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The Morals and Economics of Labor Unions

Posted on February 6, 2016

By Rev. Francis Mahaffy

The Ten Commandments given by Moses many centuries ago reveal the divine rule that covers man’s relation to his God, to his fellow man, and to the things of God’s creation. Ballvè has defined economics as “The study of human action directed toward the satisfaction of wants by the exercise of the power of choice.” Man’s action and choices are made in concert with other men and stem from his deepest religious convictions. In other words, his view of God, whether that God be the personal Triune God of Christianity or another first principle or power that coordinates and directs the decision-maker’s actions, will determine the direction of his economic activity. As Ludwig von Mises has well demonstrated, human action consists in a grading of our choices in a hierarchy of values. The highest value or end to which all the rest of our choices are directed is our God. Thus, economics is rooted in ethics and is in reality an ethical science.

Since man is a social being, he tends naturally to work in conjunction with others in seeking the fulfillment of his desires. Ricardo and others have demonstrated clearly the great benefits that accrue to men from cooperation with each other in their labor. The less able tend to profit to a greater extent than the more capable and gifted from this cooperation.

It is natural that men of like interests should band together in unions of one kind or another. These associations of people of similar interests may be simply for fellowship, recreation, to increase their knowledge of a particular hobby, or it may be for the end of cooperation in securing certain goals by joint effort. Labor unions fall into the latter category. Labor unions represent men with common interests in the pursuit of certain economic goals. The activities of these unions are influenced by basic religious-ethical principles. It is, in fact, differences in these basic philosophical principles that undergird various unions that has led many Christians to refuse to unite with those whose philosophical presuppositions radically differ from theirs. Where union closed shops have been enforced by law, some have protested on religious rounds their right not to be represented by them. It is these fundamental principles, whether or not clearly articulated, that give the direction to the activity of the labor union.

The position of this paper is that the law given by Moses provides a succinct summary of the ethical norm that should regulate the activity of unions. in fact, it is the position of the author that this divine law provides the norm for all man’s activity. Two contemporary authors, Rousas J. Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen, have elaborated extensively on this theme. It is the position of this paper also that while there is a perfectly legitimate function of labor unions, a function to which men of diverse opinions may agree and in which they may cooperate, much of what labor unions do today violates the norm of Christian ethics. This ethical norm has historically, though followed with varying degrees of faithfulness, provided the basic norm for our western culture and civilization. Since it is of divine origin, its defiance is sure to reap the reward of God’s judgment. For the laws of economics are as much the laws of God as the laws of physics. To defy either brings with it harmful consequences.

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