Radicalizing on the Right: Collective Bargaining, as an Antitrust Violation?

Elections have consequences, we say. But exactly what consequences? To listen to the right’s increasingly radical agenda, from repealing birthright citizenship to dictating spending cuts based exclusively on hot-button social issues, you’d think no Democrat had ever won elected office, or none ever would again. Can a “historic” midterm election wipe away a decidedly more historic presidential election, even as it becomes increasingly clear that Republicans have failed to win the public’s trust, and that Democrats will retain the White House in 2012?

The Wall Street Journal thinks so, as they take aim unions, not specifically, but generally, characterizing them as a restraint on trade tantamount to a monopoly. This conclusion, while not without some superficial appeal, Congress expressly rejected in the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, a gloss on the earlier Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, not as a concession to the power of the unions — which, remember, had almost no power, after 1890! — but as a recognition of the real goal of the Sherman Act. Antitrust law clearly concerns itself not with the general problem of aggregate action, but aggregate action as it impacts customers and capitalist theory by undermining the proper functioning of the free market. Union activity does not come within that prohibition or that theory, rightly understood.

But let’s step back and appreciate the, for lack of a better word, balls on Murdoch’s Journal (mixed, as always, with hilarious hackery). They’re not hitting back at Wisconsin unions, or the Wisconsin problem, or public employee unions, or even unions generally (I revise my above commentary). They’re striking at the core of collective bargaining theory. Absent the Clayton Act’s exemption, collective bargaining — boycotts, picketing, strikes — becomes illegal. Modern conservatism would consign us again to the abyss of pre-1900 “free markets,” robber barons, Hessian strikebreakers, filled milk, all in the name of some warped conception of liberty. And this continues unless we stop it in 2012.

Grim omens aside, enjoy this Simpsons clip of Burns-brand strikebreakers (hulu).



  1. I know these are throw-away statements but I can never resist…

    “…even as it becomes increasingly clear that Republicans have failed to win the public’s trust, and that Democrats will retain the White House in 2012?”

    Two words: Mitch Daniels. If he runs and makes it through the primaries Obama should go ahead and start packing.

    Also, NPR cited a poll yesterday where they asked voters who they would blame if there was a government shutdown. I believe the numbers were 35% for Obama and 36% for the GOP. This contrasts with something like 27% for Clinton and 46% for the GOP back in 1996. What that tells me is that dissatisfaction is pretty evenly split. Because the eventual GOP nominee will probably be unknown nationally (unless we get Romney – ugh) they won’t have to carry personal responsibility for GOP distrust as much as Congress will.

    The moral of the story is that any talk of an Obama victory in 2012 is extraordinarily premature.

  2. It’ll be a cold day in Hell when Mitch Daniels wins a Republican primary.

    1. I’m willing to bet a steak dinner on that one.

    2. WOO! Challenge accepted!

      On the condition that if he doesn’t run, as seems likely, the bet is canceled.

      1. You’ve got it.

  3. “They’re striking at the core of collective bargaining theory. Absent the Clayton Act’s exemption, collective bargaining — boycotts, picketing, strikes — becomes illegal.”
    I think you are over-reacting to the article and/or not reading it correctly. What the author is specifically referring to in the Clayton Antitrust Act is the union shop exemptions. The author’s contention (and he echoes what thousands before him have said) is that union shops create monopolies and hurt business. He cites a very specific study to support this argument:
    In research published in 2000, economist Thomas Holmes of the University of Minnesota compared counties close to the border between states with and without right-to-work laws (thereby holding constant an array of factors related to geography and climate). He found that the cumulative growth of employment in manufacturing (the traditional area of union strength prior to the rise of public-employee unions) in the right-to-work states was 26 percentage points greater than that in the non-right-to-work states.
    The union shop problem compounds the additional problem of public sector unions and their collective bargaining abilities in the context of electing the people they are negotiating with and ultimately it all hurts businesses which mean (and Some Liberals forget this) less jobs will be created.
    The saddest thing to come out of this whole Wisconsin fiasco is the way that Some Liberals have tried to turn this particular fight into a larger issue about how conservatives hate unions and want to kill them all. It’s simply not true. We just want a level playing field and the Left seems to disagree. This is why Card Check was so popular.

    1. Sorry for the horrible formatting there.

    2. Yet many Conservatives, and especially many National Republican politicians, don’t want a level playing field. They espouse, and vote for tax breaks for businesses which take revenue away from government services (and which have not created many if any jobs now or historically); they are this week grilling OSHA for having the gaul to enforce workplace safety rules, and they want unions to go away so that there is no opposition to maximization of profit at the expense of workers and public services (which many of them still want to privatize even when the private sector is not demonstrably cheaper). All the stacks the deck against workers, and thus the few unions left are more critical to the average American then we are often told.

      And the Democrats – they who have decided to look like centerist Republicans on too many issues of late – are letting them. Makes me even madder.

      1. There’s nothing wrong with reducing corporate tax rates and a clot of economists support that. It just needs to be revenue neutral and the WH actually supports that.

        As for the OSHA thing, I just heard about it yesterday. Some of their rules are dumb but the truth is that I’d rather see a strong OSHA and less unions. They overlap so it seems like a good trade.

        As for killing unions – that’s an over-statement. We just want to kill the big ones.

    3. I think the saddest thing to come out of Wisconsin is the demonization of teachers specifically that we’ve seen from certain pundits on the right. They’re the people who, indirectly, in the long term truly are going to pull your country into the future and ensure that you’ll be able to earn a living in 50 years as well. If I were you, I’d double their salaries and worship the ground they walk on.

      1. They are also the ones who are fighting school reform the hardest. As a parent of two kids in the public school system right now I see them as more of a problem than a solution right now.

        1. Just a guess, but maybe that’s because they think the reforms are going in the wrong direction.

          Anyway, I was actually thinking more of the current rhetoric about their salaries – that they’re being paid too much and for too little work. Sometimes I wonder how many of those pundits could survive just one week as a public school teacher.

          It gets particularly ridiculous when considering the parallel rhetoric from usually the very same pundits about how $250,000+ earners aren’t really rich at all, and how Wall Street CEOs absolutely deserve their huge salaies and bonuses.

          1. Well yeah – because the reforms are putting more responsibility on them. I don’t know that there have been a lot of complaints about their pay or even their health benefits. I think it’s the pension obligations that are killing these states. Many, many conservatives are willing to pay teaches a lot more – they just want to see it in the form of merit raises and not seniority based.

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