How to Argue with a Trade Unionist

Ask a trade unionist or fellow traveller if he has the “right” to dictate to his 20-year-old daughter whom she will marry, and he’s likely to say (firmly but perhaps regretfully) “no.”

Ask him if he can dictate to his daughter which career (if any) she will pursue, and again he’ll say “no.” It’s a democracy, after all, they’ve often alleged to me.

With a bit of prodding, the unionist’s likely to agree that his daughter has an innate right of freedom of association in matrimonial and professional matters: that is, she can choose with whom to associate. More generally, unionists champion the notion that women and employees have the right of freedom of association.

Then ask him if, once his daughter marries, she must forever remain married; and if, once she’s employed in a certain job, she must forever remain in that job. “No!” the trade unionist will almost invariably thunder in reply.

More generally, and although it’ll take a bit of prodding, he’ll agree that freedom of association implies freedom of disassociation – this is, his daughter "has the right" to quit the marriage and job whenever she pleases, either to seek a better marriage/job, or simply because she doesn’t like her present circumstances – or, indeed, for no reason at all.

So freedom of association implies freedom of disassociation – unless, of course, you’re an employer. That is, the employee is free to pick whatever job she wants, but the employer is not free to pick any employee he wants.

In other words, budding employees can and do discriminate among potential employers, but employers most certainly cannot discriminate among employees. An employee can quit anytime she pleases, and for whatever reason; but the employer cannot terminate an employee anytime and for just any old reason.

In marital matters, unionists typically applaud “no fault” divorce; but in commercial matters, they vitriolically denounce “no fault” dismissal of employees.

But if marriage is a contract, and the relation between employer and employee is contractual, then why are employers denied rights routinely granted to all non-employers?

By this stage, some unionists can see that they’ve been hoisted upon their own petard – but simply couldn’t care less. It’s at this point in the conversation when the iron fist emerges from the velvet glove, and the coercion that underlies employer-employee relations comes clearly into view. The implication is clear: employers are simply not free, and unionists ultimately use brute force to get their way.

Astonishingly, a few elements of this logic were broadcast on – of all places – ABC Radio National. Will wonders never cease?