Labour crisis is a failure of the state, not the market

by Leon Louw, October 17 2012, 05:43

Organised labour is in the government through the tripartite alliance, which means the government has been constrained from policing labour because, to an increasing degree, it is labour. In a normalised society, organised labour is part of civil society, not the government. Democracy needs the separation of labour and state just as it needs the separation of church and state, business and state, army and state, and aristocracy and state.

For us to be rescued from the deepening crisis, the government must respond purposefully and urgently by critically reviewing policies and laws that promote lawlessness and unemployment. Labour relations and collective bargaining are at the heart of the Marikana tragedy. Last week, City Press ran an article titled “Free Market Foundation unswayed on unions”, with the premise that “the spate of violent wildcat strikes by workers unaffiliated to trade unions has not changed (its) view that unions have a negative bearing on industrial peace”. That’s about as many errors as is possible in a single sentence. It highlights common misconceptions about the foundation and economic freedom. If we are to be hanged, at least let it be for a crime we committed.

Striking platinum miners march near Anglo American Platinum’s mine near Rustenburg in the North West. Picture: REUTERS

Here are some facts. First, the core principles of economic freedom are: the rule of law, including effective and consistent law enforcement, due process and natural justice; freedom of association, including the right to form, join or leave labour, business and other organisations; freedom of contract, including the right for associations and individuals to transact freely with each other; property rights, referring to owners’ dominion over their property; and consent, meaning that nothing should be done to anyone or their property without their consent.

Chris Hart, the only source cited in the article, is called the foundation’s “leader”, yet has never had any formal relationship with it other than as a speaker at functions. More seriously, it has never been the foundation’s view that “unions have a negative bearing on industrial peace”. On the contrary, free-marketers advocate worker and union rights as core manifestations of economic freedom. Far from opposing unions, what we oppose are laws that curtail their liberty. We are for the right to choose.

It is labour law, not organised labour, that discriminates against nonparties, small business and the unemployed; that limits with whom workers and employers may or must negotiate; that condemns 7-million compatriots to the indignity and destitution of unemployment; that reduces by well more than 100% the number of workers joining unions; that makes it a “buyer’s market” in which workers and unions are weak, and small business and the unemployed weaker still; that renders the government as an employer the worst victim of its own policy.

Centralised bargaining should, like the right to vote, be a right, not a duty. Compulsion and the imposition of private agreements on nonparties is the antithesis of labour freedom. The degree to which centralised bargaining is being undermined by Marikana and related lawlessness is largely attributable to dubiously conceived and enforced law. As such, the labour crisis represents government failure rather than market failure.

Louw is executive director of the Free Market Foundation.

more at…  Labour crisis is a failure of the state, not the market | Opinion & Analysis | BDlive.

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