QUESTION: What do libertarians think about labor unions?
MY SHORT ANSWER: Unions can be very useful go-betweens between employers and employees, and would probably exist in a libertarian society.
However, union members would be liable for prosecution if the engaged in intimidation, assault or property destruction in pursuit of their goals. (The same would be true for employers, of course.) Furthermore, unless forbidden by contract, employers could hire replacements for striking workers.
Unions per se are fine organizations; many promote a professionalism that their members take pride in. However, when unions violate the non-aggression principle, directly or through legislation, they become the exploiters. Again, the same is true for employers. (The non-aggression principle is the fundamental principle libertarianism: no one should initiate violence against peaceful people or their property.)
A genuine free market produces an economic boom, where labor is in high demand. Wages and benefits rise. Thus, the avowed goal of most unions is met by a society with more liberty.
LEARN MORE: Suggestions for further information on this topic by Liberator Online editor James W. Harris:
"Libertarians against markets?" by Thomas Knapp of the Center for a Stateless Society. In this short commentary Knapp makes some provocative and often overlooked points about libertarianism and labor unions. He also links to other articles, all worth reading.
EXCERPT: "The problem with organized labor in America is: government involvement. … The state has always been involved in the labor market, and always on the anti-market side. …Absent government intervention on either side, unions are nothing more or less than a market phenomenon which allows workers to drive the hardest bargain for their product. … I don't think that either workers or employers should be regulated in the conduct of their voluntary transactions."