer at its highest value.
Consequently, conservative politicians should only be motivated by theory to oppose closed shops, rigged elections, skewed allocation of dues and irresponsible strikes against the public interest. The idea of resisting any action because it was initiated by a labor union is groundless, pointless and fruitless.
A writers union fits into the capitalist model even more than a union of, say, auto workers. People who actually fashion a full-blown concept from the stuff of their own imagination are more accurately described as selling a good than providing labor. If the networks and studios have expanded their potential incomes by incorporating the Internet as a market, that should eventually ramify to the benefit of the inventors of the product, namely the writers.
Conservatives, libertarians, and other free-market types would be better served by standing behind the concept of productive members of society organizing voluntarily to negotiate a fair price for their output. They are not acting like royalty, only scrounging for royalties. And it’s not like management in Hollywood is any friendlier to conservatives. Just because some union thugs write the script for Republicans to be the bad guys, there is no reason for them to accept the role.
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