The value of speech, and coercion

An unhappy Harold Meyerson, writing for the Washington Post, took a pair of recent Supreme Court rulings as evidence the conservative wing of the Supreme Court has declared class-based warfare upon the Little Guy – by which Meyerson means left-wing unionized Little Guys, of course.  The two decisions he takes issue with are Knox v. Service Employees International Union, Local 1000, and of course Citizens United, whose name is now burned into the fevered brows of many a liberal.

The Knox v. SEIU case allowed non-union members to reclaim the portion of dues paid to the SEIU that were used for political purposes, which were not directly related to collective bargaining.  “The union’s normal practice was to allow nonmembers to opt out of paying the roughly 44 percent of dues that went to matters not directly related to collective bargaining, such as election campaigns,” writes Meyerson.  “In this instance, however, no such opt-out was allowed.”

What really angered Meyerson was Justice Alito’s further ruling, writing for the majority, that unions “may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent,” because “individuals should not be compelled to subsidize private groups or private speech.”

“In other words,” Meyerson explains, “unions would have to ask for nonmembers’ permission to collect political assessments and, possibly, any dues at all.”  He characterized this as a blow “struck at the heart of American unionism.”

Now, every non-liberal non-union-member reading this is probably asking, “Why the hell can a union force non-members to pony up any dues at all?”  It’s because, in certain environments, the union’s collective bargaining efforts are presumed to have “helped” even those who don’t belong to the union, or don’t agree with its actions.  The government helps the union squeeze dues out of such people, by creating a monopolistic labor environment in which the union becomes an irresistible force.

Here’s a little example of how that works: for the past several years, unions have been using government force to compel non-unionized day care workers to pay them millions of dollars in fees.  This isn’t any sort of “election” – it’s a brute act of force, in which nobody co-opted by the union is asked for a “vote” at all.

In Michigan, more than 40,000 self-employed home-based day care providers were suddenly informed in 2008 that they had been magically transformed into unionized government employees, and forcibly inducted into a union called Child Care Providers Together Michigan… which had been created just two years earlier by the United Auto Workers and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.  A symbiotic government agency called the Michigan Home Based Child Care Council sprouted at the same time.  It had no real power and virtually no staff – its sole purpose was to serve as a target for the union to “organize” against.

As the Wall Street Journal reported, only about 6,000 Michigan day-care providers were involved in the vote to create this new union; the other 34,000 had no idea it was even happening, let alone that they would eventually be compelled to join the union and pay dues.  Many of those folks were providing inexpensive day-care services to low-income parents.  How’s that grab you for a “class war,” Mr. Meyerson?

The most remarkable part of Meyerson’s analysis comes when he mixes the Knox decision with Citizens United, which protects corporate political speech under the First Amendment, to concoct his class warfare brew:

These two decisions mean that a person who goes to work for the unionized Acme Widget Company can refuse to pay for the union’s intervention in political campaigns but has no recourse to reclaim the value of his labor that Acme reaps and opts to spend on political campaigns. Citizens United created a legal parity between companies and unions — both are free to dip into their treasuries for political activities — but Knox creates a legal disparity between them: a worker’s free-speech right entitles him to withhold funds from union campaign and lobbying activities, but not the value of his work from the company’s similar endeavors.

(Emphasis mine.)  This is pure Marxist claptrap.  Marx was profoundly obsessed with the idea that capitalists are stealing the “surplus value of labor” from their workers, because they sell the product of their labor for more than the workers are paid, and the workers have no share of the profits or control over the terms of the sale.

Here’s the party Meyerson is missing: the relationship between workers and employers is voluntary, while unions are coercive.  A union is what liberals would otherwise be eager to describe as a “monopoly.”  If you don’t live in a right-to-work state – and Meyerson regards those as hell-holes, because he frets that the Supreme Court “came close to nationalizing the right-to-work laws that 23 states have adopted” – you cannot decide you don’t like working for the UAW or AFSCME and “quit” your “job” with them.  You can’t find another union you like better, or decide you don’t like belonging to a union at all.

Not only are those union dues extracted from workers through coercion, to be spend according to one of Thomas Jefferson’s working definitions of tyranny, but in many cases the government actually extracts the funds from unionized workers’ paychecks and remits them to union leadership.  That’s an absolutely priceless service that any private-sector corporation would kill for – government agencies serving as your Accounts Receivable and collections departments!  The termination of this arrangement is the primary reason the unions went berserk against Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Liberals are only selectively interested in the relationship between money and speech.  What’s the dollar value of the foot soldiers unions put on the streets during political campaigns, as a massive “in-kind contribution” to their favored candidates?  How about the “encouragements” directed at members to vote the “right” way?  Could you imagine if a corporate CEO held a public meeting of his immense company staff, presented them to the President as his “army,” and said of the President’s political opponents, “Let’s take these sons of bitches out?”  Teamsters president James Hoffa did exactly that last year.  What’s the dollar value of that kind of political discipline?

If liberals are reluctant to discuss the true value of all political speech, preferring to focus only on transactions in which someone wearing a power tie signs a big check, they’re absolutely terrified of discussing the value of coercion, which the modern labor union is heavily dependent upon.  They’ll even write silly op-eds for the Washington Post in which they pretend coercion doesn’t exist at all.