Strategically, both movements work toward their goals by divorcing wages from labor productivity, stifling the free market, and expropriating and redistributing wealth — all the while blaming the resulting failures and misery on the capitalist “enemy.” This can put even non-communist union members in a state of mind that makes them ripe for Marxist propaganda. We can see why Lenin considered communism to be the final destination of the union movement.
In theory, unions become workshops of communism only when they go beyond their original legitimate purpose of collective bargaining and taking care of work-related issues (safety, training, etc.), and turn into collectivist pressure groups that engage in class warfare. In practice, however, there hardly is a union in existence that hasn’t become a tool in wealth redistribution schemes that use the “common good” as an excuse for voter fraud, coercion, intimidation, and diverting membership fees to support anti-business policies.
The ultimate result of the unions engaging in class warfare was exemplified by the misery of unionized workers in the USSR, whose fleeting desire to be “free from the shackles of capitalist exploitation” led them into permanent slavery at the hands of the state-run economy. As soon as the factories were turned over to the workers, union perks were reduced to little red flags with Lenin portraits, badges, and honorary titles like “the collective of communist labor.” In American terms, that roughly translates into awarding a “best carmaker of the month” bumper sticker to an auto worker who can’t afford a car.
Union perks mean nothing when there is nothing left to redistribute. The Soviets learned it the hard way. The American unions don’t seem to be able to learn from the mistakes of others and admit that their own perks can only exist in a free and competitive economy that ensures growth and generates wealth — also known as “capitalist exploitation” in the lingo of the champions of “redistributive justice.” By promoting a state-regulated economy and undermining private businesses whose employees they claim to represent, the unions objectively undercut the workers, who are paying for it with lost jobs and incomes. Setting up the capitalist economy for destruction in this manner qualifies the unions as “a school of communism.”
This is not an anti-union argument. To call it anti-union, one has to believe that a union’s main purpose is to siphon the nation’s wealth to its members. Or that the unions were created to provide logistical support to leftist radicals in their struggle for power. My argument is quite the opposite: since such overreaching by the unions is self-destructive and ultimately hurts the workers, ridding the unions of inappropriate functions and alliances would benefit everyone — the society, the workers, and even the unions themselves.
The workers are not herd animals; nor are they a separate biological species with a different set of interests. They are as human as anyone else who possesses a mind and free will, and therefore their long-term interests are not different than the rest of humanity. And since the interests of humanity lie with liberty, property rights, and the rule of law, this is what the unions should stand for.
The shining example of this is Poland’s Solidarność, an independent union that spearheaded the overthrow of the oppressive communist regime in 1989. Or the struggling labor unions of Iran, who oppose the corrupt and oppressive theocracy of the mullahs and could use a little more international solidarity right now, as their leaders suffer beatings, imprisonment, and persecution at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards.
Too often, however, the unions blindly take the opposite side and support state-enforced redistribution of wealth, forgetting that whenever a government adopts forced economic equality as official policy, unions become redundant and lose not only their political power but also their very raison d’être. That is exactly what happened to the unions in the USSR.
When Lenin’s party was plotting to take over Russia, it encouraged the unions to engage in class warfare on the party’s behalf and spread the ideas of economic equality and redistribution of wealth. But as soon as the party was in power, all such activities were discarded. In the words of prominent party theoretician Nikolai Bukharin, “We asked for freedom of the press, thought, and civil liberties in the past because we were in the opposition and needed these liberties to conquer. Now that we have conquered, there is no longer any need for such civil liberties.”