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Hayek on Unions

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

With his usual eloquence, George Will explains that union power is exercised first and foremost against workers (“Government should not force people into unions,” Jan. 19).

It has always been so.  F.A. Hayek, for example, would not be surprised at today’s attempt by the Service Employees International Union to force home health-care workers into its ranks.  As Hayek wrote in 1960: “It cannot be stressed enough that the coercion which unions have been permitted to exercise contrary to all principles of freedom under the law is primarily the coercion of fellow workers.  Whatever true coercive power unions may be able to wield over employers is a consequence of this primary power of coercing other workers.”*

The myth is that unions benefit all workers.  But because unions in practice raise wages only by artificially restricting the supply of labor, the reality is that unions benefit some workers chiefly at the expense of other workers – other workers who are either coerced to join unions or who are forcibly prohibited from working at jobs, or on terms, of their own choosing.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* F.A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), p. 269.