BIBLE AND LABOR UNIONS
The problems of labor union monopoly are as old as sin. “Wyclif accused the guilds of conspiring ‘that no man practicing their craft shall take less payment daily than that they have agreed among themselves,’ and that ‘they oppress other men who are in the right’ (meaning that these others were prepared to work for less” (W. H. Hutt, The Strike-Threat System, p. 291.) But by the age of Puritan Elizabethan England the guilds were losing their power. Although “associations of workers for peaceful and lawful purposes had been neither illegal nor discouraged,” the “practices known as ‘forestalling, engrossing, and regrating’ were forbidden by ordinances and statutes because these were supply and pricing procedures which were perceived to be exploiting the common people through the contriving of scarcities of food and necessities… ‘Conspiracy’ or combination’ were forbidden…These notions covered any kind of action in concert which aimed at making products (including the product of labor) dearer (for the benefit of those who associated for that purpose) by agreements not to sell below stipulated prices” (Ibid., p. 281. Puritan England was no more tolerant of labor monopoly, collusive exploitation of the consumer and economic injustice than we ought to be today.
This is not intended to be an issue on economics. It is neither our place nor prerogative to summarize and defend the many, varied, and excellent economic arguments that could be urged concerning this subject. It is not our intention to be pragmatic and utilitarian and maintain those views that are found to be conducive to economic well-being and prosperity. This article will be concerned with the moral arguments of the case as defined from Scripture. It will be concerned with the facts of economic justice as decreed by the law of God.
“Free enterprise” is the conservative slogan that is the stock reply to any issue concerning economics. But what is meant by it? Christians would do well to define their terms carefully from Scriptural principles rather than accepting highly touted slogans at face value. As creatures of a sovereign Creator we can never really be free. Freedom is freedom under God. Freedom is freedom to do that which is right. That means that Biblical “free enterprise” is not freedom to sin, but rather the freedom to regulate one’s economic activity according to the law of God. It is not economic anarchy, the law of the jungle, etc., but rather it is freedom under God’s economic law. Thus, as we have seen, the common law of Puritan England in upholding the economic law of God forbade unscriptural economic conspiracy and exploitation. The last century of American economic activity was marked by the “robber barons.” Darwinian evolution had replaced divine creation (and subordination to the Creator’s law) as the dominant theme in American thought and it had its effect in the realm of the marketplace. The moral restraints of God’s economic law were cast aside in favor of the Darwinian concept of “survival of the fittest.” This new definition of free enterprise was but a return to the law of the jungle, with economic might being right. It has wrought material and moral havoc in the nation’s marketplace, and if this is “free enterprise,” Christians should want no part of it. Free enterprise under God’s law, regulated by his commandments and more properly defined as freedom from arbitrary interference in and regulation of the marketplace by the socialist state, should be the desire of those who seek liberty in Christ.
Men are not equal. The parable of the talents demonstrates that God in his sovereign pleasure dispenses talents unequally as he sees fit. The same parable also illustrates that men do not make the same effective uses of the talents that they do have. Paul reminds Timothy to stir up the gift that is within him, and Christ rebuked the slothful servant that neglected his talent. In the Biblical scheme of things men are expected to produce according to their various talents and are judged and rewarded accordingly. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required,” and “whosoever hash, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken” (Luke 12:48 & 8:18). However, the labor union scheme of things is entirely different. Here all men are considered equal in talent, are all expected to do the exact same quantity and quality of labor and are all to be exactly compensated by the same wage. Those with superior talents are compelled to play the part of slothful servants and cannot heed the admonition of Paul in Ephesians 6:5-8, while the mediocre are rewarded in their slothfulness. The Bible declares the responsibility of all men to give account of the talents entrusted to them, but the flight from responsibility has become the flight from freedom, as the drive for equality and security in one’s mediocrity has become the drive to the slavery of the labor unions.
A careful historical review of the origins and developments of the labor unions will forever lay to rest the myth of labor’s long and bitter struggle on behalf of economic justice for the poor and downtrodden, the exploited wage slaves of capitalism. Their roots lie in the medieval guilds whose charters often approached monopoly conditions and of whose activities Wycliff complained. As the guilds faded away there developed “friendly societies concerned with the commendable task of insuring their members against the worst consequences of sickness or unemployment.” Before long “some ‘friendly societies” were trying to maintain, even at that time, what is today called the closed shop…For instance, Adam Smith pointed out that the wool-combers were able, by refusing to take a reasonable number of apprentices, not only to ‘engross the employment, but reduce the whole manufacture into a sort of slavery to themselves, and raise the price of their labor above what is due to the nature of their work’…Other restrictions on output were also imposed. The rules of a society would specify the amount of output to be supplied daily or weekly by the worker. At times, these methods drove industries away from where they had been originally located” (Hutt, p. 30). Thus from the start, throughout the guilds and the “friendly societies,” the history of labor unionism reveals that it existed not to end exploitation, but consistently to practice it for themselves. As Hutt states it, “The most persistent and tenacious myth about the origin of the strike-threat system is that it emerged out of a struggle of the poor against subjection by their employers. The truth is that, with hardly any exceptions, It was relatively affluent artisans who first organized for the collusive pricing of their labor. And their motive was, in every case, to defend their privileges—special rights which were contrary to the interests of the poorer c/asses…It is often assumed that trade unionism arose as a protest against intolerable oppression. This was not so…The Webbs (Ed. note: the socialist founders of the Fabian movement) write, tendentious/y, of the eighteenth-century unions having been forced into demanding protection because the industries in which their members were employed were menaced by pauper labor.’ Actually, the industries in which union members were employed would have prospered had labor been recruited freely from less productive and less well-paid occupations, thereby releasing the paupers’ from their poverty. It was sheer sectional privilege for which the unions were asking protection. The interests of those referred to as pauper labor’ were regarded as of no importance” (Hutt, p. 26). It was the unions, not the employers, who were exploiting the poor and denying them their right to work and basic economic justice.
But if the tale of “labor’s bitter struggle” against the capitalists is just a myth and a legend, why has it been so persistently perpetuated The reason is to instill in the workman’s mind the idea that he is engaged, to the peril of his very economic survival, in that ruthless warfare that knows no quarter, the class struggle. Marxist dogma concerning the class struggle declares that there is inevitable warfare between the classes, the employers and the employees. This warfare is for class survival and must culminate either in the extinction of capitalism and the industrial democracy of the “Soviet Union” or in the complete subjugation and exploitation in slavery of the working class. There is no middle ground in this relentless struggle and the alleged reality of this struggle is the very foundation of and reason for the existence and necessity of the labor unions to organize and lead the workingman to class victory. Thus Hutt declares, “The strike-threat system has created a series of continuous aggression and resistance to aggression, and as we shall see, union policymakers have felt it essential to keep alive an undamped suspicion of and lurking hostility toward management...They seem to have felt that in economic warfare it is essential to keep alive mistrust or even hatred of ‘the enemy’…Skilled agitators (are) planted in a firm with instructions quietly to subvert the efforts of management to create… harmony and general contentment…And the incentive for the sabotage has been the interests of the union leaders in perpetuating that hostility…and suspicion… which seems to fortify the ‘raison d’etre’ of their profession” (pp. 22, 50, 88). Without the specter of “class warfare” the unions would be hard put to justify their existence, their regimentation of the employees, and their excessive dues and fees. If Marx was wrong, the labor unions have no right to exist.
But as the Scriptures consistently declare
and teach, Marx was wrong. Rather than a classless utopia as an answer to the
“class struggle,” the Bible affirms that God has created various classes
that are to co-exist in harmony and co-operation according to divine law.
Recognizing the legitimacy of various classes, the Bible admonishes, “Servants,
be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and
trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as
menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the
heart” (Ephesians 6:5-6). Rebuking the law of the jungle, exercised in a
greedy drive for class supremacy, Paul teaches, “Let
every man abide in the same calling (i.e. class) wherein
he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it…Brethren, let
every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God” (1
Cor. 7:20-24). Paul again rebuking such thankless violence and such
godless resistance to the decree of God for both society in general, and an
individual’s calling in particular, declares concerning himself, “I
have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil.
4:11). Paul lived in a day and age when class distinctions were far greater than
today, ranging all the way from the lowest galley slave, to household slaves,
bond servants, conquered peoples, Roman citizens, and the Roman patrician
nobility. Yet Paul never found any justification for class warfare and continued
to exhort, “Let as many servants as are
under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of
God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.” Continuing to drive home this
doctrine with all due emphasis the Apostle adds that these are the words of
Christ according to godly doctrine and stating, “If
any man teach otherwise,” he proceeds to give an inspired description of
the labor union mentality. “He is proud,
knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh
envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings. Perverse disputings of men of corrupt
minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such
withdraw thyself” (1 Tim.
6:1‑5). Truly these clear teachings of the Scriptures should compel the
Lord’s people to choose between godly submission to their Lord or waging
revolution on God’s social order with the divine exhortation ringing in their
ears, FROM SUCH WITHDRAW THYSELF!!!
Labor unionism in its practical outworking is based on monopoly. Without the exercise of monopoly its power would be broken, its activities impossible. Unless it can coerce government into granting it a legally recognized and protected monopoly, in defiance of the anti-trust legislation applicable to all others, labor unions cannot function. Under the common law restrictions against collusion and conspiracy (i.e. monopoly), trade unions as we know them, were impossible. At present both the employers and the employees are faced with a monopoly. As there is frequently only one union per craft the employer is faced with a monopoly in that field of labor and cannot possibly operate without a contract from that union. Similarly, a craftsman, wishing to exercise his trade, which is not only his right, but his Scriptural duty to use his God-given talents, cannot do so without a union card from the respective monopoly union governing his trade. Thus the unions actually benefit neither class, but tyrannize both with an unscriptural monopoly, creating a new aristocracy, the union officials. That the Bible does not countenance monopoly, but utterly condemns it, can be discerned from Isaiah’s exhortation, “Woe unto there that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!” (Isa. 5:8). It is sin, covetousness, and greed to seek to corner the market and circumvent God’s economic law. Thus Christ himself took a whip and drove the monopolistic money changers out of the temple where they had a corner on the market.
The ‘STRIKE’ is the ultimate weapon of monopolistic class warfare. There is no moral, legal, or scriptural right to strike. It is sheer blackmail and coercion. Either one submits to the demand of the monopoly power or one is starved into submission. That employees have the right to terminate their employment upon dissatisfaction with the wages, none would deny. But under the strike-threat system they can neither be discharged nor replaced, but are secure in their jobs while they refuse to work, driving the employer to choose between bankruptcy or extortion. The right of the employer to hire whom he pleases, at any wages acceptable to alternative employees, so clearly demonstrated in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16), is utterly ignored. So are the right of the minority who voted not to strike and of non-union members to work.
Webster defines extortion as “getting money by violence, threats, misuse of authority…sometimes applied to the exaction of too high a (i.e. a monopoly) price.” But this is exactly the type of effort in which unions are constantly engaged and for which purpose they are constituted. They blackmail the employer with the fear of a strike, with threats of sabotage, violence, and picket lines, and with threats against the lives and persons of management and other personnel, who might try to keep the business functioning throughout a strike. And the purpose of all this is to extort money—a higher wage than could be obtained by honest negotiation in a free and competitive society. Again the Scriptures clearly and consistently condemn all manner of extortion. In Ezekiel 22:12 God rebukes an apostate Israel declaring, “Thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbors by extortion, and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord God.” Again Christ himself complained of the Pharisees that “within they are full of extortion and excess” (Matt. 23:25). The Apostle Paul lumps the sin of extortion with idolatry, drunkeness, and fornication in 1 Corinthians 5 stating, “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother he a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat,” adding in the next chapter, that no extortioner, “shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Again the Lord’s people must choose between the Kingdom of God and living in this world from the gains of extortion, in company with those with whom they are not to eat!
Extortion is theft, and the Scriptures declare in the Decalogue, “Thou shalt not steal.” As Rushdoony states it, “The attempt to use violence to force an employer to pay a desired non-economic wage is clearly robbery. It is a demand that either the employer rob himself or his customers, which can mean pricing himself out of the market” (Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 508). But there are more elements of theft in the labor union arsenal. The Bible states that “the laborer is worthy of his reward…the workman of his hire” but inferentially the converse is also true that he who does not perform the labor is not worthy of the wage or reward. Thus all feather-bedding practices, make-work practices, and other devices whereby unions compel wages to be paid, where no labor is rendered, are also clearly theft. Neither is the guilt of the theft and extortion limited to the union officials, the negotiators of the contract, the strike leaders, or even to those who voted to go on strike. The law has always and consistently found guilty those who lived off stolen money, extortion, or the avails of prostitution, etc. Thus the law of Moses states, “Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, (i.e. of a wicked man, homosexual) into the house of the Lord thy God…for even both these are an abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Deut. 23:18). Thus the moral implications of trade union practice extend to all the members who receive compensation for their labor according to the extorted wage scale.
Almost all that has been said thus far can be said of labor unions at their legal best, restrained by and acting within the confines of the law and of their professedly noble aims. However, in practice the unions have found it very necessary to resort to continual violence in order to maintain their monopoly and achieve their ends. Picket lines, professedly only peaceful protest against a recalcitrant (one who will not submit to monopoly extortion) employer, inevitably degenerate into a violent siege of the employer’s establishment and virtual violent warfare against those “scabs” who seek to exercise their right to work. Similar violence is exercised against non-union shops, who might compete for business and contracts with a union shop. Thus unions, if they are to obtain the ends for which they exist—the extortion of unjust wages, have been compelled to resort to violence.
Labor unions are also a most essential ingredient in the communist philosophy of revolutionary warfare. The “General Strike” is the one of the Marxist’s most powerful weapons for destroying the economy of a capitalist state and forcing the entire country into submission to the revolutionary elite in control of the unions. Thus the top reds in this country, as in others, have been the chief labor leaders, witness Gus Hall (steelworkers), Harry Bridges (Longshoremen), Walter Reuther (U.A.W.), and Arnold Miller (U.M.W.). Lenin called for such strikes, stating that they would acquire a political character and culminate in confrontation with and open insurrection against the capitalist state. Such is already the state of affairs in England and France where the government can no longer govern except as the stooges of organized labor as the nation continues on the course of economic doom and revolution.
“It is one of the popular naivetes of our time,” says Machlup, “to praise the existence of an institution but to condemn it when it carries out its functions.” The labor unions are a good case in point. Almost all decry the abuses and excesses of the unions while staunchly affirming their right and need to exist. They cannot see that the very things they are decrying are the things for which a labor union exists. Remove the excesses and the abuses and you remove any rationale for the existence of labor unions. It is only by acting in their nature of a coercive monopoly that they have ever achieved any of their professed aims. If an evil were merely a good thing corrupted, it could be reformed and restored to its pristine integrity and again rendered useful. But when the thing is evil by its very nature, it cannot be reformed. It must be entirely rejected.
Despite the fact that labor unions are basically and intrinsically evil and by their very nature unreformable, there are those who have sought to reform them and to bring them into conformity with alleged “Christian” principles. In Canada there are two professed “Christian” labor organizations. One has the name of Christian Labor Association of Canada; the other, Christian Trade Unions of Canada” (First Principles of Morality and Economics, Vol. VI, p. 72). The latter is so socialist that it refuses to recognize the Biblical validity of private property and insists, “any union which does not oppose an employer as an antagonist gives evidence of a basic moral irresponsibility to society” (Ibid., pp. 7279). The other, the C.L.A.C., endorses both the right to strike and the principle of the “closed shop” union monopoly. As Nymeyer sums it up, “It is our opinion that the C.L.A.C. is suffering from a serious hallucination if it considers itself Christian” (Ibid., Vol. I, p. 320).
Rushdoony says, “A labor association may call itself Christian, but if it accepts the basic premises of unionism, it becomes morally compromised.” Rushdoony goes on to denounce the C.L.A.C.’s equating of egalitarianism with Scripture in its second principle, adding that, “all men are not equal before God; the facts of heaven and hell, election and reprobation, make clear that they are not equal. Moreover, an employer has a property right to prefer whom he will in terms of ‘color, creed, race, or national origin.” Of its fifth principle, Rushdoony says, “This is simply socialism, theft made into a principle of operation. Not a word in Scripture gives any ground for such a statement” (Institutes of Biblical Law, pp. 509-510). Such are the efforts of men to reform or “Christianize” that which is inherently alien and antagonistic to the word and law of God. As Jeremiah declared, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:23).
If it is sinful for the unions to extort and coerce an unjustly high wage, it is equally sinful for management to defraud the employee or to use similar tactics of coercion and monopoly to force an unjustly low wage. A just wage is one that has been fairly and openly negotiated by both parties without coercion, etc., and the full terms of such a contract must be kept. Laying off employees a year before their pension is due, is only begging for retaliation in the form of unionism. It, too, is theft and fraud. The laborer is worthy of his reward and the treading ox shall not be muzzled. The Scriptures rebuke those employers who transgress these commandments severely (Jer. 22:13; James 5:4). In this respect the churches have often sinned with regard to Paul’s admonition in 1 Tim. 5:17-18. While doctors and lawyers easily earn $50,000-$200,000 annually, equally trained and talented clergy do well to get $10,000-$12,000. It is assumed that they are working for the Lord and are too spiritual to even desire a just and scriptural wage. This, too, is sin and may someday curse an apostate church with a union of clergymen.
Liberty and justice can only be found in the law of God. Big labor, like big business and big government, can only produce monopoly and tyranny. The problems of Christian membership in labor unions is a serious one. The Pauline exhortations, the divine injunctions, commanding Christians “FROM SUCH WITHDRAW THYSELF” and “NOT TO KEEP COMPANY... WITH SUCH AN ONE NO NOT TO EAT” cannot be taken lightly by the church even if they are by individual members. If the church is commanded not to fellowship with such, how can she conveniently embrace them as members and seat at the Lord’s table those with whom she is not to eat? And similarly, the individual member still prospering on union wages ought to bear in mind Paul’s exhortation to him, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good” (Eph. 4:28). For the Christian to voluntarily submit to union membership is to yield himself to the exercise of unscriptural class warfare and to be utilized as cannon fodder in the revolution of the general strike. It is to tithe through his union dues to finance the enemies of his Lord. That these things should not be so, is abundantly evident, but it is equally evident that there is no quick and easy solution to this sad state of affairs. But if the road to reformation is long and rocky, we should at least commence to tread it. It starts at home with those who are maintaining a dual loyalty to God and mammon, and must proceed with the church’s efforts to maintain herself as the pure and virgin bride of Christ. It may take a generation to root out this curse from the Church of Jesus Christ, but let that be our generation. AMEN!