The Paradox of Labor

In the beginning was the capitalist, but his ability to make a profit was dependent upon production, which meant that he needed workers. Many more people needed work than there were jobs available, so the owners did not have to pay much salary nor be at all concerned with the working conditions of their employees. When people complained, they were told to go and work elsewhere, but there were no jobs. They joined together into unions and told their bosses that if they were not treated better, not only would they strike, they would not allow anyone else to work in that factory. When the owners brought in other workers to cross the picket lines, they were beaten and even killed. In the attempts to force them to bargain for better conditions, the strikers sabotaged machinery, destroyed property, and halted production, cutting off the capitalists’ means of making profit. Thus, collective bargaining was invented.

Workers were not paid a living wage; many jobs were unsafe; no one forced them to work; they could quit if they chose. The property they destroyed did not belong to them; during strikes, those who wanted to work were not allowed to do so by the other strikers. Genuine negotiations never seem to occur unless both sides have something to gain and something to lose; the basic thrust of the early labor movement was to give the capitalist something to lose if he did not bargain “fairly.”

Examine the morality of people destroying what is not theirs; telling another that he cannot run a business unless he gives them a certain cut of his profits; and telling others that they cannot work for the factory owner until he agrees to their earlier demands. What is the difference between this kind of behavior and a mafia extortion racket which says if you don’t pay for protection, your business will burn down? Where is right and wrong to be found in this issue?