Why Do We Accept Union Violence?

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Have you seen the recent news about the independent electrical contractor in Ohio that was shot by a union vandal who was confronted while spray painting the word "Scab" on his victim's SUV? Don't count on reading about it in the Washington Post or the New York Times. But can you imagine the press eruption that would follow the shooting of, say, a political campaign worker by a rival party member spouting vicious slogans?

What makes it socially acceptable to harass, intimidate, vandalize, beat up, and even shoot someone because they are willing to do a job for a wage that you are not willing to accept? Despite epic animosity, Americans across the ideological spectrum rightly speak out against acts of political violence. Yet why do so many of us accept, and even condone, a special exception for union workers whose motives are purely economic? What is it that is so noble about giving union bosses monopoly control over certain professions that we accept it when they break heads?

Is it because union violence holds a hallowed place in our educational pedagogy? Every school kid is raised on romantic stories of the birth of organized labor during the industrial revolution when underpaid, overworked mine and steel workers rose up to demand safer working conditions along with a decent wage. Most educated people can recite the labor side of the Homestead Strike story, citing it as an example of justifiable violence against an intransigent management that attempted to use Pinkertons to protect company property. Funny that these same educated people don't know that local police refused to evict militant strikers that had taken over a plant threatening to burn it down, or that the National Guard had to be called out to restore order after the Pinkertons had their heads blown off.

Regardless of whether you think the deplorable working conditions of the industrial revolution justified arson and murder, the Homestead Strike occurred in 1892. What possible relation does it bear to modern electrical contractors or call center operators?

Things sure turned ugly fast in the recent Verizon strike. The Associated Press reported 70 acts of sabotage in the first week. A New Jersey judge had to issue an injunction banning members of the Communications Workers of America from "Dropping, spreading, throwing, placing or otherwise causing nails, glass, cinder block, spikes, feces, clubs, rocks, screws, or puncture devices of any kind, or other object or debris to be thrown or strewn in, on, or about Verizon's driveways, parking lots, entrances, exits, vehicles and adjoining roads to any of Verizon's property or at any work site." Investigative reporters may be nowhere to be seen, but thanks to cell phone cameras some nasty videos are beginning to pop up on the web.

According to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research there have been 4,400 recorded acts of labor violence since 1991. The Teamsters lead the pack with 454, as one would expect from an organization once infiltrated by organized crime. The Teamsters have plenty of company, yet few offenders are called to account. In the Homestead tradition, law enforcement tends to melt away when a union goes on a rampage. Barely three percent of violent crimes committed by union members lead to an arrest or conviction.

This can only happen due to public acceptance. If violent behavior on the part of unions was met with the same kind of opprobrium meted out to child molesters it would disappear in a heartbeat. Let's face it, these are our neighbors. In all other respects they are normal people. They would never dream of walking into a supermarket and beating up the cashier if she charged more for a can of soup than what some union boss determined was the "right" price. Yet these same people, when dealing with differences of opinion over labor prices, think nothing of becoming raging hooligans, or worse. The only way to make them ashamed of their violent behavior is to name and shame them.

More often than not, it's not management that union members beat up to protect their turf. Like any schoolyard bully, they pick on the weak not on the strong. Most victims of union violence are unemployed workers looking for a job so they can feed their families. "Scabs," they call them. Subhuman scum. Untouchables. People who, in the minds of unionists and their enablers, are worthy of the same kind of vile abuse that Klu Klux Klansman used to dish out to African Americans that didn't know their place.

Speak out. Report what you see. Post it on the web. Anyone who looks the other way is part of the problem.


Bill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and a Boston-based venture capitalist. You can find all of his columns, TV, and radio interviews here.  If you would like to have his weekly columns delivered to you by e-mail, click here or follow him on Twitter @BillFrezza.

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