The Right to Work -- for What?
[Reprinted from The Freeman, November 1937]
"When the devil is sick the devil a saint would be." We are
reminded of the saw by the unco righteousness with which the "right
to work" is now being proclaimed by our strike-deviled
At a recent session of the Institute of Human Relations at
Williamstown, Mass., considerable palaver was spent on this newly
found "right." The palaver of the cons was as odious as that
of the pros. Those who argued for the right of man to work really were
arguing against the right of groups of workers to try to get more
wages. While those who took the opposite view maintained that capital
was morally bound to provide wages, and did not hesitate to threaten
capital with governmental interference if such duty were not properly
performed. Not a single argument based on economic principle or sound
reasoning was advanced.
"The right to work." The phrase is full of meaning, more
than those who mouth it are aware of. Suddenly squeezed between the
millstones of monopoly rent and labor's demand for more of what it
produces, our industrialists have discovered that man has as much
right to work as to be idle. But where were these industrialists m
1932? Perhaps hanging "no help wanted" signs on their doors.
Did not men have as much right to work in those dreary days as they
have now, in these somewhat less dreary days? When has not man a right
to work - and, what is more, to retain the product of his labor?
This is not a plea for the philosophy of trade unionism - much less
for the destructive methods of Marxian dialectic of workers'
organizations. That no strike can succeed without violence, so long as
there is an army of unemployed, is conceded by every student of
unionism. That thuggery is employed by both sides is known - and it
little boots to query "who started it?" That unions cannot
raise the general level of wages is obvious. Unionism is merely a
defense mechanism employed by workers to get a little more of what
they produce - when they have jobs. It is monopolistic in character.
It is a monopolistic instrument used by the workers to meet monopoly
Murder is repulsive to the normal human being. But in the trenches,
when it is a case of "your life or mine," murder becomes
normal. In an economy where the right to have the product of his labor
is denied him the worker resorts to impulses that are foreign to his
normal reactions. That is to be expected - though not condoned. The
trade union is a product of a world created by monopolists. Destroy
monopoly, destroy the interference with the workers' right to work,
destroy privilege, and trade unions will disappear. Until men really
have the right to work, at all times and under all conditions,
industrial strife will plague us.
Perorated the industrialist at Williamstown: "Is there anything
in democratic ideals to force one man to provide a job for another man
if he decides to shut down his factory?" Knock-out argument, that
is. The answer, of course, is that labor can provide its own jobs.
When one man produces the things that other men want he is creating
exchangeable wealth. This wealth should be his wages; where good land
is limited and where the use of capital is necessary, his full
contribution to the creation of that wealth should be his wage. Every
man can do this provided he is not denied access to the natural
resources.' For all wealth is the product of labor and land. Free the
earth and the factory need never shut down, for what the factory
produces will find an effective market among workers getting the full
product of their labor.
But his opponents met the argument with the usual drivel about
collective bargaining, governmental interference, arbitration, and
what-not. Emotionalism, plus a blind faith in the efficiency of
prayerful bargaining, plus the benevolence of the State - these are
the ingredients in the hash that so often is called economic thinking.
Yes, man has the right to work - and to work for all he produces.
Nothing less. But when so much is taken from him, when so little is
left for his sustenance, why should he be satisfied with the
conditions of his labor? The right to work - for what?
Would that the industrialist really believed in the right to work.
Would that he really understood how this right could be secured
permanently. For the true industrialist, the one who employs capital
to produce wealth, prospers only when the right to work is secure, and
when the product of that work goes to the worker. For wages and
profits originate at the very same source - production. And well-paid
laborers are the only mass markets.